Part One – Part Two – Part Three – Chip Interlude – Part Four – Part Five
The story structure of Beuaty and the Beast is all about balance: balancing drama and comedy, major and minor characters, and Belle and Beast. A serious Beast scene has just ended, so now it’s time to get back to Belle and to lighten the mood a bit. Even the backgrounds tell us that this scene is going to be far more cheery than the one preceding it. We go from a dimly lit castle at night to the countryside near Belle’s home on a beautiful sunlit day. The bright scenery, cheery music, and a few physical gags at Lefou’s expense are just what’s needed to break the tension caused by Beast imprisoning Maurice.
Gaston may have been “making plans to woo and marry Belle,” but now he’s decided to dispense with the wooing and cut straight to the marriage. Despite Belle’s obvious disinterest in him during their previous encounter, Gaston remains convinced that any woman would be thrilled to be asked to marry him, so much so that he has already set up the wedding before he’s actually asked Belle to be his bride. To him and to the rest of the townspeople, the proposal is almost a joke because the outcome is such a foregone conclusion.
In scenes like this one, Lefou almost feels like a character who wandered in from a different movie. He is the closest thing that Beauty and the Beast has to a human cartoon character. Maurice is short, but he remains believable as a human being. Lefou is so short that Gaston has to either crouch down or pick him up to be in a closeup with him. The animators can drop heavy items on him and know that the audience won’t worry about him being seriously hurt. This visual gag wouldn’t work with any other character in the film.
The Day All Your Dreams Come True
The “overcomplicated peephole” as it’s called in the commentary, is one of the many little details that flesh out the world of the movie and suggest stories beyond the one we’re watching. Maurice probably makes all manner of inventions to make life easier and better for himself and Belle, some more successful than others.
“Proposal” is not the right word for what Gaston does. He goes on about how lucky Belle is and describes a dream life that has everything to do with what he wants and nothing to do with what she wants, but he never actually asks the question. The closest he gets is “Say you’ll marry me,” in a tone that makes it clear Gaston is not expecting to be turned down. At this point in the movie, Gaston’s villainy comes from the fact that he has no clue that Belle is not interested in marrying him. When he knocks over a chair to get to her, it’s not to frighten Belle; the chair was just in his way and he’s the type of person to push it aside rather than go around it. It’s only when Belle turns him down and humiliates him that he starts to go on the offensive, swearing that he’ll have Belle whether she wants him or not.
In a Boston Globe article from 1992, screenwriter Linda Woolverton discussed the challenges of making Belle a strong and likable character at a time when Disney heroines were just starting to become more modern and independent. Early on, Woolverton and the story artists didn’t always see eye to eye on who Belle was supposed to be. A scene that Woolverton where Belle marks off places on a map that she would like to visit once she and Maurice are able to leave town was replaced with one of Belle baking a “Welcome Home Papa” cake. Woolverton balked at the idea of such a domestic activity for a character she believed wasn’t interested in baking. (In the final film, we see only s brief shot of Belle reading before Gaston comes calling.) In the process of understanding the character, the story team would sometimes push too far in the opposite direction, once suggesting that Belle could lock Gaston in a closet. “She became bitchy,” Woolverton recalled. With Jeffrey Katzenberg‘s support, Woolverton continued to act as the authority on Belle’s personality while working with the Disney story artists to translate her ideas into strong visual for animation. In the end, Belle simply takes advantage of Gaston leaning on the door to get him out of her house. She wants him gone more than she wants revenge on him, though I doubt she’s too upset about him landing in the mud.
Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere
The Beast ultimately want to regain his human form, but he believes that this is impossible, so now he mostly wants to be left alone. Gaston wants to marry Belle because he sees her as the only person whose physical beauty equals his own. But what does Belle want? We’ve had hints about it as she sung of wanting “more than this provincial life” and told Maurice how she doesn’t have anyone in town she can really talk to. This is where she lays it out plainly, in the form of a reprise of “Belle.” It’s unusual to compress the heroine’s “I want” song into a short reprise rather than a major new song like “Part of Your World.” The commentary on the recent DVD discusses how Belle’s desires are less tangible and not as easy to write about, which is part of the reason her “I want” song is kept short. Additionally, the first part of the movie is largely about setting up the meeting between Belle and Beast, which would be delayed by a lengthy song at this point.
Belle restates that the provincial life is not for her, particularly if it means settling down to a life of domestic routine as Gaston’s life. But she also sings of her desire for adventure out in the world beyond her little town. The fairy tales Belle loves let her experience a more exciting life vicariously, but she wants the real thing. Having someone who understands her desires and who won’t look at her as an oddball for turning down Gaston is part of her dreams, it’s secondary. Belle is no Snow White or Briar Rose for whom love is the only goal. She wants a full life first and someone to share it with second.
Phiippe’s sudden return kicks the pace of the story into high gear. We now know all of out main characters and their various goals, so the next step is to get Belle to the Beast as soon as possible. Having Phillpe come home in a panic without Maurice gives Belle the reason to seek out the Beast’s castle and gives viewers reason to believe that she finds it without anything particularly interesting happening along the way. When the next shot shows the castle, no one wonders how Belle was able to get there.
Maurice only got to see a little bit of the castle before he was discovered by the Beast. Belle has more time to wander in search of her father, so we get more time to take in the decor. Shots like this on help to establish the immense size of the Beast’s castle and how vulnerable anyone wandering around uninvited might be. All of the statuary has been transformed along with the castle’s inhabitants, so monstrous figures perr out or loom overhead wherever Belle goes. Even when the Beast isn’t in a scene, his presence is still felt.
Lumiere and Cogsworth have some additional banter and ultimately lead Belle to her father. We get to see more of their “Odd Couple” relationship as Cogsworth berates Lumiere for inviting Maurice into the castle. As we see when the two of them guide Belle to the castle dungeons, they can work together when the situation calls for it. But their personalities are so opposite that they seldom see eye to eye and frequently end up arguing or mocking each other as they do here. Their different reactions to Belle’s arrival demonstrate this further. Optimistic romantic Lumiere is immediately convinced that Belle is the one who is going to break the spell. Cogsworth is more hesitant, and the expression on his face when he hears Belle say that she’s looking for her father suggests to me that he realizes how hard it will be to get Belle to fall in love with her father’s jailor. Though he’s still a foil for many of the other characters, particularly Lumiere, I like that his point of view is not always completely wrong. Inviting Maurice into the castle did lead to disaster and bringing Belle and the Beast together will be a difficult task.
The Master of This Castle
As Belle and Maurice are reunited, Belle is once again playing the role of caretaker. Maurice is trying his best to be a good and responsible parent, repeatedly insisting that Belle leave the castle for her own safety. But Belle is not only the stronger willed of the two, she is also physically more capable of taking the actions she chooses to. Maurice, locked up in the Beast’s dungeon, can’t force her to go.
Belle finally encounters the Beast in the last introduction of the character. There are similarities to the scene where Maurice and Beast meet; once again we see Beast destroying a light source and keeping to the shadows. But this time, the setting is still partly lit by a shaft of moonlight from somewhere overhead, giving Belle the ability to stay in the light in contrast to the shadowed Beast and foreshadowing the moment when Beast steps into the light.
This moment is absolutely crucial to making this scene work. Belle is about to sacrifice her own freedom in exchange for her father’s. If that’s going to mean anything, the audience needs to know that Belle understands what she’s giving up. Having her come out and say it here would be overkill, so the ideas is communicated through this masterfully clear yet subtle gesture. Belle draws her hand back and looks off to the side between saying “Wait!” and “Take me instead.” As with all visual representations of a character thinking, timing is key here. Were this moment any longer, it might call too much attention to itself and make the audience wonder whether Belle might actually consider abandoning Maurice. it’s just long enough to show that Belle realizes the consequences of what she’s about to do, but she does it anyways because she loves her father.
Lumiere and Cogsworth immediately realize that Belle could be the answer to their prayers, but Beast isn’t so quick on the uptake. He almost rejects Belle’s offer before he realizes what it might mean for him. We’re told in the opening narration that Beast has lost all hope as the time he has left to break the spell grows ever shorter. So it does make sense that he wouldn’t immediately think “Hey, if she stays, I could get her to fall in love with me and break the spell.” Getting a girl to stay at the castle isn’t even half the battle. But I think he’s also genuinely surprised at seeing one person willing to give up so much for another. He was condemned to be a beast because he had never learned to love another person. The only other people he’s had any contact with in years are subservient to him and stay with him because they have no other choice. As we’re going to see, he’s not used to dealing with anyone who isn’t willing to follow his orders without question. It’s not beyond possibility that this is the first example the Beast has ever seen of real love.
The Beast stepping into the light is a final restatement of everything this scene is about. Moonlight does nothing to soften Belle’s first impressions of the Beast; he only becomes more towering and frightening. In addition to giving the audience a sense of what it feel like to be standing in front og the Beast without knowing that he is actually a transformed prince, revealing the Beast gives Belle a full understanding of who she is promising to spend the rest of her life with and all the more reason to change her mind. But she doesn’t Belle’s heroism comes not from ignorance or lack of fear, but from a determination to do what she must to save her father in spite of her fears.
Continued soon in Why I Love Animation: Beauty and the Beast – Part Six.
All images in this article are copyright Disney.