Once upon a time in a faraway land, a handsome but spoiled prince was turned in a hideous beast by a magical enchantress, with the condition that he’ll only be set free when he learns to love another and is loved in return. As the years pass he accepts his dark fate for there appears to be no hope for him, until events lead to the arrival of the young maiden Belle at the castle.
Belle lives in a quiet little town where the only thing that keeps her interest are the few books that she’s able to borrow from the local bookstore. Because of her tendency to read and daydream, she’s painfully aware that she's become an outsider among her people. Despite what is expected of her (including accepting a marriage proposal from the devilishly self-absorbed Gaston), Belle yearns for something more out there, a chance to live her dreams the way that the provincial town won’t let her.
But when her father Maurice is taken prisoner at a mysterious Beast’s castle, Belle goes to his rescue, offering herself in her father’s stead to live the life sentence. Unknown to her, the Beast is actual a human prince who’s been trapped in the beastly form by a curse that dictates it may only be broken when he learns to love another and said another learns to love him, and all that before the petals fall from an enchanted countdown-ticking rose.
At first things seems to be set: Belle hates the Beast for trapping her, the Beast cannot yield from his strict overbearing ways. But things change in time, and the two soon start to see each other in a different light. But it’s still not all smooth-sailing afterward, because Maurice thinks Belle is still being treated a prisoner, and Gaston still wants Belle for his wife.
Beauty and the Beast is one of those examples of how everything can fall together so perfectly that you just can’t imagine it any other way. The story, the music, the artists, the voices, the production, everything. It’s almost as though it’s a moment of pure storytelling magic caught in time. Okay, done with that, let’s move on.
Perhaps the reason that Beauty and the Beast is as loved as it is is because the story touches a territory familiar the many a-viewer’s heart. It explores a different type of love (compared to many of the previous Disney flicks), in which it blooms through an eventual friendship, and it crosses boundaries of physical appearance. It does help that the main two characters were fleshed out beautifully, and the rest of the cast and music only served the enhance the experience. I mean, like, whoa. ‘Tis cool.
Of Disney’s contemporary heroines, Belle appears (to me) to be the one with the most inner strength. She isn’t as vocal as most of her kin, but decides to show her strength in her choices and actions. She really is an amazing character, and for many female Disney fans, she’s the lady we can most identify with. She lives on a cloud of hope, yearning for something out there she can’t quite name... but she’ll know it when she finds it. She also has this quiet classiness to her, which makes me think that she’ll do very well as a princess.
And then there's the Beast. Quite possibly he is the most unconventional animated hero (on par with Quasimodo, methinks), and that’s not only because of his physical appearance, but also because of his attitude. That guy has a serious spoilt-boy syndrome, which only Belle is able to chip away. [Side note: The Beast is also my fav Disney hero. Hee.] He roars, he yells, he leaps off balconies, he wrestles wolves barehanded. DUDE. Not classic Disney hero behaviour. He also undergoes radical evolution as the story proceeds, and the inner transformation is done with subtle class, something that certain other animated movies (which I shan’t name) ought to learn from.
As for the other characters, they serve to add to the vibrance of the story. I absolutely adore the castle inhabitants, and my fav is Cogsworth, possibly because he reminds me a great deal of myself. Hee. Lumiere, Mrs Potts, Chip, Babette, all of ‘em wonderful additions to the tapestry. Gaston, however, I’m not too sure how to feel about him. He starts out this pompous but small-time threat, but by the ending his brain just up and went cuckoo. He acts more of a catalyst than anything else, and when you think about it, if it weren’t for him, Belle might never have confessed that she loved the Beast. Woo!
Perhaps the reason that the love story of Beauty and the Beast is considered special is because it bloomed in time. Classically, most animated flicks adopt the the love-at-first-sight approach, which is okay by me because in my mind, it is possible for soulmates to instantaneously recognise each other in the animated world. (In real life, that’s another matter entirely, LOL.) But Beauty and the Beast is all about inner beauty. The Beast was encased in his monstrous form because of his beastly behaviour as a youth but he actually has a heart of gold underneath, while Belle is encased in the stereotype of her provincial town where beautiful young women are expected to get married, have babies and nothing more. Both yearn to be recognised for what they have inside (where consciously or subconsciously), and that is something I think everyone can relate to.
And the ending (which I call The Final Petal Confession) was a real classic. You gotta have a heart of stone if you’re not rooting for the couple, even if you do know that they’re going to live happily ever after. I didn’t get teary-eyed when I first watched it (heh), but I did clutch a cushion to my chest and whimper pathetically. It was a beautiful death-and-rebirth scene, perfect right down to the last raindrop. Whenever I listen to The Transformation track on my soundtrack, I still get the goosebumps. And you simply gotta appreciate Glen Keane (the principal animator for the Beast)’s approach to the revealing of the Prince, t’was v. v. cool.
It’s easy to see why Beauty and the Beast eventually ended up becoming a stage production. Skidding slightly off-topic, my parents watched the stage production in London while I was stuck at home, and when they came back they brought me the booklet. I frothed at the mouth because it is kinda evil to go and watch something your kid desperately wants to but can’t and then come back and dangle a souvenir in front of their face. I did get the soundtrack of the studio cast recording, though, and it’s awesome. My personal fav tracks are Me (Gaston’s musical proposal), Home (Belle’s song as she first contemplates her fate of being trapped in the castle) and The Finale (waaaaah!). Susan Egan (who also voiced Megara in Disney’s Hercules) was simply amazing as Belle, much to my surprise. Skidding even more off-topic, I get the giggles whenever I listen to Me because I keep imagining Hugh “Wolverine” Jackson singing that song (he did perform Gaston in one of the Australian productions, doncha know).
All in all, Beauty and the Beast is classy. It set the golden standard and raised the mark -- animated movies certainly got more respect as an art form in the aftermath of its glory. (But, ssh... it’s not one of my favs. Eeek! That’s actually because loads of people love the movie way more than I do, and I tend to reserve my fangirl lovin’ for lesser-known animated movies.)