The time has come for me to discuss that movie – Disney’s 1991 adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. This is the reason this blog series is here after all, and I can’t do a review of filmed versions of this story without mentioning it. So grab your nostalgia goggles, some love for classic Disney animation, and a nice spot of tea – so we can enjoy the magic and charm of the first animated feature film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
Like you’ve seen over the last few weeks, the best adaptations of fairy tales are the ones that take risks and are embraced by a whole new generation for those differences from the source material. And Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is among the best examples of this. The reason being for the huge changes were all due to the drama involved in the pre-production stage for the film.
You see, back in the 1930’s, Walt Disney himself attempted to make his own feature length animated film of the classic French tale. But ultimately he left it “in the vault” so to speak, considering the story almost impossible to crack by his standards. But the team at Disney Animation decided to blow the dust off of Walt’s work, and finally put the movie into production. But as with any great movie, this adventure wasn’t easy.
The original director of Beauty and the Beast was going to Richard Purdum, who was looking to make the film have a plot much closer to that of the original fairy tale, with a few added elements. Belle was going to have a “wicked” auntie, and a younger sister who didn’t have the traits of prior siblings in most BatB adaptations. There was going to be the stealing of the rose, and lose of her father’s fortune – you know the drill by this point. But ultimately, Jeffrey Katzenberg (the head of Disney’s movie department at the time) saw the work Richard and his team in London had done and told them to start from scratch. You can see their work on the film below:
It is obvious to see that aspects of what would become the classic we know and love are visible here: Gaston wants Belle really only for her physical attributes, he loves his looks more than anything, the Enchanted objects are there but in many different forms, and our leading lady wants to do what is best for her father/family. But ultimately what seems to be missing here is the heart of the story, and especially where does the Beast really fit into any of this? And that’s what lyricist Howard Ashman (The Little Mermaid) contributed to the story, big time – along with new directors Kirk Wiseman and Gary Trousdale. Together, they all collaborated to figure out how to make the Beast more proactive and essentially retooled the “tale as old as time” into something very new.
As an end result, we got one of the greatest animated films of all time – not just because it was nominated for Best Picture that year, but because it never loses its self confidence. Every frame of Beauty and the Beast is bold, fresh and lovely. The fact that the production got delayed so many times and ultimately forced the team to finish the entire movie in under 2 years is just insanity – but somehow within their rushed schedule, no stone or rose looks unturned. This is particularly true when it comes to the animators involved on the production, who gave their best work here.
Glenn Keane, supervising animator for The Beast, was at the top of his game here. He had just wrapped up his work on Ariel from The Little Mermaid and took on the challenge of the cursed prince with great excitement. He even researched in various zoos around England and LA to see what animals he could combine to make the Beast’s design more unique, while also getting the mannerisms down. You Art History buffs might have even noticed Glenn’s inspiration within the transformation scene of the movie – which you can learn more about here.
If you’re curious as to what my favorite scene is, I definitely without a doubt would say it is the one where Beast lets Belle go to her father. Between Glenn’s incredible animation, Alan Menken’s musical score, and Robby Benson’s vocal performance as the Beast – the feels are truly strong.
Clearly, it is hard to put everything into words about this movie that you don’t know. But what is important is the memories it has left on us some 25 years later, and the legacy it will leave on future viewers young and old. Surely, the live action reimagining won’t replace this movie, but it will hopefully be a lovely tribute to the incredible craft and wizardry that went into this little movie that no one really believed in.
So what are your favorite things about Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast? Are you beyond excited for the live action version? What are your favorite moments from the original. Comment below and tell us all your thoughts!