Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the kind of film that comes once in a blue moon: a piece of cinema that is not only flawless, but influential. Playing a major part in the revolutionary Disney Renaissance of the 90’s, Beauty and the Beast proved its predecessor, The Little Mermaid, was not just a fluke but a foreshadowing of what was to come. Beauty and the Beast became a critical darling, going so far as to become the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Twenty-five years later, it is still considered one of the finest films in existence because it remains a tale as old as time — as perfectly view-able now as it was then.
The animation has aged like fine wine. This is a stunning movie to look at. I especially love how complimentary the colors are to the narrative, starting off with the brightly lit village Belle reluctantly calls home. By contrast, the Beast’s castle is cast in shadows to reflect his heavy burden. As the movie progresses and characters grow, the palette switches and the castle is soon peppered with warm hues (like the yellow dominating the ballroom) while Belle’s hometown gradually darkens under Gaston’s influence. The CGI effects are also topnotch, blending seamlessly with the classic animation, most notably during the jaw-dropping ballroom scene.
The music is fantastic, perfectly at home with the best of Broadway theatrics. Each of the songs was lovingly composed by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman. Every one of them is versatile and memorable with some of the best including “Be Our Guest,” a triumphant showstopper as the magical kitchenware entertains Belle; “Gaston,” a boisterous song that perfectly encompass the eponymous’ villain’s ego; and “Beauty and the Beast,” a wonderfully compassionate love ballad. The music was Howard Ashman’s literal swan song, as he tragically died of AIDS shortly before the movie premiered. He departs with grace, leaving behind a legacy still felt today.
This is all held together by an expertly crafted narrative that nails the romance between Belle and the Beast. The writers took what could have been an unfortunate plot and recontextualized it to fit modern viewers, presenting a love story told through subject matters that are just as relevant today, if not more so. Belle’s character is absolutely influential: kindhearted, but independently strong in the face of stubborn obstacles. She rejects what society expects of her to pursue her own goals and dreams. Belle noticeably takes charge of any given situation she is in. She’s the one who volunteers to take her father’s place to live with the Beast, she refuses to abide by the Beast’s hostility and wisely leaves the moment he really loses it, and only returns when he saves her life. Even then, she chews him out for his temper and refuses to succumb to his demands until he improves. For the Beast’s part, not only is he willing to change, but there is subtle foreshadowing in the first act that implies he is capable of it: the biggest being his guilt-ridden face when he realizes how upset Belle is.
This is why Gaston is such a brilliant concept. Beauty and the Beast celebrates the beauty within: Belle plays the trope straight by being both beautiful outside and in, but she’s only one element of a much broader theme. If the Beast is an ugly creature with an angelic soul, Gaston serves as his dangerous antithesis. It’s not just that he’s handsome and well-loved by the townsfolk or that he flaunts it, but that society lets him because it’s the norm. Thus Gaston can get away with his haughty behavior and sexist remarks, targeting Belle as an obstacle to obtain. Gaston is a cautionary tale on entitlement and double standards and the dangers they carry, no matter what you look like. Twenty-five years later, Beauty and the Beast expertly underlines a stunning commentary on abuse and gender imbalance that places it right there with the modern Disney film Zootopia and its allegorical take on racism.
This 25th anniversary Blu-ray edition comes with two different versions of the film: the original theatrical cut and the extended version that comes with the “Human Again” musical segment. The “Human Again” song, though a nice little number, feels bloated in an already music-heavy scene. An informative audio commentary is provided by Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, Producer Dan Hahn, and composer Alan Menken. “Always Belle” is a decent featurette starring Belle’s voice actress Paige O’Hara as she shares her experiences of this film and Broadway. “Menken and Friends: 25 Years of Musical Inspiration” is nineteen-minute feature centering on Broadway professionals Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Steven Schwartz as they meet up with Alan Menken to chat about the movie and how it inspired them to pursue their dreams. Throughout the two extras, Howard Ashman remains a constant presence in everyone’s mind, emphasizing the role he played in their lives and the dedication he committed to his final project.
“#1074: Walt, Fairy Tales, and Beauty and the Beast” is a short, but fascinating documentary detailing the failed Beauty and the Beast of the 1940s. Of note is the highlight they place on Disney animator Kay Nielsen whose painting of Beauty mending the Beast served as an inspiration that would eventually lead to the finished movie decades later. The Recording Sessions is a montage of recorded footage of the voice actors. 25 Fun Facts About Beauty and the Beast is a pretty straightforward trivia short hosted by the latest Disney teen stars, Kayla Maisonet and Gus Kamp. Most of the information has long since been documented elsewhere over the years, so the only ones who’ll get anything out of this particular feature would be newcomers to the film. Other extras include a singalong of all the songs in the film and a preview of the upcoming 2017 live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. Disappointingly, this Blu-ray skimps on the contents, lacking the hours of bonus features from the previously released Diamond Edition. One thing I also noticed from these bonus features are the way they’re used as an excuse to advertise recent or upcoming Disney films. While Disney is no stranger to shilling their own product, it feels a bit tacky when we can watch trailers just as easily in the “Previews” section.
Beauty and the Beast is a smart, well-crafted movie. The animation, music, and story is top grade and its message is pitch perfect. Beauty and the Beast is an ageless experience; a marvel of cinematic mastery that can be viewed over and over again and never lose its luster. Twenty-five years from now, it’ll still hold up as a visionary masterpiece.