The creators of Beauty and the Beast are so good at making the storytelling invisible that I had to watch the movie three times before I could really begin understanding the mechanics of how it worked.
No wonder it won so many awards.
There are three things that really stuck out to me as I studied: the similarities between the villain and the protagonist, the style of the layout, and how much the music had an influence on the film.
Between Gaston and the Beast
In the beginning, Gaston and Adam (before he became the beast) are both arrogant and unkind. Adam suffers for it, while Gaston is applauded for it.
I love how Gaston is in shadow when we first meet him. It’s priming us for his villainous behavior.
But we spend quite a bit of time with the Beast. We know he’s not evil despite his destructive outbursts of anger. He saves Belle from the wolves, putting himself in harm’s way to save another.
Gaston never does that. But he and the Beast are similar in the way they treat Belle at different parts of the film.
“Belle would do anything to keep her father from being locked up.” - Gaston when he plots to lock up Maurice.
But who had her father locked up in the beginning?
Gaston actually had a chance to save Belle and perhaps win her heart – when Maurice asks for his help. Gaston denies assistance and very rudely kicks the old man out into the cold. This is where he begins to become more beast than man.
What a great way to make a villain worse than he already was! Give him a chance at redemption and have him throw it away.
Then the Beast really changes and becomes the hero. When Maurice is in trouble, the Beast gives up his one chance to become human again.
Then we have a satisfying Beast vs. Gaston battle in the end. Who’s truly the monster then?
The Style of Layout
I’m beginning to learn more and more about how a film is styled. Beauty and the Beast was set in France sometime probably during the renaissance. This played a huge role in the design of the layout.
I kept feeling that I’d seen the backgrounds before and then I realized that I’d studied French landscape artists in my Art History classes.
The layout artists must have studied and used these paintings as reference! Did you notice the allusion the Monet's haystacks?
This seemingly invisible stamp of time and place adds depth and history to a tale as old as time.
Okay, I really hate to approach the subject of music because I am completely illiterate in the ways of beats and notes and pitches. But when I watched the behind the scenes documentary of Beauty and the Beast, they talked about how making it a musical was a driving engine for the creation of the film.
Bringing on Alan Menken and Howard Ashman was a pivotal moment. The music drove the producers to New York to cast the film, bringing Broadway stars into the production and giving the story its theatrical performance.
This is huge. The songs make the film. The animation is great, layouts are great, but it’s the music that gets stuck in my head. You can say so much in a song that would be awkward or difficult to express simply through animation.
For example, the opening song “Belle” establishes that Belle lives in a bustling but plain town, that she a beautiful outcast, loves romantic adventure stories, that she’s unhappy with her situation, and she dreams of something more. Oh and it also establishes Gaston as an arrogant town hero that wants to marry Belle.
All in the space of a song. Pure genius.
On a final note, I wanted to talk a little about Belle. The story itself is about the Beast and the main villain is a hunter. I imagine it must have been hard for the creators the figure out Belle.
I noticed that we really see the story through her eyes. We connect with her when she yearns for far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells and a prince in disguise (hint hint…)
There’s also this scene where Maurice is struggling with his project and Belle cheers him up.
I like these moments where we see Belle as an encourager and uplifter – traits that are required if we are to believe that Belle will help the Beast overcome his own issues.
And we, as an audience, want to encourage the Beast to be better.
Establishing Belle as an outcast, a dreamer, and a support to those who are struggling, helps us to believe that she would fall in love with the Beast. I’m sure that was no easy task for the story crew to figure out.
As with most Disney classics, I love this movie. I grew up with it and it was a distinct part of my childhood. Also, I kinda wanted Belle’s library.
But who doesn’t?!
Stay tuned for Part Two next week! I'll be discussing the humor and the small details that make the film so great.