Like most people of a certain age, my first cinema experiences were watching Disney films. Thankfully I was lucky to grow up during the so-called Disney renaissance where the company finally got out of the decade-long slump they’d been in. In fact the first film of the renaissance, The Little Mermaid, was the first big-screen Disney film I viewed whilst the second was the first animated feature ever to be nominated for Best Picture.
That film was Beauty and The Beast which was Disney’s second only Best Picture nominee, the first being the partly-animated Mary Poppins. I find it strange that not one of Disney’s previous animated features was ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar especially seeing as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released when the academy were honouring twelve or fourteen films a year. The aforementioned renaissance had started after Disney had produced a number of flops such as Oliver and Company and The Black Cauldron. The Little Mermaid was the first film in which Disney enlisted the songwriting talents of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who both brought back to compose the song score for Beauty and The Beast. Anybody who’s seen the film knows that the songs are brilliantly composed and the majority of them are utterly memorable. From the opening strains of the operatic-like ‘Belle’ to the energetic ‘Be Our Guest’ every song brings different characters to life and makes the film feel special. I’m personally a fan of ‘Something Changed’, the song in which Belle realises there may be more to The Beast then claws and growling. But it’s the beautifully realised title track that gets me every time and as our titular characters descended the staircase I started to get quite emotional. Oddly the DVD I watched also had a musical sequence that I hadn’t seen before in which The Beast’s staff sing ‘Human Again’. This was apparently cut out of the original film and I feel with good reason as it really spoils the narrative flow.
But it’s not just the songs that make Beauty and The Beast so special as it’s really one of cinema’s most iconic love stories. The story is so simply told over the film’s ninety minutes but I feel that it’s still resonating with people who watch it today. The script of the film was rewritten to include a cast of colourful characters who would appeal to the younger viewers. In particular the objects that come to life were perfectly fantastic creations and I even remember having a small plastic Cogsworth toy which came with a meal from a certain popular fast food restaurant. The bullish Gaston was the perfect villain of the piece and his exchange with The Beast was one of Disney’s most thrilling sequences. The animation of Beauty and The Beast made it feel like one of the studio’s earlier pieces when in fact it was one of the first to use newer technology. The French backdrops as well as The Beast’s fabulous castle are perfectly captured and every design is incredibly detailed. I do feel that animated features don’t get the credit they deserve and that’s maybe because their aimed at a younger audience. It’s only during the 21st century that Oscar decided to dedicate a category purely for animation and I feel that more films from that genre should be in contention for the main prize. Although others should have come before it, Beauty and The Beast was the perfect candidate to be the first fully-animated Best Picture nominee. Even to this day I can remember having to wait around at the cinema for the next screening as the one we wanted to go to had sold out. The film’s popularity is certainly timeless and I’m sure that people who saw it when they were young have now introduced it to their own children.