BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991):
Written by: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (original story), Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont (adaptation novel that heavily influenced this), Linda Woolverton, Brenda Chapman, Burny Mattinson, Brian Pimental, Joe Ranft, Kelly Asbury, Chris Sanders, Kevin Harkey, Bruce Woodside, Tom Ellery, Robert Lence & Roger Allers
The Disney Animated Canon features some spectacular works of art, and many excel at various things that make them more memorable. There are some that have a fantastic art style. Some have great music. Some have better backgrounds than others, or do something unique with the “Disney Cliche Format”. Some may only have one really memorable song or character and rest on those laurels. But only ONE film, in my opinion, truly combines every single thing Disney does well, and merges them into one picture. I have my favorite Disney films, but only ONE of them is the best. And that movie is Beauty And The Beast.
THIS MOVIE IS PERFECTION. The animation is the best yet, and only later films had a shot at matching it’s perfect blending of style and technology. The character designs are unimaginably perfect, to the point where every character could not be changed one iota. Nearly the entirety of the songs are phenomenal, from the ostentatious “Show-Off” ones like Be Our Guest to the hilarious Gaston. There’s epic background music, exciting fight scenes, great comedy, and the best love story Disney ever told. How perfect is it? It was, until UP many years later, the only animated film EVER nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture- and this is an award reserved by a bunch of stodgy old white guys to give to art films or whatever tugged at their heartstrings that year with “Oscar Bait” crap- the fact that an ANIMATED MOVIE could get them temporarily ignore all of the “I play a drug addict” or “I am doing a biographical picture” stuff for one freakin’ year is astonishing.
SO MUCH GOOD STUFF:
The mood is unsurpassed- never before has a castle looked more forboding and dark. All the shadows everywhere. The chaos of the fight scenes. The West Wing, where Beast is sadly looking at this wilting Magic Rose (an perfect symbolic representation of the ticking clock that is his redemption). The gravitas of those moments when The Beast steps into the light or appears in the Wing, his breath visible in a big snort… it’s incredible stuff to witness, and something that cannot be captured in either live action OR CGI. ONLY hand-drawn animation can do this.
It really captures the nastiness of Old Legends and Harsh Lessons back in the day- sure, The Prince deserved to be punished for his douchebaggery… but his SERVANTS? The children, the dog, whatever that carriage was, etc.? The Enchantress effectively punished dozens, if not DOZENS of people (given how many things appeared in Be Our Guest, though they’re not really meant to represent one person each) because they had a crappy boss.
The character animation is remarkable, especially because Belle is by definition less “showy” than many other heroines- she’s not an Action Girl, doesn’t swim, and doesn’t do a lot of dancing around compared to others. But if you watch carefully, they NEVER match this kind of subtley to movement again. There’s that scene where she contemplates leaving The Beast after he saves her from the wolves, but reconsiders. Or the time in Something There while feeding birds where she hides behind the tree and finds herself shocked at how much she’s coming to care for her jailer. YOU CAN ACTUALLY READ IT ON HER FACE. To say nothing of how The Beast was designed and animated (more on him in his own build).
The Sidekicks actually fail to be annoying or cloying. Even Chip, who is essentially the “Kid P.O.V. Character”, which tends to be an annoying archetype, is as cute as he’s supposed to be without being EVERYWHERE. He’s in a couple scenes making comments, and he saves the day one time on behalf of children everywhere, and that’s it. Lumiere & Cogsworth aren’t even generic Sidekicks- they’re more like mentors and advisors. Hell, they’re not even as slapsticky as you’d expect- Cogsworth is downright viciously-sarcastic (“Flowers, chocolates, promises you don’t intend to KEEP…”).
A villain with comparatively-little screen-time who nonetheless commands attention and is VERY well-remembered.
The songs- there isn’t a crap or forgettable song in the lot- EVERY ONE IS GOOD. This is considered the masterpiece of the late Howard Ashman (the end of the movie reads “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful”), and even the leitmotifs that follow characters around are great.
The Scenery Porn- the library, the Be Our Guest dance sequence, the courtyard, the freaking CASTLE… once they hit the Ballroom Dance sequence, you’re like “this is it. This is why the first guy started making consecutive pictures in a flip-book, and why Walt Disney made his first animated feature- this justifies the entire medium’s existence.”
AND THE LOVE STORY:
It uses a lot of the old cliches, like “they dislike each other at first” and “he’s a jerk who does one nice thing” (something that serial seducers like to use, as I’ve discovered- for some reason, it makes some women see you as a nice guy deep-down, whereas a nice guy doing one jerky thing PROVES HE IS A JERK FOREVER). There’s even the question of Belle gaining sympathy for her captor… but the fact is, 99% of all audiences completely gloss it over because IT IS SO PERFECTLY DONE. The Beast is appallingly callous and rude, SCREAMING at Belle on the first night of her captivity because she isn’t hungry. He FREAKS when she enters the West Wing against his direct orders, chasing her out the castle. But then there’s that moment where he saves her life against those freaky-ass wolves, and she’s silently grateful to him…
And then, when she’s tending to his wounds (“how did she get him onto that horse?” my mom said at the time- it still bugs me), they don’t just get all weepy. He starts whining about the pain and she starts treating him like a whiny baby, and they have the CUTEST ARGUMENT EVER, because she’s all angry and stuff (why is it women are never more attractive than when they’re like that?) and lecturing him and she STONES HIM in the debate, leaving him speechless. And ONLY THEN do they come to terms and she thanks him, and that’s what sets off their relationship.
No “Falling in love in one day” like every Disney movie ever- this takes TIME. And they don’t portray them as lovey-dovey simps, either- there’s no cooing instantly or none of that. Looking closely, it’s clear that they are TERRIFIED and what’s going on. The Beast is nervous as hell, trying all this new crap (I mean, BEING NICE TO PEOPLE?) and can barely contain himself. Belle has all these moments where she stops and is like “is this REALLY happening?” It’s adorable at points too (like the horribly one-sided snowball fight), especially when Beast is trying to be nice.
It’s a testament to the skill of everyone involved here that they pulled it off. It should have been impossible. They basically had a guy imprison someone out of spite and then you root for him to get the girl in the end, purely off of the skill of the writers and performers. A lot of it is The Beast himself- he comes off as terrifying at first- appearing noble and strong, but also unpredictable and vicious. But that scene at the doorway (“I’m not hungry!” “*huge YOU SEE? look*”) you kind of get a feel for him, and it becomes more clear later- he’s not so much furious as he is… sort of childish. But in that “little boy” kind of way that makes him endearing to a female audience (and, importantly, Belle)- his anger comes from frustration, insecurity and fear. All his roaring and angry eventually gives way to a pleading kind of helplessness (the HILARIOUS scene where he just gobbles down a bowlful of porridge, only to -poorly- attempt to eat with a spoon). As Belle herself sings it “Now he’s DEAR… and so UNSURE… I wonder why I didn’t see it there before?”
The “Beast As A Nervous Kid” thing is of course best shown in the famous Ballroom Dance Sequence. Look at his face during it- he’s nearly always needing to be led on and shown what to do. She leads him into putting his paw against her back, and the whole time he’s like “I DUNNO…”. When Belle actually NUZZLES HERSELF IN HIS FUR, what’s his reaction? He turns to Cogsworth & Lumiere and is like “OMG! You see!? This girl is HUGGING ME!” like a happy little boy. It’s adorable.
Stockholm Syndrome? Screw that noise- reviewer Lindsey Ellis and others have pointed out, it neither meets the criteria for that actual effect, but Belle never becomes subservient to her captor- she basically refuses him at every turn, rips him a new one every time he acts like an asshole, and STILL backtalks him every chance she gets. Belle puts up with absolutely NONE of his crap for this entire thing, and that’s part of what makes it so fun.
And that’s the brilliant thing- the love story is SO WELL DONE that nobody even considers all of the little plot holes, like “hey, she’s been there for a while, so shouldn’t people realize she’s gone?”, or “why can ONLY BELLE go save Maurice? Why can’t Beast help too, instead of setting her free?” or “doesn’t she remember this guy arrested her father over nothing and is holding her prisoner?”. In a lesser film, this would be all you could think about- but instead, it’s just the stuff a bunch of whiny internet dorks bitch about (annoyingly, the Live-Action Remake tries to “fix” all of them, making for a bloated screenplay). Haters gonna hate: This is a love story about a giant asshat and how the love of the MOST PERFECT WOMAN EVER has changed him into a kind, gentle, loving individual. Hell, look at the ending bits, where Beast releases her from her confinement so she can go and meet her father- it KILLS HIM to set her free, because he loves her so much, but he can’t sit and watch her suffer. Her leaving hurts him so much he WAILS in animalistic fury, and resigns himself to die at Gaston’s hands. He just looks at the murderous villain with these sad eyes, shrugs, and turns away to meet his fate. SUICIDE IN A DISNEY FILM. And it all pays off with the most important bit- “You CAME BACK…” he says in his dying moments, and Belle can only say “Of COURSE I did–!” before begging him not to leave her.
And this movie is FUNNY. People go nuts about The Emperor’s New Groove or how funny The Genie and Timon & Pumbaa are, but I have to say, this is the funniest Disney movie ever. Cogsworth’s great “Promises you don’t intend to KEEP” line is classically-cynical about the whole love game, and is perfect. The part where The Beast all dressed up with curly fur like a dog, and Lumiere’s all “You look so….” “STUPID.” is freaking hilarious. But the funniest moment in Disney history has to be in that scene where they’re eating breakfast across the table from each other (starting right here). Beautiful Belle takes this dainty little sip of her food, all smiling… then jerks back because The Beast is FACE-DEEP in his damn porridge, slobbering all over the place, with his cheeks all puffed out and his eyes all squinted in a daze. Absolutely KILLS ME every single time. And that’s not even getting into the uproarious Gaston Villain Song.
No Wonder That Her Name Means “Beauty”- Her Looks Have Got No Parallel
Belle is arguably the most beloved Disney Princess ever- others were more bad-ass, but none of them had Belle’s style and intelligence. Belle was smart and TOUGH, dealing with just about anything. No wilting flower, she came straight at anyone who pissed her off, putting both Gaston AND the Beast in their places. Ariel might have been more Toyetic, but Belle’s distinctive yellow/gold gown is probably the most famous gown in Disney history until a certain Snow Queen came out. But, I mean… people like Cinderella, and Aurora, and Ariel, and Rapunzel. But they LOVE Belle.
Belle, along with Aurora, may prove to be the most “perfect” of all Disney Princesses- in fact, the greatest testament to the skill of the writers of this film may be the fact that they took a person with almost no flaws whatsoever, and made her a FASCINATING character. Belle is an oddball- a brainy bookworm in 18th Century-ish France, unwilling to fall head over heels for the manly Gaston like every other floozy in town, and content merely to stick her nose in books- in essence, Belle is a nerd, lost in fantasy instead of boring reality.
She dreams of a life beyond this boring, podunk little town, and longs for the adventure in her favorite books. However, when her father is kidnapped by a monstrous Beast, she wastes no time in sacrificing her freedom, and is now the prisoner of the creature.
And they really pulled it off- while Belle is arguably the most admirable of the Princesses (having MUCH more backbone than Aurora, Snow White or Cinderella, and more maturity than Ariel), she has a rebellious streak a mile wide. What I love is that she puts up with absolutely ZERO SHIT from people- even at her most despondent, she tells the Beast to shove it when he starts ordering her to join him for dinner. When he says “it is forbidden!” when she inquires about the West Wing, what does she do? Sneaks away right to it.
And while he frightens her away, and gives her the freedom she wanted… she has the conviction to save him from the cold… and yet STILL doesn’t put up with any of his shit, throwing his shitty attitude right back in his face “THAT HURT!” “If you’d stop STRUGGLING it wouldn’t HURT so much!”. Belle’s fightiness is often unremarked upon- she’s arguably the LEAST passive of the Princesses. Belle is sweet, generous, kind-hearted and brilliant, but if you go one step out of line, she’ll be right in your face.
About the Performer: Paige O’Hara was BRILLIANT, here. Once again, a Broadway actress is perfectly-cast, as she sings the high notes, acts perfectly polite, but isn’t afraid to talk some smack at the boorish buffoons in her life (the scenes where she utterly confounds Beast, no matter how mad he is, are perfect- their argument over the fire while she tends to his wounds is one of my favorite scenes ever). In the film’s climax, when she falls apart over the body of the creature she’s truly come to love, the woman’s sobs were so tremendous that the voice directors actually asked Paige if she was okay- “of course! ACTING!” was the response.
Her voice cracks at EXACTLY the right moments, and she portrays emotion exceptionally well. You can practically HEAR her eyes roll when she sings “Madam… Gaston… his little wife!”, and her conviction when she responds “No sir! Not me! I GUAR-AN-TEE IT!”. Her “I Want” song, where she belts out “I want ADVENTURE in the great wide SOMEWHERE…” is absolutely epic, and her confusion registers perfectly when she sings about how she’s falling for The Beast, but unwilling to admit it to herself. It’s a really impossible role to play- she has to act sincere, confident, sure of herself, snarky, impetuous, angry, kind-hearted and TOUGH all at the same time, being a fabulously complex character.
O’Hara has been acting for years, but Belle is by far her biggest role- I haven’t heard of any of her other original stuff (though she was the first Ellie May on the renewal of Showboat). After playing Belle, she mostly got hired to re-do the role in sequels (though was Fantine on Broadway’s Les Miserables a couple years later), but was notably booted from it in 2011 (after doing the role in the Kingdom Hearts games), as age had altered her voice considerably (she’s a few years older than Ariel’s Jodi Benson, and is in her sixties now). I remember this being a bit of an issue- she recorded herself re-doing the old Belle numbers to show she could still do it.
She then became an official Disney Artist, having learned to paint- however, she and the other Princess actresses have re-done their roles for Ralph Breaks The Internet, so it might just be for advertising stuff. She was a terrific lady when I met her in 2018- she commented right away that “Belle is always the one most popular with boys”, since I was getting a Belle picture signed .
Belle is a major centerpiece of the Disney Princess Line, often being central to images, and appearing very on-model (a hard thing to pull off- most other Princesses had their signature looks altered for the line). She got a “Hair Porn” upgrade in recent years, however, as her “simple bun with her hair back” look has turned into cascading curls. But the golden, sparkly dress with shoulder-length gloves? Hell yes. Belle is pretty easily the most popular single Princess, in fact- her only competition isn’t actually included among the “Official” Princesses, and Queen Elsa’s still yet to prove the test of time.
Lumiere bickers with Cogsworth incessantly (neither appears to be in charge of the other), but is the most charming character in the household, and the best at giving advice to his master. He plays a very important role in the picture, as he’s the most outgoing and “Hey, let’s have FUN!” guy in the household, contrasting Cogsworth’s dutiful nature, and Mrs. Potts’ kindliness.
You need SOMEBODY to be the fun one. His song, Be Our Guest, is one of Disney’s biggest, showiest show-stoppers, and is nearly ALWAYS used to advertise the picture- it’s mind-blowing that Jerry Orbach managed to do that number while using an accent other than his own.
About the Performer: This one always stunned me- Jerry Orbach, the guy from “Law & Order” was an all-star Broadway performer, who could sing like crazy? But yeah, Orbach was a bigger name in theatre than he ever was on television, despite playing Briscoe for years- he’s started more iconic roles there than almost anybody (the original Billy Flynn in “Chicago”, among others), and when he died, they dimmed the lights all the way across Broadway- the highest honour in American Theatre.
Cogsworth is that omnipresent character in comedy works- the fussy straight-man whose job it is to get upset easily, complain frequently, and take some good ol’ slapstick comedy. This of course makes him one of the funnier characters, and he works perfectly off of Lumiere, as the two bicker back and forth. As “majordomo”, he is sort of in charge of all the other Servants, and he knows nothing of architecture (his explanation to Belle is mere technobabble that makes no sense to real architechts- “minimalist Roccoco” is an oxymoron). His role helps the movie from getting a little too sappy or sentimental.
About the Performer: Much to his chagrin, David Ogden Stiers is far more well known for playing Charles Emerson Winchester III on “M*A*S*H” than any of his other work. This has led to some backlash from him, as he was annoyed that his career would be so overshadowed. But really… he appeared on the most-watched show on television for YEARS, having expertly replaced the Frank Burns character with a smarter stick-in-the-mud. He was really responsible for some of the best moments on that show’s second half- he was adversarial to the main characters, but they all RESPECTED each other.
Stiers appeared in various things between “M*A*S*H” and his death in 2018, but is as close to a “company player” for Disney as anyone in the 1990s, in which he played Cogsworth, Gov. Ratcliffe & Wiggins (“Pocahontas”), the Archdeacon (“Hunchback”), Mr. Harcourt (“Atlantis”) and Jumba (“Lilo & Stitch”). He got the job as a villain in “Pocahontas” as a reward for playing Cogsworth so well- his most famous line, “Flowers… chocolates… promises you don’t intend to KEEP” was an ad-lib that absolutely brought the house down in the acting booth.
Mrs. Potts was an odd choice on the surface- why have THREE servants, if two of them were set ot play off of each other? But it really worked well- she was the KINDLY one- the one who tried to cheer up poor sobbing Belle. She is the one most likely to tell The Beast to settle down, and is the first one to comfort Maurice or Belle in their darkest moments. You actually don’t see characters like this anymore- usually the mentor figures now have to be funny, angry or otherwise silly- Mrs. Potts is really none of these things- she’s just a friendly old lady. The character was notoriously hard to animate, thanks to the fact that she’s nothing but a hopping head.
About the Performer: Mrs. Potts was placed with a calm, serene grace by Angela Lansbury, which turned out to be perfect- contrasting Lumiere’s over-the-top exuberance and Cogsworth’s fussinses. Lansbury is positively ancient, and a true icon of stage and screen. She’s most famous to Americans these days for performing in “Murder, She Wrote” for twelve years, which made her more of an icon for old ladies than anything. But she’s OLD-SCHOOL Hollywood, having appeared in “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, “Gaslight”, and other features.
She was notable for playing many “Old Lady” roles, often acting as the mother of actors only a few years her junior- she just kind of had that sort of face- one of her biggest roles was as Auntie Mame on Broadway, which won her a Tony (her first of three- a rare honor). As Mrs. Potts, she nails one of the film’s signature songs- the very low-key, romantic Beauty and the Beast, which really stands out amongst Disney’s classics- most of which use way more instruments, background singers and more. This is JUST Angela, who nailed the song in one take.
“A buffalo head because there is a sadness to the way they look, the crest of a gorilla because their brows express so much emotion, the muzzle of a boar, the mane of a lion so he is soft if Belle hugs him, twisted horns, cow ears to make him seem friendlier, and human eyes since there is a prince trapped inside of Beast and his eyes are the window to his soul.”
-Glen Keane, the Lead Animator of The Beast, explaining why some people are masters, and others are merely dabblers.
Why The Beast Had To Work:
You know how you can tell this is a brilliant movie? In the first twenty minutes, a guy is revealed as a general douchebag, a frightening monster, IMPRISONS AN INNOCENT PERSON, and forces a girl to be his prisoner for the rest of her life. AND THIS IS THE MOVIE’S HERO. And here’s the best part… people accept it! Only a movie with INCREDIBLY good writing and acting (Robby Benson, as they say, was never at the top of the casting list, but he brought a warmth to Beast’s voice that “showed the Prince beneath the fur”) could ever have made such a Character Arc so believable in such little time. The Beast is an incredible achievement in design as well- not only does he look incredibly bad-ass (a mixture of lion, buffalo, wolf, gorilla, and man), but he goes through the full range of emotions, and is believable in every single one, all through acting and without changing the model. I can’t understate the importance of nailing this character- if you F up the BEAST, you F up have the movie.
A Beast of Many Shades:
When we first meet him, he’s fierce and animalistic, creating a terrifying spectacle. Almost right away, we get the merest hint of his human nature, as he’s shocked by Belle’s sacrifice for her father’s well-being (“You would… DO that?”). But it’s a long time in coming- he shifts to being a thoughtlessly cruel and demanding jailer, hilariously attempting to be polite and failing utterly- “You will join me for dinner *literally twists his cape out of sheer rage* … THAT’S NOT A REQUEST!!” It’s like he WANTS to be a nice guy, but he’s just SO BAD AT IT because he’s spent years being bitter and jaded, and his mind is slowly going as his final form will soon be locked. The guys on the DVD commentary track imply that he may have fresh kills hidden in the West Wing.
AND THE PATHOS. Though he looks like an inconsiderate monster, he has all these little moments where his anger breaks and reveals a soul-shattering depression: he KNOWS he’s a monster, and he KNOWS he’ll never get a girl this beautiful, so all he can do is lash out and roar every time he hits a roadblock. In that penultimate scene when he releases Belle from her jail and lets her free out of love, you see him break completely, roaring in sheer sorrow, and giving up entirely. This once-monstrous figure goes from a clumsy, loutish brute to a nervous kid, then a regal, kind friend, and is now a pathetic, suicidal wreck. Same design- but with simple changes to clothing and standing (he’s now bipedal), they get a completely new character. Part of it’s the eyes- they spent as much time designing his eyes as the rest of his body, knowing that they’d hold the key to recognizing his human face with that of The Beast’s.
They really, really pull of this mixture of grandeur and goofiness with him. He apes Jackie Gleason of all people in the argument outside Belle’s room, and later on we see him bathed and pampered and made to look ridiculous… but there’s all these scenes where he just looks so EPIC! When Belle spots him in the West Wing and he snorts out mist all animal-like, or when he leads her through the castle, forbidding her from entering the West Wing. And though he’s not an abusive jailer, the moment when he LOSES HIS SHIT because she nearly touches the rose makes him look absolutely horrifying. And then he wipes out the Mandatory Disney Movie Auto-Aggro Wolves and you see that he’s legitimately bad-ass at the same time.
The Beast- Actually Kind of a Nice Guy:
His petulant argument with Belle is hilarious because you see him SLLLOOOOWLY changing, but all he can do is get whiny instead of enraged. But around here, he actually becomes kind and gentle… but again, sucks at it. His regal, forceful persona gives way to a shy, nervous little boy who stumbles through the opening blocks of a relationship and doesn’t know how to handle it.
He gets childishly-happy when Belle, in rapturous splendor with that gold dress, puts her head on his chest during their dance, and finally acts like a regal leader should. And I think this last little bit is what makes him so popular with women, and why he’s forgiven for so much of his earlier behavior- he comes off more like a nervous little boy. His anger is often more childish than furious (but is furious when it needs to be).
That’s kind of an endearing thing for women. It reminds me of Doris Day’s description of Clark Gable: “He was as masculine as any man I’ve ever known, and as much a little boy as a grown man could be – it was this combination that had such a devastating effect on women.” In short, he’s strong enough to shred anyone in a fight, brutally-powerful and has a deep, booming voice… but he’s deep down an excitable kid who just lacks control of his emotions.
And Belle, of course, grounds him. She can be frightened of him, but when he acts shitty, she basically throws that attitude straight back in his face, all “Oh no- YOU settle down!” And of course, he finds this maddening, because he lives in a castle where everyone calls him “Master” and fears pissing him off. Belle’s strength, courage and conviction all shame him, and he finally responds.
About the Performer: Robby Benson is, sadly, an actor who really never took off. I’ve barely heard of ANYTHING in his body of work, most of which consists of bit parts or “Additional Voices”- I think his biggest role to nerds is as Marsh on “EXO-Squad”. But this movie really couldn’t work without him- his voice has the gravelly quality required of a monster, but the deep and booming quality of a man… but lacking harshness and cruelty. He authentically comes off as kind in any scene where he’s not trying to be scary, which can’t really be understated as a requirement for this kind of role.
Gaston has become one of Disney’s most popular villains, primarily for his boastfulness and “Alpha Male” persona. Taking it so far over the top made him a beloved figure, with people acknowledging how clever it was to turn the villain into Just Some Douchebag. And has their ever been a toadie so detestable as LeFou? Even the Sidekicks have become icons- the Live-Action Remake staffed them with superstar performers, making them even more important to the plot. They played off of each other so well that people STILL remember them.
Gaston is a brilliant choice for a villain. Disney’s obsession with portraying huntsmen as murderous monsters is well-known, but to portray him as a grinning, barrel-chested bad-ass with a narcissistic streak that borders on the epic? Now THAT is great.
What’s funny is that he’s one of the least-powerful villains, especially compared to many of the other Epics- Jafar, Ursula, Maleficent and more are much more powerful figures. But Gaston represents that darkest form of malevolence- the HUMAN kind. Whereas most of those Large Hams are sorcerous beings who want power and domination over all they see, Gaston just wants a pretty wife and everyone to think he’s alpha, and therein lies the danger: We could KNOW people like Gaston. His self-obsession rings true for anyone who watches pro athletes who believe their own hype, or those who got picked on and see the faces of their larger tormentors in Gaston’s swell-chin-clefted face.
Gaston simply ASSUMES that Belle’s going to marry him, just because “only she, who’s beautiful as ME!”. He brags about how many children they’ll have while disregarding and messing up her beloved books (“it’s not RIGHT for women to read”), abuses his only actual friend, and the SECOND he’s challenged in any way, he becomes almost murderously dangerous.
He leads the villagers in a rousing rendition of “Kill the Beast!”, basically inventing a personality for the character he didn’t know existed for certain until right then (“He’ll make off with your children in the night!”). And when he enters the castle, he leaves the villagers to their fates while calmly hunting down the Beast, shooting his defenseless foe in the back, then cruelly taunting him for several minutes (“Did you REALLY think she could LOVE you!?”).
Gaston is hoisted by his own petard in the movie- his stalling allows Belle to arrive back on the scene, at which point the Beast gains the will to fight back. At which point Gaston, Mr. Alpha Male, realizes how overpowered he is, and he’s suddenly terrified, begging for his life like a coward. And he ends up killed because his own jealousy drove him mad and blinded him, and he fell off a cliff in a classic Disney Villain Death (initial plans were for him to fall off a cliff because Belle hit him with a rock, where he would be torn apart by the omnipresent Forest Wolves, but the animators felt it was too gruesome… so of course they used it for the NEXT Disney film). He only manages to fatally wound the Beast by taking advantage of his compassion and love for Belle, and dies screaming (with skulls animated into his pupils, just in case we want to freeze-frame).
Gaston’s hilarious Villain Song has since gone on to become a huge meme, and Face Characters performing him in the parks have even gained some attention, as they typically hire fairly muscular guys for the role (albeit with padded shirts), and they’re instructed to act sexist towards female guests, and shame male guests in comparison to himself.
About the Performer: Richard White has an oddly lacking IMDB & Wikipedia page, but has acted since the early ’80s. Gaston is by far his biggest role, but he’s done a lot of regional theatre.
PS Animators are perverts.
The songs? Like The Little Mermaid, it has four major showstoppers that have become legends in their own right. Gaston is an uproarious ode to manliness, with Roger Ebert laughing his ass off in his review about how it just deals with biting, spitting and antler use in interior decorating. Be Our Guest is among Disney’s catchiest songs ever, and the animation is one of cartooning’s most legendary sequences ever- it’s led directly to a Simpson parody, and is probably the signature song recognized from the movie. The title song and the resulting Pop Hit were also huge deals- it’s utterly romantic and sincere. And even Belle, our introductory song, leads to some great stuff, with the opening “Bonjour!” “Bonjour!” “Bonjour!” stuff getting quoted, and everyone immediately recognizing it based off of the opening few bars. Belle’s reprise of it on the hilltop by her humble little home is an EPIC Princess Moment, too, despite being a short little bit. Hell, three of these songs were nominated for Oscars- only two other movies in history have earned that privilege (also by Disney- The Lion King and Enchanted).
The movie has become a major part of the Disney Parks. Part of Disney World’s New Fantasyland expansion included a Be Our Guest restaurant, with a tiny version of Beast’s Castle seen “off in the distance” (ie. cottage-sized and just a dozen feet away from the walkway, but elevated). A walk-through attraction is in the same park, where you can meet Belle and engage with the various characters via projection screens and complicated special effects (like hidden or moving doorways). Belle herself is a major Princess you can meet, and even Gaston himself is often found in the parks- he recently became a meme a few years ago with the sexist, outrageous behavior of the Face Character performers, often showing up male guests or saying horrible things to female ones.
And, of course, the Signature Scene of the entire film is THAT BALLROOM SEQUENCE! A mixture of CGI and traditional animation done perfectly, encircling our two lead characters while they slowly fall in love with each other, despite their initial impressions. It’s so iconic that they pretty much have to show it every time they advertise the film. And Beauty and the Beast DVD releases are still A BIG DEAL, as the Disney Vault is serious business in this case.
RECEPTION & CULTURAL IMPACT:
This is probably the most effective and well-liked of the entire Disney Animated Canon- how’s that? One of the few to measure up to the Old Classics in the minds of pretty much everybody, while ALSO gaining respect in modern times. I remember all the adults in my life going on and on about this one, decrying the newer Disney films as being “Not as good as Beauty and the Beast“. People fell in LOVE with this movie. Being nominated for an Oscar was an untouchable achievement people legitimately thought would never happen again (it’s generally agreed upon that the “Best Animated Feature” award was created entirely to prevent this from every happening again, in fact- if Silence of the Lambs hadn’t come out that same year, it’s thought that Beauty and the Beast would have actually WON).
The movie was a huge, HUGE hit (doing about six times its budget- unprecedented numbers), and since The Little Mermaid had come out only two years earlier, it basically killed the Sophomore Jinx. This was no fluke- we were now in a Disney Renaissance. Hitting it out of the park for TWO pictures in a row (nobody counts The Rescuers Down Under– different teams involved)? With a whole NEW set of show-stealing songs? And toyetic side characters? And a new Disney Princesses Who Wants More From Life? I mean, Ariel’s movie could of been a fluke. But no- this PROVED they were onto something.