Oscar Vault Monday – Beauty and the Beast, 1991 (dir. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise)
Beauty and the Beast is the first Disney movie I 100% remember watching in theaters. I was probably about five years old at the time and I loved it to death. It was also the first year I can remember watching the Academy Awards. I wanted it to win Best Picture SO BADLY. At the time, I had no idea that it was the first animated film to be nominated for the award, nor did I really understand what an honor an Academy Award was for a film. My mom had the sad job of informing me that it was most likely going to lose to The Silence of the Lambs, a film that I most definitely had not seen at the time. Now, however, it’s the only other film nominated that year that I’ve seen. I can see why it won, such strong performances, a perfect genre flick (and a history maker in itself, only one of three films ever to win Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress), but I still wanted, and to some extent, still wish that Beauty and the Beast had won the award. It was joined earlier this year by Up as an animated film competing for the top prize. Hopefully, as this awards season comes to a close, those films will be joined by Toy Story 3 (and as one of the best reviewed films of the year, it has a fighting chance of actually winning). Also nominated in 1991 were Bugsy, Jfk, The Prince of Tides and winner The Silence of the Lambs. On top of being nominated for Best Picture, the film was up for five more, bringing the total to six Academy Award nominations, winning two: Best Sound, Best Song – Belle, Best Song – Be Our Guest, Best Song – Beauty and the Beast (won) and Best Score (won).
I rewatched the film yesterday in preparation to write about it and I can safely say that it has held up its charm these 19 years since I first saw it (and the many, many, many times I’ve watched it since). I still love all the characters (including the villains, that you love to hate), I still love all the songs, the animation is still breathtaking. I think it most definitely deserved its Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it just saddens me that no other animated film (and there have been a few deserving films for sure) was able to do it again until they expanded the category to ten films. I mean, I know that part of that has to do with the Best Animated Feature category the Academy created, but you know they just created it because there were so many great Pixar films coming out, that the only way they could get around not nominating them for Best Picture was to give them their own category. Looks like Pixar upped that ante by making films that transcend the animated mold. I hope they keep it up.
From the very beginning of the film, you could tell Beauty and the Beast was going to be something special. I think there are a few animated films prior to and since this film’s release that are as well planned out and executed as this film is, or that have as beautiful an animation style.
I always really related to Belle, being a bookish brunette myself. She’s such a strong heroine, smart and sassy and willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the good of others. The voice performance by Paige O’Hara is really wonderful and completely reinforces the character’s strong personality.
I love the Beast. I love how he starts out big and mean and then later, very naturally, becomes sweet and even a bit silly. My only complaint about the character is they made the Beast so perfect, I’m almost disappointed when (SPOILER ALERT) he gets turned back into your average, run of the mill prince at the end.
I’m pretty sure every time I eat eggs I think about Gaston and how he used to eat four dozen eggs so he’d grow large and now he eats five dozen so he’s roughly the size of a barge. He’s one of my favorite love-to-hate-him Disney villains. He’s just such an obnoxious jerk, but you almost feel like the writers based him on a real person, you know?
My favorite musical number in the film is the Be Our Guest sequence. It is just so magical. I actually watched it twice last night because I love it so much. There’s so much going on, it boggles my mind that the animation was all drawn by hand. It also showcases Jerry Orbach as Lumière, which is perhaps my favorite voice performance in any animated film ever. His impersonation of Maurice Chevalier is so uncanny. It’s amazing. But I also love David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts. Really, this film has one of the all-time greatest voice casts in animated film history (the best in my mind being 1982’s The Last Unicorn)
I can’t talk about this movie without talking about the library scene. THE. LIBRARY. SCENE. Look at that library! Can you even imagine if that was real? I just, I just want it so badly. And in terms of the plot of the film, the Beast giving this marvelous trove of books to Belle is maybe one of the sweetest gestures in all of cinema history. It was such a perfect scene.
The romance that blooms between Belle and the Beast is just so beautiful (say what you will about Stockholm Syndrome or whatever). I love how natural it arises between the two of them. I also love this scene, wherein the couple (in beautifully matched outfits) dance to the tune of the theme song – Beauty and the Beast – as song by Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Potts. I believe they used state-of-the-art computer animation during the ballroom scene, which in 1991 is noting compared to what they can do now. That being said, I think they integrated the computer animation with the hand-drawn animation seamlessly and that it still looks as magical today as it did 19 years ago.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about how the ending perfectly mirrors the beginning, only it’s a happy ending as opposed to the ominous and sad beginning. I love the stained glass animation. I love the ending of this film and I’m still just as upset at 24 that it didn’t win Best Picture as I was at the age of 5.
If you’re interested in purchasing the film, you can do so here.