Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s more than just a superb Disney cartoon. It crams more emotion and interesting characters into just 82 minutes than most movies do in twice that running time.
This is different than the other two movies I’ve reviewed so far in the Movies That Improve on Multiple Viewings section: Enchanted and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. I didn’t like either of those movies when I first saw them, so I basically explained how I changed my mind about them over time. This is going to be a much more upbeat article because I’ll explain how a movie I liked from the start became a movie I love.
The most amazing thing about Beauty and the Beast is that the more times I watch it, the more I enjoy it. I find something new to love with each viewing. Basically everything relates back to the characters, so I’m going to talk about how I’ve grown to love them. I’ll go by size, starting from the smallest and working my way up to the biggest to show how I matured over the years of seeing this movie.
I related to Chip the most when I first saw Beauty and the Beast. I was 9 years old and I didn’t really understand all of the subtle nuances of romance and relationships. When Chip asked what the other household appliances are talking about when they sing, “There may be something there that wasn’t there before,” he echoed my own thoughts. What on earth could all the grownups see that I couldn’t? I guess they’ll tell me when I’m older.
Chip laughs at the Beast’s clumsy attempt to eat like a gentleman, he doesn’t have a clue why Belle would leave the castle when she seemed to be having such a good time, and he recklessly comes to Belle’s and Maurice’s rescue near the end. In other words, he’s a great kid!
I love that I can nostalgically see this film from exactly the same level of comprehension as the first time I saw it when I look through Chip’s eyes. He’s immersed in this complex story, but he doesn’t see much of the tragedy and instead just focuses on all the fun and excitement in it.
It’s really hard to make a pompous, self-righteous jerk into a likable character. Yet that’s exactly what the filmmakers accomplished with Cogsworth. At first glance, he seems like an annoying character I can’t wait to get away from. But he’s not. He actually keeps doing or saying something interesting that just endears himself to me perfectly.
When we first meet him he’s trying to maintain control, but he’s failing badly. First he politely asks a candlestick named Lumiere not to reveal himself to the stranger who’s just walked into the castle. No outsider has come this way in years. For all he knows, Maurice is dangerous and Cogsworth isn’t prepared to defend himself.
Then, in rapid succession, many bad things happen to Cogsworth:
- Lumiere burns Cogsworth’s hand.
- Maurice turns Cogsworth upside down, tickles him, shakes him, opens his chest and sneezes on him.
- He’s dragged painfully down a set of stairs.
- A dog spins him around.
- To top it all off, a cart runs him over!
As he complains and scolds, he is either ignored or seriously injured. This bizarre combination makes him both comical and pitiable, but certainly not annoying in the least. He’s the voice of reason no one cares to listen to, and they soon pay the price for not heeding his warnings when the Beast angrily arrives.
Throughout the movie, Cogsworth is equally authoritative and silly. He doesn’t really grow in a dramatic way, but he does learn to have a little fun and not worry all the time.
Belle is a great main character, although I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of her at first sight. “Well, if you ask me, she was just being stubborn,” Cogsworth says of Belle shortly after a scene where she refuses time after time to have dinner with the Beast. The first time I saw Beauty and the Beast, I completely agreed with Cogsworth. When she refused to go to dinner, I thought she was being seriously rude and I wanted her to stop doing that so we could get on with the movie. Of course, 9-year-olds aren’t renowned for their patience. Thank goodness the filmmakers knew exactly what they were doing.
I now understand that Belle had every right to be stubborn and upset. Her freedom was just stolen from her by a monster seemingly devoid of kindness. She was acting realistically. She’s not just some plot device to get the Beast to have a change of heart by the end of the film. She’s an interesting character with plenty of motivations and struggles to overcome on her own journey to happiness. If the Beast is going to be rude, then she has no obligation to be nice to him in return. She doesn’t have a clue about the curse on the Beast and the castle. She just knows she deserves respect. When she finally receives respect, she becomes kinder.
I’ll talk a little more about Belle below so stay tuned.
- He pretends to understand Belle’s dreams and then spouts off a monologue about his own selfish plans.
- He tells Maurice he’s going to help him out even as his fellow villagers toss him out of the bar.
- He even gets the head of a local insane asylum to commit Maurice just so he can make himself look like the good guy by solving the problem if Belle will marry him.
Think about that last one for just a minute. Can you imagine if Gaston’s plan had actually worked? If Belle had accepted his proposal and married him, their family reunions would have been a nightmare! I can picture Gaston right now saying, “Hello, my father-in-law-who-I-tried-to-have-committed-so-I-could-marry-your-daughter. How-are-you-that’s-nice. So let’s talk about me now.”
As soon as Gaston’s plan to force Belle to marry him fails, he quickly switches gears and devises a scheme to get the other villagers to join him in a quest to kill the one Belle actually has feelings for: The Beast. The villagers really have no reason to believe the Beast is any threat to them. If he’s never come to their village and done any damage before, there’s no reason to believe he would start now. But Gaston fans the flames of their fear into a frenzy.
Gaston’s death is a little too convenient and sudden. The Beast sort of pushes him off a cliff, but he’s not really in control of himself at the moment so you could argue he wasn’t trying to kill Gaston. And there needed to be a quiet moment between Belle and the Beast, so of course the villain had to die right away so he couldn’t get in the way. He doesn’t really get a good comeuppance. He’s such a prideful character that it would have been satisfying to see him lose Belle to the transformed Beast and have to return to the village in shame and lose his reputation over the castle-siege fiasco. Despite this small flaw in the story, Gaston is still a fascinating character, even more so now that I’m an adult and I can understand his complex manipulations.
The Beast has many flaws he has to overcome to return to human form. He’s not always angry, but he’s easily provoked. For example, when Belle sneaks into the west wing and almost touches the enchanted rose, the Beast goes absolutely crazy and starts breaking things. We all make mistakes and sometimes do things that annoy other people, but it’s so nice when the person we offend talks about it rather than getting frustrated. Unfortunately, the Beast has no patience, and Belle runs for her life out of the castle.
I love the fact that we don’t get to see the Beast’s change of heart when he decides to run after Belle and save her from the wolves. All we see is him put his hand to his face in utter shame at what he’s done. Then we spend a few minutes with Belle struggling to get away from a pack of hungry wolves. Just when all hope is lost, the Beast appears out of nowhere and saves the day in a most satisfying way. This is a movie that trusts children and adults to put the pieces together for ourselves.
The Beast’s turning point is when he saves Belle. She starts to be nice to him and he keeps his temper in check. At one point, he gets hit by several snowballs without getting angry! Now that’s impressive for anyone. My second-favorite moment in the film is when the Beast lets Belle go to help her father. As a child, I thought this was a perfectly logical move on his part because Maurice would probably die if he didn’t let Belle go. But now I see how truly heart-wrenching a decision this is for him. He knows he’s giving up his last chance to be human again. But Belle was willing to sacrifice herself for her father, and the Beast was so rude to Maurice that I’m sure he felt that reuniting them would repair some of the damage he had done. He cares more about Belle’s happiness at this point than his own.
In the climactic final battle, Gaston shouldn’t stand a chance against the Beast. The Beast is huge, even compared to Gaston, who eats five dozen eggs a day and is roughly the size of a barge! But the Beast doesn’t want to win. When Gaston mockingly says, “What’s the matter, Beast – too kind and gentle to fight back?” I actually thought that was what had happened to the Beast. He is simply too nice to want to fight him. But now I realize that the Beast prefers death now that he has absolutely no hope of ever being happy again. I probably should have realized that after Mrs. Potts asks the Beast what they should do about the villagers shouting “Kill the Beast!” and he responds with the devastating words, “It doesn’t matter now. Just let them come.”
After the Beast is mortally wounded by Gaston and lies dying, he breaks my heart when he puts his paw on the side of Belle’s face and says, “At least I got to see you one last time.” And then he dies. In the end, he finally learned to love someone else more than himself. All he wanted in his last moments was to be with Belle again. This is my favorite moment in the film. It’s also one of the best death scenes of all time, right up there with Spock’s death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The Beast dies knowing that he loves Belle more than she loves him, which would be tragic if Belle didn’t have a change of heart at that moment. When he is brought back to life, it’s a triumphant moment because he now knows that she most definitely loves him, too. What a wonderful transformation for both of them!
Belle has learned to be less self-centered in some ways without giving up her dreams for adventure, and the Beast has mastered himself and is now the perfect man to make Belle happy for the rest of their lives.
I can just picture their family reunion now. A visible shutter runs through Maurice’s spine as the transformed Beast slaps him on the back and says, “Hello, my dear father-in-law… who I scared the crap out of the first time we met and locked you up in the tower and literally tore you away from your daughter’s arms. How are you?” Not the least bit awkward… compared to Gaston.
Better with Age
Beauty and the Beast is a film that has a much deeper emotional impact on adults than children. As a child, I understood that I was watching a great movie, but now I can see all the things that truly make it a masterpiece. This film is timeless, and its message will hopefully continue to resonate with audiences of all ages throughout the ages.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
All photos from Beauty and the Beast are the copyright of the Walt Disney Company.