“Beauty and the Beast” is one of Disney’s most beloved fairy tales and the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. This week Disney celebrates its 25th anniversary with a splendid new DVD release that includes some special extras.
Ultimately, what makes “Beauty and the Beast” so winning, though, is its story, characters, and songs, which need no restoration. They are as fresh as ever. Clever lyrics by the late Howard Ashman are a delight, with a brute singing about how he decorates with antlers or the stirring Oscar-winning theme song played as the couple dances alone in an enormous ballroom. And it is a joy to revisit the timeless pleasures of traditional Disney storytelling, with no attempts to add sizzle from celebrity voice talent or radio-friendly pop songs. The movie’s roots are in Broadway, with performances from Tony-winners Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach and tuneful ballads from composer Alan Menken, including the rousing “Be Our Guest” and the joyous introductory “Belle.” Notice the way that only Belle wears blue in the opening scenes, helping to set her apart from the people in her village. We know before she does that she and the Beast have something in common when we see that he also wears blue.
Belle (voice of Broadway star Paige O’Hara) is the book-loving daughter of an absent-minded inventor. She wants “more than this provincial life” and the boorish hunter Gaston, who hopes to marry her.
Lost in the woods, Belle’s father stumbles into what appears to be a deserted castle. But the castle is inhabited by the angry Beast, once a prince, now under a spell that will last forever unless he finds love before he turns 21. The same spell turned all of the human staff of the castle into objects — a clock, a candelabra, a teapot, a mop.
The Beast, furious at being seen by an intruder, locks Belle’s father in the dungeon. Belle comes after her father and offers to take his place. The Beast accepts, lets her father go, and tells Belle she must stay with him forever.
At first antagonistic, she begins to find the Beast appealingly gentle and kind, wounded in spirit, rather than cruel. He shares her love of books. Back in Belle’s village, Gaston tries to get Belle’s father committed, saying that his talk of the Beast shows he is delusional. Belle, home on a visit to care for her father, proves that the Beast exists to show that her father is telling the truth. The townspeople are terrified and form a mob to kill the Beast.
In a fight with Gaston, the Beast is badly wounded. Belle tells him she loves him, which ends the spell. He becomes once again the handsome prince, and they live happily ever after.
Parents should know that this movie has some scary moments when Belle is chased by wolves and when Gaston and the townspeople storm the Beast’s castle. It appears briefly that the Beast has been killed. Characters drink beer and there are scenes in a bar.
Family discussion: Gaston and the Beast both wanted to marry Belle — how were their reasons different? Why did the prince became the beast and what did he have to learn before he could return to his handsome exterior? What did Belle have to learn? What made her decide she liked the Beast?
If you like this, try: Some of the other movie adaptations of this story. One of the most lyrically beautiful of all films ever made is Jean Cocteau’s version of this story, “Belle et Bete.” The Faerie Tale Theatre version stars Susan Sarandon and Klaus Kinski, and is very well done.