1991 was a rather interesting turning point in the history of Disney’s popular line of animated films. Audiences had already been admiring the great movies the studio had been putting out for decades, falling in love with excellent works like “Sleeping Beauty,” “Pinocchio,” “The Sword in the Stone,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Cinderella.” Nor had the studio’s work gone unrecognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with Disney himself receiving a special award for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (on top of several wins for short cartoons).
However, it wasn’t until the 1991-92 award season where the Academy finally bestowed the honor of nominating one of their animated films for the top prize, Best Picture. That film was, of course, “Beauty and the Beast,” yet another masterpiece from a studio that had already produced so many. Unfortunately, it didn’t win, losing that honor to “The Silence of the Lambs,” but the recognition was a big step in showing how animated films were beginning to be taken more seriously (eventually leading to the creation of its own category). Sure, there were earlier films in the Disney line that would have been worthy of such a nomination, but with this classic, it felt like a new level had been reached, setting the bar even higher for a studio that had constantly been outdoing itself. And so, on its 25th anniversary, let’s take a look back at this special film to see why it has cemented itself in the pantheon of animated greats.
The film starts off by giving us the backstory of the Beast (Voice of Robby Benson). One day, a disguised enchantress shows up at the castle of young Prince Adam, offering him a rose in exchange for shelter. He refuses, causing her to change him into a beast and giving him until his 21st birthday to fall in love and be loved in return, or else he shall be forced to remain this way forever. Several years later, we meet Belle (Voice of Paige O’Hara), a young woman who lives with her inventor father in a village where she has become bored with everyday life, often escaping by reading books. She is seen as somewhat odd, but this doesn’t stop the dashing Gaston (Voice of Richard White) from attempting to take her hand in marriage. However, given that he seems to think only of himself, Belle is less than thrilled with the idea.
When her father, Maurice (Voice of Rex Everhart), decides to travel to a fair to present a new invention, he becomes lost in the woods and gets chased by a pack of wolves. Luckily, he just happens to stumble upon the Beast’s castle and runs inside for safety. While the cursed servants, including Lumiere (Voice of Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth (Voice of David Ogden Stiers), and Mrs. Potts (Voice of Angela Lansbury), welcome him and try to make him comfortable, their master becomes furious and locks him away. A worried Belle eventually makes her way to the castle thanks to her father’s horse, and while she does manage to free Maurice, she is forced to agree to stay at the castle in return. The servants immediately think that she could finally be the one to break the spell hanging over the castle, but with the Beast’s coarse personality and Belle attempting to recover from being separated from her father, is there the slightest chance of there being a spark of love in the air?
“Beauty and the Beast,” based on the French fairy tale of the same name, is a timeless tale that never diminishes, even after repeating viewings. There’s something about this classic story, with its two unlikely lovers starting a relationship in the strangest of circumstances, that feels fresh every time you watch it. Its unique blossoming of emotion, the budding of romance where it doesn’t seem possible is as transfixing and compelling as it was when it first graced the big screen 25 years ago.
Like with most Disney classics, “Beauty and the Beast” is peppered with fascinating and lovable characters that enhance and enrich the tale. Aside from our lovers bringing out the best in each other, you have a plethora of memorable secondary characters like Lumiere the candlestick, who only lives to serve, Cogsworth the clock, who means well, but can sometimes come off a little strong, and Mrs. Potts the teapot, the gentle maid who is a sweet mother to her young boy, Chip. These are the kind of characters you can’t help but root for as they try to set everything in motion for Belle and the Beast to fall in love. If the unforgettable story and the emotional punches it contains weren’t quite enough to make this an everlasting classic, then this cornucopia of intriguing personalities will certainly do the trick.
That being said, what most more than likely remember from the film is the outstanding music from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Aside from being nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, it also received three individual nominations for Best Original Song for “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” While it was the last of these that took the Oscar, it easily could have gone to any of them, and this is all on top of the film winning Best Original Score (a common Disney occurrence, but always well-deserved). The music is simply beautiful, catchy, and just as timeless as the tale itself.
All things taken into consideration, it’s no wonder why “Beauty and the Beast” is considered one of Disney’s very best masterpieces. Its brilliant narrative, memorable characters, and gorgeous music make this a film that people of all ages continue to revisit again and again. Even after 25 years, it certainly shows no signs of slowing down. From the first moment it was seen back in 1991, it always seemed destined to become a classic, and it can easily be said that it will continue to be as admired for many more generations to come.
Note: This new Blu-ray release of the film comes with both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film. The latter features an additional song called “Human Again” in which the servants sing about returning to their human forms while cleaning the castle. It’s a so-so song that was officially cut for continuity purposes, though it was more likely due to pacing because it doesn’t really do anything to advance the story. Between the two, I would say you’re better off going with the original theatrical cut.
“Beauty and the Beast” comes to Blu-ray for the second time in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. Every frame of this animated masterpiece has been remastered to the point where it appears brand new, giving magnificent sharpness and clarity to the film, and making it look the best it ever has. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally sublime, giving you all of the vocal performances and the Academy Award-winning music in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given unbeatable treatment, which will most definitely please its millions of fans.
Always Belle (12 Minutes): An intriguing featurette about Paige O’Hara, the actress behind the voice of Belle.
Menken & Friends: 25 Years of Musical Inspiration (19 Minutes): A fascinating discussion between composers Alan Menken, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Stephen Schwartz, Robert Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
#1074: Walt, Fairy Tales & Beauty and the Beast (10 Minutes): A featurette that explores Walt Disney’s fondness for fairy tales and the attempts to get “Beauty and the Beast” made.
The Recording Sessions (4 Minutes): An excellent look behind the scenes at the voice actors recording their parts.
25 Fun Facts About Beauty and the Beast (5 Minutes): A collection of trivia about the film.
Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peak (1 Minute): A very brief behind the scenes look at the upcoming live-action “Beauty and the Beast” film.
Commentary with Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, Producer Don Hahn, and Composer Alan Menken (Extended Edition): An outstanding commentary that has the filmmakers giving you fascinating behind the scenes facts about the film.
“Beauty and the Beast” remains one of Disney’s very best animated masterpieces. Featuring a timeless story, memorable characters, and beautiful music, it’s an unforgettable film that has been admired by millions of fans for the last 25 years. With it being newly-released on Blu-ray for its anniversary, there’s no better time to revisit this classic or to help pass it on to the next generation, who are sure to fall in love with it just like many of us did all those years ago.