So unfortunately I haven’t been able to see the new film yet (going tonight!), but I did recently re-watch the original, so I wanted to gush about that.
It’s such a perfect film.
There’s certainly room for some debate about whether or not the added scenes in the special edition add or subtract from the film, but personally, I think the original film is legitimately a perfect movie, and on all levels. Whether you look at the voice acting, the direction, the animation, the music, the score, the story—everything is done amazingly.
It’s also my personal favorite Disney movie, and Belle is by far my favorite Disney Princess—I hope to properly articulate why throughout my review.
Before I get to the characters, though, I do want to talk about the film itself.
First off, the animation is incredible. I’ve always understood, to an extent, that Disney was amazing at animation. That said, I was never able to appreciate it as much as others, I guess because I just hadn’t looked at it closely enough in relation to “bad” animation. Disney was what I grew up with, so it was simply the standard and I took it for granted.
That said, though, rewatching this I could truly appreciate the incredible animation, as the mix of hand-drawn and computer animation was a perfect marriage. The colors of the opening shot are breathtakingly vibrant and beautiful, and the entire film just looks so crisp and clean, perfectly done.
Which, speaking of the first scene, I love the entire prologue, and how it’s told through stained glass. It makes it feel like a fairy tale in such a unique way, instead of the classic “opening a book”—this makes it seem like it’s a story passed down from generation to generation, to the point that the story is told on stained glass windows, just as churches showcase biblical stories.
And there are a lot of other clever instances of animation. When we first meet the beast, for example, I thought it was so well-done and genuinely terrifying. With first just the shadow, then the horns elongating, and then the first shot of him is in his most beast-like form, on all fours, snarling, terrifying. Which also lends well to his character, as he slowly becomes more and more upright, mirroring his becoming more and more human.
Another shot I absolutely loved was after Belle’s father asks Gaston for help, and you get the very high, wide-angled shot of him in the midst of a snowstorm, incredibly evocative of his current mood.
And again, with the ending, I like how the film is bookended with the stained glass windows, once again defying the trope of the book closing, but still evoking the same idea of the fairy tale presentation, all at the same time solidifying the idea that this is a story passed down, and eternalized as a story for that culture.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the library—definitely life goals right there haha. Just makes booknerd me (aka, me) so happy. ^^
To talk about the characters, though, I love all of them.
Lumiere and Cogsworth fit the film perfectly. Often times jokes can seem out of place for me in an otherwise-serious film, but not only were they genuinely funny, they never felt out of place. Furthermore, they’re also fully-realized characters, who have distinct personalities and give the feeling that they truly do have a history together. And the film just does clever and fun things with them, such as Lumiere pulling Cogsworth for the sad part of “Be Our Guest,” using him to personify the emotions of that part of the song.
For the two main characters, both Belle and Beast are incredibly personal to me. For Belle, she’s exactly who I want to be; Beast is how I’ve always seen myself.
Before college (and even still a bit, but it was a lot worse before), I was always incredibly self-conscious of my looks/body, plus I always felt ostracized from society because I liked weird (aka nerdy) things. In that way, I always felt like I was the Beast. But Belle was who I wanted to be—nerdy, but confident, and not caring about people’s appearances, but who they are on the inside. I still look up to her, and I still try to be her.
Belle’s also completely me in many ways. Her introduction is perhaps my favorite part of the movie, as I just love how she’s gushing so much about books, and just needs more, finishing books in a single day (as I also love to do). And, she loves re-reading books—there really is nothing like going back to an old favorite, and Belle shows it.
She’s also just such a fantastic character in general, and it’s amazing to see such a strong female character when the standard of the Disney princess was never that high. I’ve been reading things with a much heavier feminist lens recently, and honestly I truly believe this film is incredibly pro-feminist.
There’s a lot of gender issues in films in general—one of the biggest of course being that women are so incredibly often portrayed in very sexist ways, or are used just as love interests/etc. There’s been some great films recently that shows things are slowly getting better, but we’re still nowhere near where we should be. And so it’s even more refreshing to see a character like Belle all the way back in 1991.
Even better, she’s a completely fully-rounded character, and just so real. So often strong female characters are only women who kick ass, or go above and beyond what “normal” women do. Which, those characters are awesome, yes—they’re amazing!—but it’s also nice to see strong female characters of all types. Because being strong isn’t just about physical strength, but about inner strength as well and even more importantly so.
And that’s Belle. She’s not a warrior, or perfect at everything—she’s just her. She’s kind, she’s smart, and she’s powerful because of her inner character, never betraying what she stands for. She’s who she wants to be.
Even when just describing books, she likes both the romance (traditionally “feminine”) and adventure (traditionally “masculine”), and by that the film makes an incredibly important point: it doesn’t matter. Girls and guys can both like adventure or romance, and one shouldn’t be just for one gender or the other. Be who you are, love what you love—like Belle.
Perhaps the biggest thing about her that I aspire to be is just her genuine niceness, how pure of heart she is. I get upset or offended pretty easily (like Beast), but Belle doesn’t. She stands up for herself, but never with malice. And she treats everyone equally.
Even to Gaston, the “bully”, she stays true to her character even though she’s clearly repulsed. She uses her wit to show that she’s better than him, always there with a comeback or line of snarky dialogue to whatever he says, such as when he states how it isn’t right for women to read, and she calls him out for being primeval. Or how she says at one point that “some people use their imagination” in response to the lack of pictures.
Which, speaking of, Gaston is perhaps one of the best Disney villains, because of how human and real he is—a perfect counterpart to Belle and the Beast. A Disney movie is often judged as much by its villain as its hero, and while I love Maleficent and Ursula and other of the fantastic villains, Gaston is just as great, but for different reasons.
Anyway, back to Belle, one of my favorite moments is when she tells Lumiere and Cogsworth how “I figured it out for myself” when Cogsworth asks who told her about the castle being enchanted. She doesn’t let sexism stand, whether it’s from Gaston who thinks any woman is his, or from Cogsworth thinking a woman couldn’t figure something out—she speaks up about it, but again not with malice, but simple correction.
Belle’s a completely active character, but in her own way. She proves that you can be strong in any way. She proves a female character can be written well without being a warrior badass. Because that’s the thing—people are different. Yes, it’s amazing to see incredibly powerful, kick-ass women written well, but it’s also cool to see just women in general written well, because that’s how people are—they’re different, they’re themselves.
Belle fights for her father, and doesn’t give in to any of the men in the film. She never gives in to Gaston. She trades her life for her fathers of her own will, but never gives into the Beast, either, revolting from him in her own way, such as not accepting dinner, etc. It’s why I love their romance so much, because she doesn’t just give in to him or become infatuated with him, but stands strong and then later starts to slowly see his inner character—in her own time, in her own way.
I really don’t think Belle gets enough credit, because I truly think she’s one of the strongest characters of film period. Female, male, live-action, animated—she’s just always exactly who she wants to be, and never apologizes for it, nor does she ever betray her own values. Belle is an incredibly strong character and a feminist, and it’s so refreshing to see.
The Beast, too, though, it’s a fantastic character.
I’d go so far to say that Beast even is redeemed to the extent that by the end of the film that he’s either a feminist or at least on his way to becoming one. Which might sound crazy, but: he realizes that her wishes are just as important as his own, validating her concerns, and that’s why he lets her go back to her father. He accepts her making her own choice instead of trying to force her to love him, as he originally wanted. And he gives up his possibly only chance at becoming human again, because he validates her concerns as just as important as his own—treating her as an equal. That’s how big of a character arc he has during the film—before he was turned into the beast, I imagine him to be basically Gaston as a prince; after being turned into a beast, he’s filled with hate and malice, hating anyone and everyone; but eventually, he learns about the importance of being kind and of respecting women (and people in general), and that his wishes or his happiness isn’t necessarily the most important thing, and that other people’s wishes are equally valid.
Now granted, we don’t see how he treats other women individually (he does begin to value all of his servants and whatnot, some of which are women), but I’d like to think that he’s truly become a good character. I can also see it be argued that he allowed her to make her own choice just so that she would love him/marry him, but I would argue in response that the film presents him to be genuinely changed, not changed simply to get what he wants, and so you have to use the evidence given, and there’s no evidence to show he just did it for his own gain as he’s clearly distressed at giving up his only chance at becoming human. Furthermore, he does, like I said, treat others better (such as the servants) by the end. No, the film doesn’t offer enough to say definitively one way or another, but it leaves open the possibility that he may have been redeemed so far that he’s perhaps truly a feminist (and at least definitely on the way there).
And that’s amazing at how far he’s come by the end of the film, and that’s why I love his character so much—and Belle’s, because his change wouldn’t be possible without her. I’m not completely sure if he can be called a feminist, but it’s definitely something I want to look more into and think more about, as he does have a fantastic arc.
Throughout the film, too, though, he’s a fascinating character. He’s so incredibly damaged at the beginning, such as getting so upset simply at Belle not having dinner with him, etc. But that said, the film also does a great job of portraying his duality, and that there is good inside of him—after Belle first sees the rose, for example, he lashes out in anger but immediately after she leaves he looks incredibly forlorn, because he realizes how he overreacted, how he hurt another human being.
And again, while there isn’t an abundance of evidence, I like to believe from the evidence we get that he truly does change, such as when he says “I haven’t felt that way about anyone”—it’s the realization that there’s more to people than looks, and that he’s never liked someone before because of who they are on the inside. I think this is furthered when he shows her the library and gives it to her, because he takes the time to learn from Lumiere (at least, it’s assumed, because Lumiere later says “I knew that would work”) what she likes. And again, later, when Lumiere says “who’d have guessed they’d come together on their own.” Even if we don’t fully see that, it’s stated.
And lastly, at the end of the film he doesn’t kill Gaston because Belle tells him not to—rather, he simply doesn’t do it, even though he had good reason to (self-defense, to protect her/others, etc.), again just showing how far he’s come, able to control his anger and think about others.
In summary, Beast and Belle are both just such fantastic characters, juxtaposed interestingly with Gaston, as he is Belle’s opposite and he’s how Beast would be if he never became the Beast, or so it would seem. But because Beast met Belle and was so overwhelmed with her kindness and good-heartedness and her own strongness, he was able to come back from the depths he had fallen to in order to become a truly good person.
As Roger Ebert says in his review of the film, he wasn’t reviewing an animated film. He was being told a story, hearing terrific music, having fun.
That’s what this movie is.
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Unrelated to the film, because of my love for the story in general I absolutely love all of literary representations of it that I’ve read so far, and I cannot wait to read more. Yes, I’m utterly obsessed, but there are so many great adaptations I can’t wait to read them all (I’ve actually only read Uprooted from the picture below, and it was amazing, and there are so many others I need to get).