Beary beauties and rose cupcakes 🙂
Little bears are watching Beauty and the Beast. It was the 30th Disney animated feature film and the third released during the Disney Renaissance period, which started with The Little Mermaid, and it was released twenty-six years ago today.
A wealthy merchant falls into penury after his ships founder at sea. He moves his family to the countryside to live a more frugal lifestyle. His six daughters and six sons resent the loss of their comfortable life, their social engagements, and their many admirers. His youngest daughter, Beauty, is the only one to make the best of the circumstances, throwing herself into the daily upkeep of the home in order to keep the family clean and fed. Her older sisters, who are less beautiful and less dutiful, resent her, and they mock her for contenting herself with menial work.
Not exactly the narration at the beginning of Disney’s version. Here’s just a bit more:
Then, the merchant receives a welcome surprise: One of his ships, thought to be lost at sea, has come safely to harbor with its full cargo. His children think their fortune will surely be restored. When he sets out for the city to deal with his freight, he takes with him requests from his sons and daughters for expensive clothes and other gifts. Only Beauty is hesitant to ask for a gift, and finally asks that he bring her a single red rose.
Like so many fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast has evolved considerably during its journey from oral tradition to the page to the screen. Moreover, there isn’t just one literary version ― but dozens. Today, Disney-fied fairy tales are most familiar to the masses in their animated forms; the originals, when revisited, can seem comparatively brutal and dark.
Unlike Disney’s Cinderella and Snow White, however, Beauty and the Beast hardly sugarcoats the violence of the original. It’s literally a romance between a captive woman and the monster she at first believes might physically attack her.
Still, the original fairy tale might not sound terribly familiar.
The definitive, most well-circulated version, La Belle et le Bête, was composed by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and published in 1756. Her story, a short and sweet tale with a small cast of archetypal characters ― the ingénue, the loving yet hapless father, the protective brothers and jealous sisters, and the hideous but noble-hearted hero.
Though Disney’s Belle is an only child, in the classic tale she has siblings. Unsurprisingly, her sisters serve the role of foils for Beauty. She’s gorgeous, they’re merely average-looking; she’s generous, they’re selfish and envious; she’s hardworking, they’re lazy; she’s well-read, they’re frivolous:
The youngest, as she was handsomer, was also better than her sisters. The two eldest had a great deal of pride, because they were rich. They gave themselves ridiculous airs, and would not visit other merchants’ daughters, nor keep company with any but persons of quality. They went out every day to parties of pleasure, balls, plays, concerts, and so forth, and they laughed at their youngest sister, because she spent the greatest part of her time in reading good books.
In Beaumont’s story, Beauty’s father, a ruined merchant, stumbles upon the Beast’s castle when returning from a futile trip to recover profits from a trading ship that unexpectedly returned to harbor. Caught in a storm, he takes refuge in a mysterious castle where he meets no one, but finds food, a fire, and a bed prepared for him. When he leaves, he takes a single rose from the garden to bring Beauty ― which brings the Beast’s wrath down upon him. In exchange for his life being spared, he agrees to return with one of his daughters. Beauty agrees to go, though she’s fearful that the monster will eat her.
Instead, she’s given a lavish chamber and plied with good food and constant entertainments. She never sees anyone ― except in the evening, when the Beast joins her for dinner. She enjoys his sensible conversation, but every night he asks her to marry him, and she refuses. Finally, after several months, she admits that while she’s quite attached to him, she misses her family. The Beast allows her to return home for a visit, but warns that if she delays her return, he will die of grief.
This is where the sisters get extra vicious! Jealous of the finery Beauty wears upon her return, they overwhelm her with affection so that she will miss her deadline, assuming that the Beast will kill her and eat her in his anger. Instead, Beauty returns late and finds the Beast dying of sadness. Seeing him on his deathbed, she realizes that she loves him and begs him to live and marry her. Immediately, he is restored to his handsome, princely self ― and Beauty is rewarded for choosing a virtuous husband over a handsome or witty one. Her sisters are condemned to be living statues outside the castle, forever viewing their sister’s better fortune.
OK, sure, this isn’t too different from Disney’s take. But this is only the beginning. It turns out that Beaumont’s fairy tale was an abridged adaptation of a 1740 story written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve ― very abridged.
Villeneuve’s La Belle et le Bête features monkeys that speak via parrot interpreters (they serve Beauty and keep her company in the palace), five jealous sisters and six brothers, and an exhaustingly elaborate backstory ― revealed at the conclusion of the tale ― involving ugly evil fairies attempting to force handsome princes into marriage, baby princesses being snatched from the cradle, and both fairy and human political struggles for power.
The didactic message of the story is also more heavy-handed, and more retrograde: Beauty has an imaginary lover, a handsome prince who speaks to her in her dreams; in the same dreams, she’s visited by a lovely woman who urges her to look past superficial qualities. Beauty has fallen in love with her dream prince, but the longer she stays with the Beast, as he has demanded, the more sympathetic she feels toward him. Though the Beast in Villeneuve’s version is not only hideous but has been cursed to stupidity, and can barely carry on a conversation, she feels more and more guilty that she doesn’t marry the Beast out of gratitude for the opulent life he’s provided for her and the love he feels for her. Finding him dying of grief:
She regretted her conversations with the Beast, unentertaining as they had been to her, and what appeared to her extraordinary, even to discover she had so much feeling for him. She blamed herself for not having married him, and considering she had been the cause of his death … heaped upon herself the keenest and most bitter reproaches.
It’s worth noting that the Beast himself spurned the love of an ugly fairy who fell in love with him. She curses him in retaliation, imprisoning him in a beast’s body ― but while this makes her the villain of the story, Beast’s imprisonment of the woman he hopes to marry is painted as kind and generous. Belle isn’t granted the luxury, like the Beast, of rejecting an unattractive suitor; she’s expected to learn to accept his love. Ultimately, she decides to marry him because she owes him and is fond of him, proving her virtue by denying her own desires and choosing instead a man who’s earned her through his love and gifts.
In short, the Beast may have been the original Nice Guy!
Those two stories don’t cover the full breadth of Beauty and the Beast tales. Some believe the roots go back thousands of years, and many cultures have some variety of the story.
In the Italian rendition, The Pig King, written in the mid 16th century by Giovanni Francesco Straparola, a queen is cursed to have a son who appears as a pig until he’s been married three times. When he’s grown, his mother convinces the first daughter of a poor family to marry him, but the girl is horrified at the match and tries to kill him on the wedding night. He tramples her with his hooves, killing her instead. The same happens to her younger sister. Then he marries the virtuous youngest sister, who is kind and accepting of her new husband. At night he reveals himself as a handsome young man to her, and the couple eventually rules the kingdom together. Yes, despite the fact that he literally stabbed her two sisters to death with his hooves, the girl falls in love with him.
The Norwegian version of the fairy tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, stars a white bear who convinces a peasant to give him his youngest, prettiest daughter. At night, he comes and sleeps with her as a man, though she can’t see him. One night, she lights a candle to see his face, but drips hot tallow on him and wakens him. As a consequence, he has to marry his evil stepmother’s choice for him: a troll princess. But his young lover refuses to give up, following him to the troll kingdom and winning his hand through trickery ― at which point the troll princess explodes in rage. (Literally, she explodes.)
In many of these older versions, Beauty is distinguished most by her docility and selflessness. Even her bookishness, so heavily played up by Disney, is merely one aspect of her dutiful feminine lifestyle ― she plays a variety of instruments, enjoys art and the theatre, and amuses herself in the country by dressing her hair with flowers when she’s not cheerfully caring for the home. Other female characters who privilege their own desires are portrayed as spoiled and even cruel, and aside from elevating Beauty as the one deserving woman, they often serve the function of disposable vessels for male needs (see: those two poor women who are trampled to death by a pig).
The Beast might prove his worth through devoted love, but Beauty proves hers through submerging her own passions and awarding herself to the most worthy suitor. The message is clear: Women should love the ones they’re with, no matter how seemingly repulsive ― it’s all part of the life of extreme self-sacrifice that makes them worthy of happiness and respect.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast tweaked this story, making Belle an unconventional bookworm with an independent streak rather than a pretty, submissive maiden. (Thank goodness!) It relegated the unsympathetic, frivolous female role to a chorus of silly village girls who swoon over Gaston, rather than making a cruel sister central to the story. In the live-action movie of 2017, the updated heroine is still more brilliant and self-reliant.
Certain aspects of the story, though, remain and when it comes right down to it, every version is essentially the same story: A beautiful woman redeems her hideous captor with her love ― parrot/monkey servants optional.
Little bears don’t care about any of that! They are captivated by finding all the easter eggs in the movie!
In the very first song, Belle sits down at a fountain to read her new book, having described it as an adventure about a prince in disguise that sounds suspiciously like Beauty And The Beast. To add flesh to the bones that she’s basically reading her own future, the film shows her turn the page to reveal a picture.
The picture features a young girl with dark hair and a familiar looking blue dress sitting in the foreground of a castle with tall towers and red roof tiles, and a handsome prince who she seems to have been hiding from.
Beneath the illustration there’s also the words ‘le prince charmont’: Prince Charming for the less Francophiliac viewers out there.
Despite this very obvious shot, the picture still doesn’t stop Gaston taking the book off her and demanding to know how she can possibly read it without any pictures. The ruddy idiot.
Right at the start of the film, before Maurice unwittingly winds his way to Beast’s front door, he comes across what must be the most unhelpful signpost in Hollywood history (just beating out the Jurassic Park dock sign). It’s weather-beaten, tattered and barely legible, and it’s no real shock he gets lost.
But for little bears with eagle-eyes 🙂 the signs are actually revealing. All four signs – which read Ramona, Saugus, Newhall, Valencia and Anaheim in order – point to towns in Southern California, which were home to most of the Walt Disney Feature Animation team. Anaheim of course is also where Disneyland is.
Given that this is a Disney film, it is of course chock-full of hidden Mickeys. Inevitably, the most rewarding ones to find are also the most difficult to spot.
The library – which is apparently based on the Oval Reading Room of the Richelieu Building at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris for an extra Egg score – has an ornate Mickey in its upper reaches. Elsewhere, when Gaston and his mob cut down a tree to storm Beast’s castle, there are 3 rain drops that form an upside-down Mickey.
The key that winds Cogsworth’s mechanism is also a Mickey – albeit one that is a lot more obvious in certain shots than others. Incidentally, in the French release, Cogsworth’s name was changed to Big Ben in honour of the London landmark.
As with all character progression, Beast went through a number of designs before the animators settled on the hulking Lion/Hyena look.
Initially, Beast was to be far more wolf-like, but it was presumably realised that having a legitimately scary hero would have made it incredibly hard to actually fall in love with him. So he went through a far more human filter – taking inspiration from voice actor Robby Benson in part – and the wolf characteristics were softened.
But the early designs for the character still made their way into the film: most of the sculptures seen in the West Wing and around the castle – as well as the gargoyles and monsters on the courtyard fountain – are based on concept art for Beast.
Even if you didn’t have the time to actually sit and watch the entire film, you can still gain a fairly broad indication of how the story will unfold from the first few seconds of screentime.
As the prologue unfolds, the camera captures the beautiful stained glass window that celebrates Prince Adam (at this point an 11-year-old boy, according to the film’s lore, but still clearly trusted with a ginormous sword, nonetheless). At the bottom, the family crest has the Latin phrase ‘vincit qui se vincit’, which basically translates as ‘He conquers, who conquers himself.’
Therein lies a condensed version of the film’s central message: that in order to truly change the world, one must change from within. The most Disney of all Disney messages.
There’s also another playful language Easter Egg elsewhere, as any French person will tell you that Gaston’s annoying sidekick Lefou’s name pronounced in French sounds a lot like the words for “idiot”, “fool” and “the insane”.
Gaston being a paragon of masculinity and violence, it’s no surprise that his walls are adorned with grim trophies of death from the most dangerous animals… Except, if you look closely, Gaston clearly isn’t as much of a famed hunter as he leads everyone to believe.
There are noticeably few animals who could actually fight back and among the removed heads are a cat, two rabbits and alarmingly, a frog. Way to be all macho there, Gaston.
As well as indicating how awful Gaston is, this could also be a nod to Ichabod & Mr Toad, which was the inspiration for the “Belle” musical number, both in terms of animation and the situation. And if you’re looking even deeper, you could suggest Gaston represents the anti-thesis of the romantic ideal of kissing frogs and finding princes (the quaintest reading of the Beauty And The Beast story), so of course he’d have the head of one mounted on his wall…
After the dramatic final fight, after Beast has sadly embraced death and Belle has admitted her love for him, he is transformed back into Prince Adam in an impressive sequence. But rather than going with the computer assisted imaging they’d used for the ballroom scene, Disney looked to the past to help animate the scene.
The smoke that can be seen in the scene looks authentic for a reason: it’s actually real, having been lifted out of The Black Cauldron.
And despite the fact that the dancing scene is often spoken of as a ground-breaking moment for Disney, it too borrowed from elsewhere. The dance itself reused animation from the dance between Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty. That technique – which required the animators to draw over the original characters – was used to cut time.
Another Easter Egg trick that’s popular in the Disney universe – and one that actually suggested a shared universe before Pixar came along and apparently “invented” the idea – is the tendency to drop characters from one film into another.
While there aren’t any character cameos in Beauty And The Beast, per se, several characters from the ground-breaking animation do pop up elsewhere. The most notable (and hardest to spot) comes in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame when Belle can be seen briefly walking across a square (presumably on holiday away from Prince Adam).
The same scene also features a cameo for Aladdin‘s Magic Carpet, which is seen beaten at a window above Belle, and Pumba, who is carried on a spit by two locals to the left of shot.
Beast himself turns up in Aladdin.
As well as cameos for Pinocchio and Sebastian the crab in Genie’s showing off sequences, Beast appears in miniature form in a scene that doesn’t actually include the iconic blue character.
When the Sultan is playing with his animal stacking toys, the stack reveals a mini Beast as part of the pyramid he has made. It’s an impressive tower, as it happens.
As the action hots up and Gaston leads his angry mob to the castle, he leads a chorus of The Mob Song, because no major decision can be made without a song, obviously (is that what’s missing at work?!?). In amongst the “inspiring” lines, Gaston sings “Screw your courage to the sticking place”, lifting a famous quote out of MacBeth.
The choice of line is important for two reasons: firstly because it’s said in MacBeth by a villainous character leading someone else to their doom for self-gain, which is also exactly what Gaston is attempting with his mob. And secondly – and more interestingly – the line in MacBeth is designed to be said in mocking: Lady MacBeth is challenging her husband’s masculinity when he has doubts about murdering the king.
That basically follows Gaston’s entire arc: he’s the bristling, threatened masculinity that makes MacBeth listen to those poisonous words. He’s personified penis envy, responding to the challenge of his masculinity with violence and stupidity, just as MacBeth did.
Creator cameos aren’t exactly a new thing in Disney-affiliated film-making, what with Disney acquiring Marvel (and putting Stan Lee in Big Hero Six), but it’s far more rare in the animated classics.
But even with limited opportunity to put directors or animators into scenes (they sometimes do it themselves as one Hercules animator cheekily did), Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise have somewhat cornered the market. The directing pair have so far appeared in The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and they started their road to cameo stardom back in Beauty And The Beast.
The pair appear in caricature form just after Belle is given her new book and sing the line “Look, there she goes, the girl who’s so peculiar. I wonder if she’s feeling well.”
The Wizard Of Oz was clearly a big influence on the character design team, as both Beast and Belle owe something to main characters in the iconic fantasy classic.
When Beast is going through his “make-over” at the hands of his enchanted staff, at one point he briefly has his hair in the style of the Cowardly Lion before angrily shaking it off. Belle’s entire outfit, meanwhile, was designed in homage to Dorothy’s dress, and the fact that she was Disney’s first brown-haired princess might also have something to do with the inspiration.
In both cases, it’s telling that their outfits are trimmed with blue. Belle is the only character who wears blue in the entire town, marking her out as different – until she meets Beast, who also wears blue and has blue eyes. That was consciously chosen to define their similarities, and their contrast to the evil-signifying red (which Gaston wears, of course).
As an indicator that Beast has it in himself to be just like Gaston, the villain’s eyes were also made blue.
The end of the film carries a touching dedication to composer Howard Ashman, who completed work on the movie before sadly dying eight months before it was released:
To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.
Ashman had been diagnosed as HIV positive midway through the making of The Little Mermaid, and was forced to work from home on Beauty And The Beast (with the animation team flown out to him). After the first screening of the film, which Ashman couldn’t attend, the team visited him in hospital to find him weak and fading, but wearing a Beauty And The Beast sweatshirt.
His legacy on the film – which he had supreme faith in as a potential success – extended beyond the music: it was he who came up with the idea of turning the enchanted household objects into living characters with unique personalities.
Spellbound little bears 🙂
Original article in Huffington Post.