Monday, December 12, 2011

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

I can confidently say that this was in fact the first Disney movie I saw in theaters. I remember entering a contest at the old Brighton movie theater and winning a big Beauty and the Beast gift basket. I was seven, and a boy, so I decided that my sister would like it better. For me, Beauty and the Beast has been something that has taken a while to grow on me. I'm sure I found it entertaining as a child, but in essence I found it to be more of a girl's movie, so I didn't watch it that many times. Same with The Little Mermaid. Those were my sister's favorites, not mine. I would have rather watched Aladdin or Hercules. That being said, it's much higher on my list now that I'm older. I may not of seen it when I was younger, but Beauty and the Beast is very much a masterpiece of storytelling. I'm not the only one who thinks so either, as evidenced by it's nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars in 1992. Whether you think it's a girl's movie or not, you have to admit that it's a great piece of film. I can guarantee that everyone in my generation has at least seen it once in their lives and can recount a funny scene or sing one of its many songs. I think it's up there with The Lion King in the nostalgia department.

Beauty and the Beast was yet another idea that Walt wanted to do in the early days of his full length motion pictures. Attempts to actually make the film in the 30's and 50's didn't pan out since they writers couldn't come up with a good enough draft. It's also thought that Disney was discouraged from making it in the 50's, as Jean Cocteau had just released a film version in 1947. Thanks a lot, France! After the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit however, Disney decided to give it another go. The first thing that makes Beauty and the Beast different from its predecessors is that it was made through a script instead of storyboards. So, it was written like any old live action movie by having a screenplay. Because of this fact, Beauty and the Beast has an unusual amount of writers. One might say that too many cooks would ruin the recipe, but as we have all found out, that wasn't the case for this movie. On seeing the original story in 1989, Jeffrey Katzenberg hated it so much that he ordered the process to be completely redone. Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale were hired on to direct the film, though the only thing they had ever directed was Cranium Command, a ride in EPCOT. Ron Clements and John Musker were asked to direct, but declined since they had just finished with The Little Mermaid and wanted a rest. Katzenberg wanted to make Beauty and the Beast a Broadway musical type performance, much in the same vein as The Little Mermaid, so he asked Mermaid's songwriter Alan Menken and other songwriter Howard Ashman to develop the music. Ashman, just learning that he was dying of AIDS, was reluctant to join the struggling production team, especially since he was already working on Disney's pet project, Aladdin. He ultimately decided to sign on, but due to his health, all pre-production had to be moved to his home in New York. Disney was finally on its way to delivering another hit. Now they just had to get a decent script made.

The original story of Beauty and the Beast basically just has the two eponymous characters, which wasn't really working out for Disney's version. They wanted to find a way to brighten up the gloomy story and make it fun to watch for the whole family. They decided the best way was to add a whole bunch of characters. The biggest additions were the household items that talked, and an actual villain in Gaston. The household items would function as the comedy relief for the somewhat dark tale, and Gaston would provide the suspense and pig-headed charm. This, unfortunately, was not pure genius dreamed up by the Disney writers, but a borrowing of ideas from the French film of 47', which had a oafish suitor and inanimate objects that come to life in the castle. The characters however, were given a life of their own and were apparently good enough to have the script accepted by Katzenberg in 1990. The production team started on the storyboards and had to fly back and forth from California to New York to have Ashman OK each one, though they were in the dark as to why.

Unfortunately for the production team, the film had to be done in two years instead of the usual four thanks to the two years wasted on the original script. Though the movie may have been rushed, the product came out exceptionally well. Beauty and the Beast is the second film to use the CAPS digital scanning, inking, painting, and compositing system of software developed for Disney by Pixar. Not only did the software allow the production team to cut a lot of time out on animation, but also added color, depth, and multiplane effects. Computer animation was not used extensively in the film, mostly taking place in the ballroom scene. This scene however, led many executives to jump on the computer animation bandwagon.

The music sequences went through a few changes throughout production. "Be Our Guest" was originally supposed to have the household objects singing to Maurice, Belle's father, instead of Belle herself. One of the story artists suggested that it would make more sense for Belle to be the recipient of the song and the directors had the sequence redone. "Human Again," which was a song sung by the household objects about what it will be like when they are back to normal, was written and recorded, but ultimately scrapped since it caused story problems about the timeline over which the story takes place. Menken and Ashman thus had to come up with a replacement song. "Something There" became that replacement song, one sung by Belle and the Beast on their growing affection for each other. This was added very late in the game and to save on time they made it a voice-over song. "Human Again" was later revised by Menken and used in the Broadway version of the musical and was included on the 2002 DVD release of the animated film. During pre-production, Ashman succumbed to his illness and passed away eight months before the film was released and before the film was even finished. Ashman's work on Aladdin had to be picked up by another songwriter, Tim Rice. Beauty and the Beast was dedicated to Ashman's memory.

Beauty and the Beast, AKA La Belle et la Bete, was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneve in 1740. The better known version was written a few years later by Jean-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Geez these French people have long names! Beaumont's version goes like this: There once was a man who had three daughters. The man was very wealthy and gave his daughters all they desired. The most beautiful and unselfish of the daughters was the youngest, named Belle. One day, the father learns that his fortune is gone since all of his ships were destroyed in a tempest, or a very big storm. The family is forced to move into a small cottage and all work to stay alive. The father then learns that one of his ships did in fact make it out of the storm and was arriving at a nearby port. Before the father set out, he asked his daughters if they desired a gift that he could bring back to them. The first two daughters, thinking that their father's riches had returned, asked for jewelry and expensive clothes. Belle asked for something far less extravagant: a simple rose, as they didn't grow in the area they lived. The father set out and arrived at the port, only to find that all his belongings and goods had been used to pay off his debts. He was basically no better off than he started. He relented that he was not able to buy his daughters their gifts but started on his way home. He, of course, got lost along the way and wandered into a majestic palace. There he found a large feast laid out. He assumed it was a gift from the non-present owner. He partook of the feast and then took a nap. When he woke, he went off again, but not before he took the lowliest rose out of the mysterious owner's rose garden.

Suddenly a beast appeared and scolded the man for taking one of his most prized possessions after he had gave him such a feast and hospitality. The beast is about the kill the poor father until the father explains that it was only a gift for his youngest daughter. The beast spares him, but tells him that the father, or the youngest daughter must come to palace and live there with the beast for the rest of their days. The father agrees and receives not only the rose for Belle, but the jewelry and expensive clothing for the other daughters. He returns home and gives the daughters their gifts, but Belle notices that something is troubling her father. He reveals his predicament and Belle volunteers to go to the palace in her father's place. She arrives at the palace and is received graciously by the beast who tells her that he is her servant from now one. The beast gave her all that he had to give and talked with her every day. Each night, he would ask her to marry him, but Belle would refuse. Each night, Belle would have odd dreams of a handsome prince asking Belle why she keeps refusing the Beast's proposal. Each time Belle responds that she only loves the beast as a friend. What guy hasn't heard that one before? Belle lives with the beast for several months, never connecting the beast with the prince in her dreams. She eventually gets extremely homesick and asks if she can go home. The beast relents, but asks her to come back to him in a week's time. She agrees and the beast gives her a mirror and a ring. The mirror will allow her to see the beast at any time, and the ring, when turned three times, will take her back to the palace instantly. She is welcomed back home by her family with much joy, but her sisters see how well fed and happy she is. They become incredibly jealous and decide they want to ruin everything for Belle. Knowing that Belle has only the week to spend with them, they attempt to have her say longer so hopefully the beast will become angry and gobble her up. They rub onions on their eyes to make it appear as if they are crying and beg Belle to stay just one more day. Belle is moved by her sister's (un)genuine feelings and stays an extra day. The next day, Belle checks on the beast with her mirror only to discover that the beast is dying from a broken heart by the rosebushes where the rose was taken. She uses the ring to get back to the palace and tries to save the beast. She weeps over the dying beast and tells him that she loves him. One of Belle's tears falls on the beast and he magically turns into the handsome prince that she recognizes from her dream. They get married and they live happily ever after. A lot of similarities between the two versions, though characters are omitted from each one. The beast is portrayed different ways in the book versions, some as a scaly gremlin creature, some as a hairy boar or Bigfoot looking beast.

Beauty and the Beast was released in November, 1991 to universal praise. Many named the ballroom scene as the highlight of the movie along with the many musical numbers. Others praised the way that Disney attempted to undo the female stereotypes of their previous films by making Belle a smart, independent woman who didn't do housework the whole movie. I have still heard nitpickers complain about the abusive relationship side of the movie. Some claim that the movie supports the notion that women should stay with an abusive male, because eventually they will change and become the perfect man. I, for one don't think that was the message that Disney was trying to get across, so I think those people are just trying to find something wrong with a great film and great story. Beauty and the Beast even went on to do the unthinkable and be the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. It lost to Silence of the Lambs, but it's still a huge honor.

Beauty and the Beast has gone on to make 377 million overall, not counting the amount it's going to make with the 3-D release coming in January. Its also found an audience on Broadway, as it has become an extremely successful Broadway musical. Whether you love the movie for the characters, the story, or the songs, Beauty and the Beast is just Disney at its best and ranks up there with Snow White, The Lion King, and Bambi.

1 comment:

  1. Of course this movie was one of my favorites. Hence AraBELLE.