As I mentioned in my Mulan post, critical analysis of a movie is essential to scriptwriting and movie-making. There are lessons to be gathered from each and every movie. However, some highly acclaimed films really don’t hold up under scrutiny. Yet, are remembered as classic. Beauty and the Beast is one of them.
Technical Breakdown of Beauty and the Beast
(aka What Fails? The story.)
Act 1: Setting the fairy tale tone, a narrator tells us the exposition. There is an enchanted prince in the woods, who’s been turned into the beast. (Though, this is an effective example of when Telling vs. Showing works.) A ticking clock device is introduce, because the “Beast must learn to love by his 21st Birthday.” Then we meet Belle, who hates her life, establishing the Status-Quo with the musical number “Belle”. At this point our theme of Beyond the Surface is established. (We have the Beast, who is a prince in disguise; Belle, who is more than her “beauty;” and Gaston, who is handsome, but a bit of an ass, aka, not pretty.) Belle’s father, Maurice, heads off to some convention where he will show of his insane contraption (a set up). Meanwhile, Gaston proposes to Belle, which she refuses because she can’t bear the thought of being a housewife. Of course, conveniently, her father’s horse shows up indicating that her father is missing, the inciting incident. She follows the horse to an abandoned castle, where she offers herself in exchange for her father, ending Act 1. (Note, there is only 1 musical number and its reprise in Act 1.)
Act 2: This first half of Act 2 goes: Belle and the Beast do not get along and culminating in Belle escaping the castle. This is expressed in a series of events where Belle flat out ignores the Beast’s demands. (“Be Our Guest” is part of the servants participation in Belle’s rebellion.) When Belle flees, the Beast goes after her, saving her from a pack of wolves. Belle returns to the castle, and she and the Beast begin again.
Because she saved him from the wolves, the Beast has “fallen in love with her,” and their relationship is developed through the number, “Something There.” Meanwhile, Gaston broods because of her rejection (“Gaston” musical number), and devises a plan to coerce Belle into marrying him. Back at the Enchanted Castle, the Beast experiences a blooming scene, just before the number “Beauty and the Beast,” as he is transformed from monster to prince. I think the subplot involves the servants’ desire to be human, though, their number “When We’re Human Again” is cut. (Or perhaps the subplot is Gaton looking to marry Belle, and his scheming to get Maurice committed? Or could it be there is no subplot?) I think the Beast’s low point, or Dark Night of the Soul, happens when Belle leaves the Beast to nurse her father. Once home, Gaston confront Belle and tries to have her father committed, offering her a parallel of the Beast’s offer in Act 1. She refuses, and reveals the Beast lives outside of the town. Gaston rallies the town, and Act 2 ends with “The Mob Song.” (Interesting note, I’m not sure there is A Point of No Return in this movie. At no time do I feel that Belle couldn’t return home. I mean, she does. She goes home to her father, and I’m not sure she would have gone back to the beast.) With the exception of “Belle” and the “Beauty and the Beast” reprise, all songs exist in Act 2.
(And yes, Belle, this is all your fault.)
Act 3: Before Gaston leaves, he traps Belle and her father in their cellar. Meanwhile, the beast has given up hope, as the town folk invade his castle. His servants defend it bravely. Belle is saved by chip, the teacup who I believe functions as the voice of the audience, and her father’s madcap invention (almost a Dues Ex Machina). She reaches the castle, inspiring the beast to fight back. The Beast and Gaston battle it out on the castle eaves, ending in both the Beast and Gaston’s death. Also, the ticking clock runs out at the same time. Belle’s love, breaks the spell, and revives the Beast as Prince. And they live happily ever after. (Or so we believe.) Also note, there is a musical reprise of “Beauty and the Beast” just before the movie ends.
The movie employees several Disney staples: the comic relief companion, though not an animal, but rather magical household items; a distinctive setting (France); a magical element; and a hybrid musical. While these elements are utilized, they are not utilized so well.
The companions aren’t used to their full advantage, and often, are used to progress the plot forward because neither central character will. They have a blatant disregard for their master (letting Maurice into the castle and starting the whole affair, plus the entire number of “Be Our Guest”), and their motives are entirely selfish. Without them, there would be no story, yet, their choices feel like they are driven by plot rather than character.
The movie is set in France as a nod to more popular renditions of the story. Also, I believe it’s also because it’s heavily influenced by Cocteau’s Le Belle et Le Bete. I mean, come on, the Beasts look the same!
Beauty and the Beast is very basic in story. In fact, I would say that it’s not a fairy tale adaptation or retelling, but just another iteration of the story. It’s like a moving picture book. Disney’s version doesn’t really add new elements, or manipulate existing elements to tell a complex, compelling story. It doesn’t use the story as a basis for something bigger. I’m not even sure if it’s a modernization since it’s set in a historic setting with chauvinistic ideals. It is nothing more than the tale.
Most of the plot is moved forward because, well, if they didn’t there wouldn’t be a movie. Belle is a static character, unless you define her change as “falling in love.” We need outside influences, the servants, to make things happen. There are more plot holes than Swiss cheese (the 10 year curse, a random prince in the woods*), but, we still buy into the movie. We are emotionally charged when Gaston storms the castle. But why?
What Works: The sound and animation.
First, I’m just going to get this out of the way. Beauty and the Beast is a beautifully animated film. It’s gorgeous. The design is stunning. Colors are utilized awesomely. Johnathan pointed out that blues and oranges are used to compliment the differences between town and castle. The characters well animated. It’s just lovely.
But it’s the sound of the movie that pulls at people’s heart strings. The score is so complex, and well crafted. It uses swells to manipulate the audience into feeling what’s going on in the scene instead of actually paying attention. The musical numbers are memorable, and fill in the emotional gaps the poor scripting leaves.
Even the voice actors deliver amazing performances with subpar lines. Belle says horrible things, all the time, but because her voice is calm and lovely, we ignore them. The beast’s transformation has more to do with line delivery than his character’s action. We know he’s changed because we hear it in his voice.
Beauty and the Beast is what makes fairy tales timeless. It’s why we keep retelling these stories generation after generation. Disney’s film, reminds us that sometimes, we can get away with bad writing if we can invoke strong emotions and have good muisc. Even with all things consider, it’s still a milestone in cinema (refer to the picture earlier in the post).
It also serves as a reminder that this isn’t what we want in our script. We want to do something more. We want an adaption. Yet, Beauty and the Beast serves as a reminder not to forget about the emotional pull a magical tale can have.
*As a side note, I came up with a justification for why the Prince Beast lives in the woods and the town doesn’t know. He’s a middle/younger son who lives in his own chateau. Since he’s in no position to gain the throne, well, no one would pay attention to him, and he really wouldn’t have any jurisdiction over the town. Also, that would be why he’s a prince, not a king. Johnathan suspects that he was such an ass of a child, his parents didn’t want to deal with him, hence, why a ten year old would be left parent-less.