Another classic Disney film I have never seen has fallen. This time it is Beauty and the Beast (1991). Actually, I saw Beauty and the Beast (2017) before, but I guess the live action version does not count. Because I am only a lukewarm Disney fan at best (despite my commercial habits), I never understood the nerd rage the latest iteration generated. Listen, I can get bent out of shape with the geekiest of geeks, but the heated discussions on the internet and other areas of my life over Emma Watson as Belle was completely lost on me. I guess this was because I did not see the original first? Or because I do not care for musicals in general? To me, Emma Watson and Paige O’Hara, who voiced Belle in the animated version are interchangeable. I know there will be some of you who read this review who love the 1991 film and will feel your fingers tightening into a fist that you will want to smash into my jaw for saying such blasphemy. That is okay. Honestly, I do not mind either film, and the 1991 installment hits all the right notes for me to appreciate as a Catholic. As I have said in other reviews, this sort of thing just is not my cup of tea, pun intended.
Beauty and the Beast (1991) informs its audience right away how the Beast (voiced by Robby Benson) became the Beast. Apparently as a young prince of sorts in eighteenth century (my historical guess) France, he turns away a haggard old woman seeking shelter from the cold. This woman turns out to be an enchantress, and she curses him by having him take on an animal form, and all his household servants are turned into various anthropomorphic accoutrement needed to run the castle. He is given a magical rose that is basically a symbol of his condition, which will last until he experiences true love’s kiss. If he does not achieve this by his twenty-first year, the condition will be permanent. So, all we need is an eligible young lady to show up. . . . Luckily, there is just such a young woman in a nearby village, one whose head is always in books and full of ideas that set her apart from her community. One potential threat to the inevitable is the extremely vain Gaston (voiced by Richard White), who simply assumes that Belle will automatically fall for his muscles and chiseled jaw line and marry him that day. She manages to fend him off, though only for so long. When her father, Maurice (voiced by Rex Everhart), leaves with his whimsical inventions to a nearby fair, he ends up getting lost in the woods and captured by an understandably cranky Beast. Because this is Disney, Maurice’s horse gets away, returns to Belle, and is leads Belle back to the Beast’s castle. Initially, the Beast does not want to let Maurice go, but he agrees to do so when Belle offers to take her father’s place. At first, the Beast does not think he has any chance of wooing Belle. However, the formerly human servants that are now furniture believe they can make love happen. Through a number of musical interludes, they show Belle that the Beast is not so “beastly,” and convince the Beast to not behave like a rage monster over every perceived slight. Thus, they begin to gradually warm to each other. In the meantime, Maurice returns to the village and tries to enlist help to get his daughter out from the Beast’s clutches, not knowing that love is developing. No one believes Maurice, though Gaston senses an angle to be played to get Belle to marry him. He gets a local official to declare Maurice insane, thinking that by having the father committed Gaston can use that as leverage to get Belle to agree to marriage. Yet, when Belle comes back to the village after getting the Beast to soften his stance, she remains steadfast. The Beast had given her a magical mirror in case she wanted to look upon him while she is away, and she uses that to prove to the villagers that the Beast is real. This gives Gaston a target, and he basically gathers a lynch mob to attack the Beast’s castle. While Gaston and the Beast tangle with each other, the Beast’s candelabras and dishes manage to fend off the rest of Gaston’s men. In their duel, though, before falling to his seeming death, Gaston manages to wound the Beast. Seeing him on the verge of death, Belle gathers him into her arms and kisses him, finally admitting that she loves him. This is enough not only to restore his health, but also his human form. And presumably they live happily ever after.
I do not understand how seasons work in Beauty and the Beast. In the space of three days, it seemingly goes from summer, to fall, to winter. Okay, that is enough criticism. Aside from the music, which I can do completely without, there is much to appreciate from a Faith perspective. The main theme in the film is accepting people as they are, even if they look like a hideous monster. Belle does not know everything about what happened to the Beast and why he is in this condition. Also, she is able to see why he would be, er, grumpy. After all, who would want to be with someone who basically looks like a lion? Do not answer that question. The point I am trying to make is that, without needing to know all the specifics, Belle is able to see into the heart of the matter. Despite his roaring and other outbursts, the Beast is a good person. While not a perfect analog, this is how God sees us. The Beast can only see all the things that are wrong with him, and as such he believes that nothing will ever go right for him. It is a constant trigger for him. And yet, we know he is a good person because, even early on, he does not force Belle to stay in a prison cell in his castle. And when he lets her leave to see her father, despite the impending death of the magical rose, it shows a depth of kindness. We are so quick to judge people by their actions, particularly on a surface level. Someone cuts us off in traffic and we basically write them off as people for that one action. We really do not know anything more about that person, other than they did something in a moment to anger us. God asks us to look deeper, as did Belle.
Like with my review of The Little Mermaid (1989), I do not hate Beauty and the Beast. I just do not enjoy it. To be fair, they are films that are not aimed at me, and that is fine. And again, there is probably nothing I could say that would change your mind about it. I recommend it for the whole family unequivocally. But if you do not have a family and are looking for an entertaining film to put on, then maybe not so much, unless you are a big Disney fan. Still, if that is the case, you have probably seen it already. Either way, it is available on Disney +.