November 22, 1991 – The 30th Animated Feature Film, Beauty and the Beast is Generally Released to Theaters
“Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast.”
On November 22, 1991, the 30th animated feature film, Beauty and the Beast, was generally released to theaters, after a New York premiere on November 13. The film was based on the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête, written by Jeanne-Marie le Prince de Beaumont. The idea to use the fairy tale as an animated feature goes all the way back to the 1930s, with Walt Disney originally showing interest after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.The project was resurrected during the beginning of the period known as the Disney Renaissance and was the first Disney animated feature to use a screenwriter for the script; the first treatment had the film set in Victorian France, with no musical numbers. However, in 1989, this treatment was scrapped, forcing everyone to start from scratch. Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise were asked to direct, and the team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were asked to write the music for the film. The film stars Paige O’Hara as Belle, Robby Benson as the Beast, Richard White as Gaston, Jerry Orbach as Lumiere, David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth, Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts, Rex Everheart as Maurice, and Bradley Michael Pierce as Chip.
The film would go on to win enormous accolades from the critics, and until 2009, was the only animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.The music from the film was the last project that the team of Ashman and Menken, as Ashman passed away from AIDS-related complications before the film was finished. The film was dedicated in his honor. The team won two Oscars : one for Best Original Score, and one for Best Original Song for the title song, sung by Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts). The film was so successful that it was made into a Broadway musical in 1994; a song originally cut from the film, “Human Again,” was reinstated in the musical, and was placed back in the film when the film was rereleased on DVD in 2002.
The film begins with the story of the Prince, who turned an old beggar woman away from his door when she offered him a rose in exchange for shelter. The beggar woman was actually an enchantress who, after seeing there was “no love in his heart,” punished him for his cruelty by turning him into a beast. The Beast hid himself away from the world, with only a magic mirror to let him observe the outside. The rose the enchantress had offered was a magic rose, which would bloom until his 21st birthday. If he could learn to love, and earn love in return by then, the spell over the castle and the Prince would break; if not, he was doomed to remain a beast. The Prince grew weary over the years, as he wondered “who could ever learn to love a beast?”
Dawn breaks over a nearby provincial village, and Belle is seen walking to town, wishing to find something more than the “provincial life.” The townspeople remark how odd she is, as she has her head up in the clouds, and loves to read and imagine. Belle is pursued by Gaston, the hero of the village, and incredibly vain to boot. The only reason Gaston pursues Belle is because she is considered “the most beautiful girl in town,” although all the townspeople think she and her father, the inventor Maurice, are rather peculiar. Belle constantly turns down Gaston’s advances. She arrives home after another ambush by Gaston, and the two cheer each other up, with Maurice finally getting his invention to work. He heads off to the fair with his invention, but ends up lost in the woods, stumbling across the beast’s castle, and being sent to the dungeon by the Beast himself.
Belle is ambushed by Gaston once again, who sets up a wedding for the two without her knowledge. After she rebuffs him again, her father’s horse, Philippe, arrives home; seeing her father has gone missing, she has Philippe take her to the castle. She tries to find her father, with the servants secretly leading the way, and finds him sick and locked in a cell. She comes across the Beast, and offers her life in exchange for her father’s. Although her father objects, she remains firm in her offer. The Beast tries to make Belle comfortable, with everyone in the castle hoping she will be the one to break the spell. Maurice, having been taken back to town, tries to get the townsfolk to help him retrieve Belle, but they all consider his pleas as the ramblings of a madman. This gives Gaston an idea to finally get Belle to marry him, which he and his henchman, Lefou, prepare to implement.
The Beast and Belle have a difficult time adjusting, as the beast has a problem with his temper. He warns Belle never to enter the West Wing, but when she does, he loses his temper, and she flees from the castle. She is attacked by wolves in the woods, but is soon saved by the Beast. As he lays injured from the fight, Belle is tempted to continue to run, but helps him back to the castle, as thanks for saving her life. She tends to his injuries, and the two come to a new understanding. Back in town, Gaston is beginning to set his plan in motion: have Maurice committed to the insane asylum, with Belle’s agreement to marry him the only way to prevent Maurice’s incarceration.
The Beast is starting to feel something for Belle, and wishes to do something nice for her. He surprises her with his grand library, which he says is all for her. She is truly touched by his gesture, and the two begin to grow closer. The servants plan an elaborate dinner and dance for the two, which they hope will culminate in the beast confessing his feelings to Belle. Although the evening is a success, and Belle is happy at the castle, she still misses her father. The Beast gives her his magic mirror to see him, and when she sees that her father is sick and traveling alone in the woods to find her, she asks to go help him. The Beast, having fallen in love with Belle, lets her go, also giving her the magic mirror to be able to see him at any time. Belle reaches her father in time and brings him home, only to have the town gather around their house to watch Maurice be carted away to the asylum. When Belle proves the existence of the beast with the magic mirror, Gaston realizes that the Beast is a romantic rival for Belle, and vows to rid the village of the Beast.
The town locks Maurice and Belle in their root cellar and set off the kill the Beast. Luckily Chip, the child of one of the servants, has stowed away in Belle’s bag and frees the two, and the two quickly make their way to the castle. Inside the castle, the servants gear up for a fight with the villagers. When they warn the Beast, he says to let them come, as he is still heartbroken that he let Belle go. Gaston searches for the Beast, and is angered when the Beast refuses to put up a fight. When the Beast hears Belle’s cry, his strength is renewed, and he dangles Gaston from the roof. Having a change of heart, he orders Gaston to leave, then climbs to the balcony where Belle is waiting. Without warning, Gaston stabs the Beast in the side, but loses his grip and plummets to his death.
The Beast lies dying on the balcony, telling Belle that he was happy to see her one last time. As he drifts away, Belle confesses her love right as the last petal on the enchanted rose falls. As everything thinks all is lost, suddenly, the Beast transforms back into the Prince. Belle, confused, doesn’t believe it when he says it’s still him, until she looks into his eyes. The spell is broken all over the castle, and everyone lives happily ever after.