“Who said anything about the castle being enchanted?”
Louise’s rating: Five out of five dancing spoons
Louise’s review: As a teacher, I fight on the front line against Tiresome Money-Traps The Kids Are Into. I’ll admit, I’m not infantry. I have to look at the multi-coloured, plastic piffle, and use it to engage my pupils in learning the facts and skills on which they’re actually going to be tested… but I don’t have to pay for it. I see myself as, perhaps, artillery. Parents, I’m right behind you, aiming high-quality literature and experiences at our common enemy. Pokémon? Loom bands? Minecraft? Boom Snap Clap? Banned! These crazes, they come and go.
Now, Frozen — that’s a slow-burner. It took six months to build to a crescendo in the children’s minds. What is about Frozen that’s inspired such fervour? It’s got the whole school in a tizzy, from the three-year-old girls to the eleven-year-old boys. Okay characters — I do have soft spot for Olof the summer lovin’ snowman — okay songs — though why you would hire Idina ‘Elphaba Maureen’ Menzel and then give her one number baffles me — and I grant it sure looks pretty.
Then I remembered. Little Louise, watching and rewatching her video of Beauty and the Beast. Little Louise, proudly putting her pencils in her Beauty and the Beast pencil case. Little Louise, writing stories in her Beauty and the Beast birthday book, filling reams of paper with drawings of Belle in that golden dress, re-enacting the story with three Belle dolls of various sizes, performing a dance to ‘Tale as old as time,’ collecting Panini stickers for a Beauty and the Beast sticker comic book. Boy, did I love Beauty and the Beast. Boy, shouldn’t that have a re-watch?
£16 for the DVD? You’re kidding! Flippin’ Disney. *mutter mutter*
So, trying to rein in the nostalgia factor, I sat down to Beauty and the Beast, and it’s a beautiful, tuneful, satisfying picture. Besides, unlike Frozen, Tangled and The Princess and the Frog, it’s a real fairytale. If you like that sort of thing.
First, the beauty. Gosh, this film is absolutely ravishing to look upon. You could screencap any moment and it would be arresting and inspiring for the imagination, particularly any scene in the Beast’s castle. Fortunately, so much of the story takes place there that we really get to know it, its gruesome statues, enormous windows, sentient furniture, billowing curtains, torn pictures, frequently in shadow. And, oh, that library. I want that library. I would do dreadful things to visit that library. I also really liked the stained-glass window opening. I thought it was an interesting take on the classic ‘opening the book’ way of starting a film (which, by the way, Disney has used since Snow White). The storytelling was so clear from the images that, really, the voiceover was unnecessary.
The Beast’s castle is so much more than just a setting for the action. It’s almost like another character. I really like some of the characters in Beauty and the Beast, particularly Belle, the Beast, and the long-suffering castle servants.
Belle is brave, inquisitive and kind, and she loves her books. No, she’s not called on to do much that’s physically demanding, but she is charged with the emotional rehabilitation of a highly disturbed individual, with her only support being the servants who have spoiled him in the first place (I mean, I don’t see an elderly king or queen around the castle – maybe he killed them?). Yes, she’s a Disney Princess, and that carries a lot of baggage with it, but I think it’s time for Belle to be rehabilitated herself. She’s a mature heroine, woman rather than girl, living at home but not at all subjected. She likes stories and expects to think for herself and make her own decisions, though she doesn’t perform brilliant feats of intellectualism. She cares for her father and the Beast, because that’s what the plot requires, but she does it gracefully. True, the plot could use more female characters who aren’t talking teapots, or feathery sexpots, but it’s not a feminist disaster.
And I think the Beast is a great character as well. That tortured, byronic Beast, hulking in his ruined West Wing, hunched over his rose. Elsa, bless her, was a lonely recluse, but ultimately she had no more than half a day in her ice palace. Beast, by contrast, had years and years in isolation as a real monster. Brilliant supporting characters as Cogsworth, Lumiere and Mrs Potts were, with great voice work, they were not his equals. The romance of Belle and the Beast, together with the casting down of the arrogant and malicious Gaston, leads to a satisfying conclusion.
Beauty and the Beast has some fun songs too. ‘Be our guest,’ with its bouncy tune and dancing spoons and complete lack of realism, has lost none of its appeal, while ‘Belle’ is perhaps slightly more satisfying to listen to than to watch. ‘Gaston’ is rowdy, ‘Something there’ is cute, ‘The Mob Song’ rather frightening, and ‘Tale as old as time’ does in fact lift one up. The whole ‘Tale as old as time’ sequence, set in the ballroom, is still enjoyable and features some interesting animation/CGI blending techniques.
Did you know that this was the first animated film nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, and the only one until Up in 2010? Based on a recent viewing, I can say it richly deserved that nomination.
- The film has several visual and storytelling aspects in common with Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete, including a rival suitor for Belle and household objects coming to life.
- Dedicated to the memory of Howard Ashman, lyricist extraordinaire of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors and several songs from Aladdin.
- My copy of the DVD has an extra scene, a song called ‘Human again,’ which will be familiar to anyone who has seen/heard the Broadway musical. It’s hardly necessary for the story, but does show why the castle looks so nice for the ‘Tale as old as time’ scene.
Belle: Show me the Beast!
Gaston: It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting ideas… and thinking…
Beast: I want to do something for her, but what?
Cogsworth: There are the usual things… flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to keep.
Cogsworth: As I always say, if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it.
Gaston: Were you in love with her, Beast? Did you honestly think she’d want you, when she had someone like me? It’s over, Beast! Belle is mine!
Mrs Potts: What should we do, Master?
Beast: It doesn’t matter, now. Just let them come.
Gaston: I’d like to thank you all for coming to my wedding. But first I’d better go in there and propose to the girl.
If you enjoyed this movie, try:
- La Belle et La Bete
- The Little Mermaid