One of the top grossing animated films of all time, it won Best Original Score and Best Original Song for Can You Feel the Love Tonight at the Academy Awards; and was scored by legend Hans Zimmer (he’d later score Pirates of the Caribbean) and lyrics were by Tim Rice (who has worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber) and songs by Elton John [I most strongly connect Elton John to this movie, even though I’m sure I listened to his music growing up.] It ranks pretty high on my list of Disney favorites. The artistry is beautiful, the songs are fun, it’s a complex story (inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet [I am a bad English major and not terribly familiar with Hamlet; I saw one updated version performed by David Tenannt]) and a wonderful cast of voice actors. Highlights include James Earl Jones (most iconic as Darth Vader) as Mufasa, Jeremy Irons (a marvelous thespian who plays Henry IV in BBC’s Hollow Crown productions) appropriate for the Shakespearean role of Scar. Jonathan Taylor Thomas (from Home Improvement) is young Simba; adult Simba is voiced by Matthew Broderick. Whoopi Goldberg (I mainly know her from this film and Sister Act and didn’t realize she was a stand-up comedian until I was a teenager) is one of the hyenas, and Broadway star Nathan Lane (he would later team up with Matthew Broderick for The Producers film) is Timon.
The opening of The Lion King is iconic; I think most people know the movie from that scene alone. Young Simba is presented to the animal kingdom (Emma Swan jokes about the scene in Season 3 of Once Upon a Time) as we learn “there’s more to see/than ever be seen/more to do/than ever be done” and are all connected to the great Circle of Life. All of the animals bow to the little prince, a sunbeam highlighting the scene. We next meet Scar, the king’s younger brother who was next in line for the throne, until Simba was born. He doesn’t hide his disdain and refusal to show for the presentation. Unfortunately, Mufasa doesn’t know what to do with his troublesome kinsman and Scar is free to plot. An image that come back a few times in the movie is Rafiki’s drawing of Simba in his tree.
A few years pass and Simba wakes his father early (with a typical argument between the parents on whose son he is at that time of morning) so Mufasa can show him the kingdom. “Everything the light touches,” Mufasa explains, is their kingdom. The Outlands are beyond their borders and young Simba must never go there. Mufasa further prepares his son that the time will come when Mufasa will no longer be king, it will be Simba’s turn, and cautions that there is more to being a king than doing whatever one wants. There is a balance to life that the king must watch over. Of course, this lesson is interrupted by a brief pouncing practice, much to Zazu’s chagrin (another song, The Morning Report, was added in the Special Edition and appears on the corresponding soundtrack).
Mufasa must attend to royal duties so Simba visits his “weird” uncle and the meddling Scar puts the idea purposefully in young Simba’s head to explore the forbidden Elephant Graveyard. Of course, who should accompany Simba on his adventure is his best friend, Nala. Zazu lets slip that the two are betrothed (a human custom) and will one day be married (they protest now…just wait). As children are wont to do, Simba focuses on the fun of being “free to do it all my way” and merrily describes his rule and why I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. “Everywhere you look/I’m standing spotlight!”
The Elephant Graveyard is not as fun as Simba planned; after his claim to “laugh in the face of danger!”they run into three hyenas, Shanzi, Banzai, and Ed. Luckily, Mufasa arrives and scares off the three hyenas before they really hurt Simba or Nala. Mufasa is understandably very disappointed in his son and reiterates his earlier lesson that one day he will die, though he’ll look on from the stars above. A king is brave when he has to be and despite Simba’s thought that his dad isn’t scared of anything, Mufasa admits he was scared of losing Simba. There is a lovely wrestling match, putting worries aside.
That evening, Scar visits the hyenas, and confesses that he sent Simba and Nala to the Graveyard for the hyenas to “take care of.” He’s “surrounded by idiots” who can’t even do their job. What needs to happen is that Mufasa needs to die; without daddy dearest around, Simba will be simple prey. And then “in justice deliciously squared,” without those two in the way, Scar can assume the throne “I’ll be king undisputed/respected, saluted/and seen for the wonder I am!” and promises the hyenas a new life. A lot of the imagery from Be Prepared is influenced by Nazi propaganda: most explicitly, their march. Be Prepared is a fantastic villain song as well and Jeremy Irons is deliciously hammy [Jim Cummings (voice of Ed) had to finish the song for Jeremy Irons when the latter threw out his voice].
Scar promises Simba a surprise for he and his father the next day and leaves the cub in a gorge. The “surprise” is a wildebeest stampede (a scene equal to any action scene today and full of drama and tension). Scar acts suitably worried and runs alongside Mufasa as Zazu flies ahead to find Simba. But once Mufasa enters the gorge, Scar prowls around the top, knocking Zazu out to prevent the royal majordomo from getting further help. Mufasa finds his son and tosses him to safety, but is carried away by the pressing wildebeests. He jumps to the cliff a moment later and begs his brother for help. Scar sinks his claws into his brother’s legs and murmurs “Long live the king!” before flinging him into the mass. Simba witnesses his father’s fall and in the dusty aftermath, searches for him. He finds Mufasa’s still body (I cry every time, even as an adult) and pleads that “we’ve got to go.” The young cub realizes his dad is dead and tears streak his fur and he curls next to his protector one last time. Scar emerges and reinforces Simba’s thoughts that if it hadn’t been for him, his father would still be alive. He then directs his grief-shocked nephew to “run away and never return.” A moment later, he commands the hyena trio to “kill him.” Simba willingly falls into a bramble bush at the bottom of a cliff and gets away. After Banzai falls in, neither Shenzi nor Ed want to come out looking like “cactus butt,” and they determine if Simba was ever to return, they’d kill him then, shouting the warning to the departing cub. Scar, “with heavy heart” assumes the throne and “ushers in a new era” of living alongside hyenas. Rafiki wipes away the drawing of Simba in sorrow.
Buzzards float about a stretched out Simba; he’s providentially rescued by a warthog and meerkat, Pumba and Timon. At first, Timon suggests leaving him since he’s a lion, but Pumba ponders that he could grow up to be on their side. Timon’s advice to the depressed cub once he awakens is to put his past behind him; “when the world turns it back on you, you turn your back on da world.” They’re outcasts too and they teach him about Hakuna Matata, their “no worry” lifestyle, and how to eat bugs [that grossed me out as a kid. And yeah, Disney, we knew you meant “farted” even as kids. That was actually our favorite part of the song to sing-along to.]
There’s a fun montage showing the progression of time as the new trio crosses a bridge, repeating “Hakuna Matata.” All grown-up now, Timon, Pumba, and Simba discuss what “stars” truly are. Timon claims they’re “fireflies that got stuck up in that big bluish-black thing.” Pumba is scientifically correct stating they are balls of gas burning billions of miles away. And Simba shares what his father told him about the kings of the past looking down on them. He’s laughed at by Timon and Pumba and leaves to ponder the tragedy of his life. His scent drifts in the breeze to old Rafiki, who recognizes it and joyfully realizes Simba is alive. “It is time,” the monkey declares, now drawing a mane on Simba.
The following morning, Timon and Pumba are out searching for grubs, singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight [this is how I know that song, despite it being older than the movie]. Pumba wanders off, to be chased by a grown lioness. Simba to the rescue! Until he’s pinned in a very familiar manner and recognizes a grown up Nala. Nala is understandably surprised to discover that Simba is alive and urges him to return with her to the Pride Lands and claim his throne. Simba decides that he and Nala need to have a talk, alone. Timon bemoans the two old friends’ romantic Can You Feel the Love Tonight [probably my second favorite Disney love song. Elton John’s solo version is the only “pop” version of Disney songs that I liked growing up]. As an adult, some of their actions take on more meaning, like the looks between them while Nala is lying down. But I still think it’s sweet; they’re simple gestures between two beings that care about each other. And Simba looks a lot like his dad at times. Yet, at the end, the couple continues to argue over Simba’s return. He refuses; he can’t face his past. Nala wonders “why won’t he be the king I know he is/the king I see inside?” She tells him she’s disappointed that he’s not the same Simba she remembers. Simba in turns accuses her of sounding like his father. “Good, at least one of us does.” They fight further; Simba refuses to tell her the truth of why he ran away, deeming that to tell her now and return to the Pride Lands won’t change anything, and stalks off. He shouts his despair to the stars, reproving his father, “You said you’d always be there for me!” Quieter, “but you’re not. And it’s all my fault.”
A little chant echoes on the wind. Rafiki is dancing in a tree and comes down to impart wisdom on Simba. Simba can’t answer his question, “who are you?” Rafiki knows; he’s Mufasa’s boy. When Simba says that Mufasa has been dead for a while, Rafiki states “wrong again! He’s alive! And I’ll show him to you!” The crazy monkey leads Simba through vines and trees and roots [How to Train Your Dragon 2 has a scene that echoes this one] to a pool. Rafiki urges Simba to “look harder” at his reflection. The lion sees Mufasa, as Rafiki states, “he lives in you” (becomes a song title in the sequel). Mufasa’s bass voice rumbles and the clouds part, forming his silhouette. Mufasa chides his son that he has forgotten him; by forgetting who Simba truly is, he has forgotten Mufasa. Simba must take his place in the circle of life; he is Mufasa’s son and the one true king. He fades away, urging Simba to “remember.” Simba begs his father, “please, don’t leave me,” still the scared lion cub. Rafiki picks up the lesson and a whack from his stick knocks some sense into Simba, that while change is not easy, it is good. One can either run from their past, or learn from it. Hans Zimmer’s theme plays over a wonderful superimposed shot of Simba running back to the Pride Lands. Nala, Timon, and Pumba soon catch up and agree to help Simba reclaim his home. When he cautions that it will be dangerous, Nala echoes his childish claim “I laugh in the face of danger!” Timon and Pumba act as live bait, dressing in drag and doing the hula, a little bit of comedic relief before we delve into the drama.
We witness the devastation that Scar’s rule had wrought. The land is barren and we find out from Sarabi, Mufasa’s widow that the herds have moved on. She advises that they leave Pride Rock. Scar refuses. “Then you have sentenced us to death!” “I am the king,” he replies, “I can do whatever I want!” He swipes at the lioness, but Simba leaps to her defense. Both she and Scar first assume he’s Mufasa. Sarabi is pleased to see her grown son; Scar is annoyed to discover that the hyena trio failed at their mission. Simba growls at his uncle, “give me one good reason why I shouldn’t rip you apart.” Scar states that the hyenas think he’s king, but then sinisterly turns the conversation back on Simba, dragging up how Mufasa died, pressuring Simba to admit that he killed his father. “Murderer!” he instantly declares and further pushes, all the while circling his nephew, stating that it was Simba’s fault, even if it was an accident. A very confused Simba slips on the edge of Pride Rock, lightning from the gathering storm lighting a fire beneath. Scar recalls a similar scene, and digs his claws into Simba’s paws the same way he had Mufasa’s. He whispers his little secret: “I killed Mufasa!” Simba leaps onto Scar, now declaring him the murderer. A paw on Scar’s throat compels Scar to admit the truth out loud. The hyenas are on Simba and lionesses attack the hyenas.
War breaks out (with a brief comedic interlude with monkey kung-fu and a bit about “Mr. Pig.” I still don’t get that reference, but I thought it was hilarious as a kid). Scar attempts to slink away, but Simba is on him, growling that Scar doesn’t deserve to live. Scar pleads that the hyenas are the real enemy (Ed, Banazi, and Shenzi can hear this) and Simba decides he won’t be like Scar; he won’t kill him. Instead, he instructs him to “run away and never return.” Scar plays dirty and swipes ash into Simba’s eyes. There is a violent showdown between the two before Simba flips Scar over and down to a ledge below. Scar thinks he’s in the clear when the hyenas come to him, but they turn on him since he claimed they were the enemy. Shadows play on the rock behind, not giving us a direct view at what happens. It rains harder, putting out the fire and washing away the stain of Scar. To music that gives me goosebumps, Simba at first hesitates to approach the edge of Pride Rock; he had run and hidden from this responsibility, scared he was unsuited, but one last echo of “Remember” from Mufasa and Simba proudly takes his place at the edge of Pride Rock and releases a mighty roar. It’s echoed by the lionesses and greenry springs into the Pride Lands.
The movie ends with a triumphant reprise of Circle of Life, which continues with the presentation of Simba and Nala’s cub.
There was a direct-to-video sequel, The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (a play on both a lion belonging to a “pride,” and his daughter being his pride, and maybe even Simba’s own pride and how it affects his own decisions…though that’s a little deep for the movie and not as evident) that came out four years after the original. A tale about Simba and Nala’s daughter, Kiara. Her story mimics her father’s at time, having to go out and experience life on her own before she understands what her father taught her. There are elements of Romeo and Juliet in the plot; two warring families, their children falling in love. Except, the couple does not die at the end! Some of the songs are good and overall a good story; I consider it one of Disney’s better sequels (especially compared to most of their other animated sequels). In addition to a cartoon series in the 90s, Timon and Pumba’s story, Lion King 11/2 came out in 2004; there are funny parts, but it definitely doesn’t live up to the original. Now on Disney Junior, there is a new cartoon series about Simba’s son (I see plot hole regarding the sequel), called Lion Guard.
The original film was transformed into a Broadway production in 1997, and is still running (meaning it recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary…wow). It was nominated for Best Musical and Best Original Score at the Tony’s and did win in several other categories. Next summer, a live-action/CGI adaptation is due out, with an all-star cast; most notably, James Earl Jones will reprise his role as Mufasa (no teaser out yet, but I am excited to see it).
Overall, this is a great family film. It’s about family, responsibility; the characters are deliciously complex and I feel it has stood the test of time. Even though I have seen the movie several times, I still get apprehensive during the stampede and Scar and Simba’s showdown, and sad at Mufasa’s death. Timon and Pumba were my favorite characters as a kid, because they were funny. Now, I enjoy Scar as a villain, and I wish we could have seen more of Mufasa since he is a very wise king and very loving of his son. I can feel a connection to Simba as a young adult facing responsibilities. The artwork is phenomenal; the emotions they are able to put into the faces and still have them look like lion’s; just look at Simba’s face right before he roars at the end. Re-watching the movie has awakened my love of the film; it ranks towards the top of my list.
As always, I welcome questions or comments. Do you like any of the pop versions of Disney songs?
What I remember most of this movie is the great soundtrack and Robin Williams’ humor; Genie is probably my favorite character from the movie. The movie is based off of the compilation The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and set somewhere vaguely Middle-East (I kept thinking Persia while watching the film). Nevertheless, it is nice to see something other than a European fairytale. The overarching theme of the film is “it’s what is inside that counts,” looking for the “diamond in the ruff.”
We’re first introduced to the villain of the film, Jafar, as he uses a petty crook (who just killed someone, it sounds like), to enter “the Cave of Wonders,” in search of a mysterious lamp. The cave opening, a talking sand tiger, warns that the only one who can enter is “one whose worth lies far within.” Which is apparently not the crook, because he’s eaten. Jafar’s stooge is a talking parrot, Iago (voiced by Gilbert Godfrey) who alternates between calm and agitated.
Aladdin is not our typical Disney hero. He’s an orphaned “street rat” that steals on a daily basis to survive, staying One Jump ahead of the guards. We also get glimpses at a different culture; the sword eater, fire walker, and more. The characters are also dressed differently; Aladdin does not have a shirt, the women’s midriffs are showing. Once Aladdin has won his prize, he feasts with his monkey friend, Abu. Yet, when he sees two small children searching for scraps, he shares what little he has. They hear a parade and investigate, finding another suitor has arrived for the princess. The children get in the way and the snooty prince attempts to whip them, but Aladdin once again steps in. He’s insulted by the condescending man, though gets the dig in about a horse having two rear-ends (that bit goes over kids heads). When he and Abu reach their “home,” there’s a brief reprise of Aladdin wishing one day to live in the palace, where all of their problems will be solved.
[Fun fact: Aladdin’s voice actor, Scott Weinger played Steve, DJ Tanner’s boyfriend, in Full House; there’s even a joke in the episode where the cast goes to Disneyland.]
For one resident of the palace, it’s a cage. The princess Jasmine desires freedom outside the palace walls. She’s never had friends; everything has been taken care of for her. She hates the law that states she must marry a prince by her birthday (in three days’ time) and has sent away every suitor. Bluntly put, she does not want to be a princess. That evening, she runs away and come morning, wanders the marketplace, catching Aladdin’s eye. He jumps to her rescue while she stumbles over the notion of “paying.” They run into, and away from the guards and Jasmine keeps up with Aladdin; demonstrating she trusts him. Amongst their talk, the couple finds out that they both feel trapped by their lives and station. The pair is eventually caught and Aladdin is taken to the palace dungeon, despite Jasmine’s protests and revelation that she is the princess.
The Sultan is a bit childish at times and is regularly hypnotized by Jafar so the royal vizier can get his way. Jafar covets the title of Sultan and will use his sorcery to gain it. He cons the Sultan into giving up his blue diamond [yes, diamonds come in almost every shade of the rainbow, including blue] so he can “divine” the proper suitor for Jasmine. Instead, Jafar uses it to conjure who the Cave meant could enter. He sees Aladdin and plots a way to get the boy. When confronted by Jasmine for his treatment of Aladdin, he tells her that the street rat was beheaded for kidnapping her. Jasmine is devastated.
That evening, Jafar disguises himself as an old, crippled prisoner and convinces Aladdin to help him retrieve the lamp from the Cave of Wonders, promising the boy the rest of the treasure. Aladdin is allowed to enter the Cave and he and Abu meet Carpet, a helpful magic carpet who leads them past the glittering heaps of gold to the lamp. Abu is tempted by a forbidden gem and just as Aladdin has the lamp in his grasp, Abu grabs the gem, causing the whole Cave to start collapsing. They manage to reach the opening (in an early CG sequence that reminds me a bit of a video game [not that I’ve played many], nevertheless, very thrilling), but Jafar insists on the lamp first and before turning back to help Aladdin, he pulls out a dagger (why are bad guy daggers always crooked? Do they not pay the extra for quality craftsmanship?). Abu saves Aladdin, but they are swallowed up by the Cave.
Abu was also a sneaky monkey and stole back the lamp. Aladdin takes a closer look at the lamp and rubs at some smudging. Out pops Genie! Aladdin is his new master and is allowed three wishes. Genie elucidates Aladdin to the possibilities, telling the lad that he’s never had a Friend Like Me (my favorite song of the movie) and highlighting Robin Williams’ comedic range. What kid didn’t wish they had a genie after that? Aladdin demonstrates that while poor, he is not stupid and tricks Genie into getting them out of the cave, without using any of his wishes. He even asks Genie what he would wish for and Genie reveals that while he has “phenomenal mystical powers,” he’s bound to the lamp and his master. He’d wish for freedom, but only his master can do so. Aladdin promises he’ll reserve his third wish for that and his first proper wish is to become a prince, so he can see Jasmine again, stating that she’s smart, fun, and beautiful (glad they added the “smart” and “fun” qualities). (Sebastian is briefly glimpsed as Genie ponders the wish)
Back in Agrabah (a fictional city), Jasmine has told her father of Jafar executing Aladdin and the Sultan reprimands his vizier. Jasmine also states that one benefit to being forced to marry; “when I am queen, I will have the power to get rid of you.” Jafar is even more desperate to become Sultan and Iago suggests that Jafar marries Jasmine to gain the throne and afterwards, they drop Jasmine and her father off a cliff. The pair manically laughs. Jafar returns to the throne room and attempts to hypnotize the Sultan to obey his plan. The Sultan breaks at one point, declaring Jafar too old, but Jafar continues to pressure. His spell is broken a second time by a loud commotion.
Prince Ali has arrived. Genie (disguised as…a whole bunch of people throughout the song, even mimicking parade announcers) extols his virtues, claiming he’s generous, strong as ten men, and his servants are all “lousy with loyalty.” People who never spared Aladdin a thought or viewed him as worthless, now view Ali as attractive and worthy of respect. The Sultan’s excited by Ali’s arrival and is eager to introduce his daughter to a fine, upstanding gentleman like Ali, claiming he is “an excellent judge of character” [and we all say “Not!]. Of course, Aladdin has to act like every other arrogant suitor Jasmine has seen when he asks permission to court her. She dismisses him, stating “I am not a prize to be won!” Genie urges Al to “tell the truth” on who he really is, but Al (Genie’s nickname for Aladdin) feels like Jasmine wouldn’t have time for him if he wasn’t a prince. Aladdin flies up to see Jasmine again and when he fumbles around, he reminds Jasmine of someone she met in the marketplace. Ali scoffs, but when Jasmine tells him off again, he agrees that she “should be free to make her own choice,” and offers to leave. Startling everyone when he steps off the balcony, we are relieved to find out Carpet caught him. He offers the princess a ride, holding out his hand and once again asking “do you trust me?”
The couple takes a romantic flight, Aladdin showing the princess A Whole New World [I know both parts to this song, not really caring to differentiate when learning as a child. Further fun note: Jasmine’s singing voice is the same as Mulan’s, Lea Salonga, who has played Kim in Miss Saigon, and both Éponine and Fantine in Les Misérables]. The pair is thrilled at the prospect that their new world holds, “no one to tell us no/or where to go/or say we’re only dreaming.” It’s a “thrilling place, for you and me.” They fly by the Sphinx in Egypt (and are the reason the nose is broken), through Greece, and end in China. Jasmine tricks Ali into admitting he was the one she met in the marketplace, but he still doesn’t reveal that he’s not a prince. When he drops Jasmine back off at her balcony, Carpet helps them share their first kiss.
But Jafar has gotten his way with the Sultan, and Jasmine is told she will marry the vizier. At the same time, Aladdin is captured, chained, and dropped off a cliff into the sea. His hand manages to rub the lamp, sending Genie out and Aladdin’s second wish is used to save his life. Genie was happy to do it; he’s getting fond of Al. Aladdin confronts Jafar and smashes his staff, releasing the Sultan from its spell. Jafar uses sorcery to disappear, but has realized that Prince Ali (or Abooboo, as he refers to him) is Aladdin and has the lamp. Iago gets the lamp the next day, after Genie and Al have had a fight. Jasmine has chosen Ali to marry and Aladdin wants to keep Genie around just in case, and won’t be able to free him. Without the Genie, he’s just Aladdin and the only reason anyone thinks he’s worth anything is because of Genie.
With the lamp in his possession, Jafar quickly uses his first wish to become Sultan. But Jasmine and her father refuse to bow to him. So be it, they will cower before a sorcerer, Jafar’s second wish is to become the most powerful sorcerer in the world. Jafar mocks Aladdin when he comes to rescue the former Sultan and princess and reveals who he really is to Jasmine, before sending him to a snowy mountaintop. Aladdin survives and once again flies back to Agrabah to put things to right.
Jafar has changed everything around; Jasmine’s pet tiger, Raja is now a kitten, the former Sultan is a puppet and Iago is shoving crackers in his mouth (the Sultan had previously fed Iago lots of crackers, but it was done in kindness), and Jasmine now wears red and is chained, feeding Jafar. Jafar still wants to marry her and at first she refuses. Jafar attempts to use his third wish to force her to love him, but that is against the rules (as is bringing back someone from the dead and killing someone). When she catches sight of Aladdin sneaking into the palace, she turns the charm on and seduces Jafar as a distraction. The lad is caught and calls Jafar a “cowardly snake” for not fighting him himself. Jafar’s answer is to turn into a giant snake (and you wonder why so many kids don’t like snakes) and traps Jasmine in a giant hourglass of sand. Aladdin tricks Jafar into using his third wish to become a genie. Meaning, that while Jafar will gain immense power, he will also be trapped in his own lamp. With Jafar gone, Aladdin can smash the glass and all of Jafar’s magic is undone.
The couple face the truth, that Aladdin is not a prince, but Jasmine still loves him. As the Sultan says, “am I Sultan, or am I Sultan;” he has the power to change the law and allows his daughter to choose whomever she’d like to marry. She of course chooses Aladdin. Al uses his last wish to set Genie free and he flies off to explore the world, donning a Goofy hat.
There was a cartoon series and two direct-to-video sequels. Neither sequel lives up to the original film; the quality more in line with the series, though the third movie does include Aladdin and Jasmine finally getting married and Aladdin meeting his long-thought-dead father (voiced by John Rhys-Davis, and Lumiere’s Jerry Orbach is back as the villain). There is a Broadway production currently running and a live-action adaptation due out next year. The teaser doesn’t reveal much, so I’m not sure how excited I am to see the movie yet.
Aladdin truly is a hero, protecting those weaker than him and never asking for anything in return. He’s impressed by Jasmine’s spunk, as well as her beauty. He bodily puts himself in harm’s way to save the world from Jafar. Jasmine is the first princess that has pointed out that being a princess is not always fun and is not entirely glamorous. I did go as Jasmine one year for Halloween; my mother made my costume and my older brother was Peter Pan. The couple are good role models, loving each other for what’s on the inside.
Questions? Comments? What’s your favorite Disney love song?
My all-time favorite Disney movie. Belle is my favorite princess. The movie is a beloved classic and was the first animated film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. It did not win that title, but did win Best Original Song, Beauty and the Beast and Best Original Score. Angela Landsbury will always be Mrs. Potts, even though I enjoyed her in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (I’ll come around to that movie when I do musicals) and Murder, She Wrote. I learned of David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth long before I realized he was Major Charles Winchester on M*A*S*H. He went on to voice several other Disney characters (and sadly passed away in March of this year). Never made the connection between Jerry Orbach (you all probably know him from Law and Order, or maybe as Baby’s father in Dirty Dancing) and Lumiere until the 25th Anniversary disc and my parents made a comment.
The opening music to the 1991 animated film is very similar to Aquarium by Camille Saint-Saëns; the eerie runs of the piano, though they seem to differ slightly in key. Beauty and the Beast also has strings backing and changing the tone; not quite so haunted and nightmarish but still setting the stage for something magical. Instead of a storybook introduction, the narrator (David Ogden Stiers) is accompanied by a stained-glass depiction. A spoiled prince is faced with a beggar woman wishing to come in from the cold; for such kindness, she offers a rose. But the prince refuses, twice, even when cautioned that “true beauty is found within.” Upon the second refusal, the beggar transforms into a beautiful enchantress (“enchantresses” are good, “witches” are evil). The enchantress then casts a spell/curse (depending on how you want to look at it) on the prince, transforming him into a beast and all who dwell in the castle into objects as punishment (why punish the servants who most likely had nothing to do with it and are already dealing with a horrible prince?) In order to break the spell/curse, the prince must fall in love with a woman and the woman must love him in return. In the animated version, the deadline is his twenty-first birthday. If not, then the prince is doomed to remain a beast for all time.
Years go by and we are next introduced to Belle, who dreams of excitement and adventure opposed to the “quiet village” with “every day like the one before.” “There must be more than this provincial life!” she dreams. The villagers, while remarking on her beauty, also consider her a “funny girl,” “strange,” “rather odd;” simply put, “she’s different from the rest of us.” They also claim that “it’s a pity and a sin, she doesn’t quite fit in.” Belle visits the bookshop [oddly, not listed in French, like the rest of the village] where she is gifted her favorite book. As many bookworms are wont, she eagerly shares the story with anyone near, including a passing flock of sheep (yes, that book foreshadows the tale to come). Local star hunter and overly-muscled man, Gaston claims that since she’s the most beautiful girl, that makes her the best and worthy of him, since he is the most handsome man. The silly trio of matching young women call him a “strong and handsome brute.” (That should be a clue). After the song, when Gaston approaches Belle, he informs her that it’s not right for girls to read. They start thinking and getting ideas, to which Belle retorts “Gaston, you are positively primeval.” (The dunce thanks her, not knowing she insulted him).
Belle’s father, Maurice, being an inventor, is not the best judge of what is “odd.” I’ve always thought his wood-chopping invention was unnecessarily complicated. But he leaves the next day for a fair and gets lost (despite having gone to the fair several times previous). Those woods do not look friendly and Phillipe is smart and wants to leave. Until they’re set upon by wolves and are separated. Maurice finds the beast’s enchanted castle and enters in search of help and safety. Inside, he hears strange voices coming from nowhere (Lumiere and Cogsworth talking, but, a candlestick and mantle clock shouldn’t be talking). Maurice eventually picks them up and discovers they are enchanted and he’s…perfectly fine. They let him sit by the fire and bring him tea, which displeases their master. The Beast is angry that this man has entered his domain and throws him in prison (harsh, but we already know he’s unreasonable).
Back in the village, Gaston has set up his wedding and still has to propose to the girl. He claims that he will make all of Belle’s dreams come true. She rightly points out he knows nothing about her dreams; and they certainly do not include massaging his stinky feet, bearing six sons, and keeping track of dogs. Attempting to remain polite, Belle tells Gaston, “I don’t deserve you,” while opening the door and letting him fall into a mud puddle. Gaston vows, “I’ll have Belle as my wife, make no mistake of that.” Very ominous. Once he’s gone, Belle emerges and reprises why she does not want to be “boorish, brainless” Gaston’s “little wife,” and she desires to live great adventures. “And for once, it might be grand/to have someone understand.”
Phillipe appears and leads Belle to the castle (which he was never at). Lumiere secretly guides Belle to her father (after exclaiming to Cogsworth “It’s a girl! She’s come to break the spell!” [let’s not rush to conclusions, Lumiere]). She offers to take Maurice’s place, but doesn’t agree until she sees exactly who she is dealing with. The Beast [he’s never named; common consensus amongst the fandom is Adam] remains heartless and ushers Maurice out before he can even bid farewell to his daughter. Lumiere does get the Beast to agree to giving Belle her own room, since she would be with them for some time (aka, forever). The Beast informs Belle that she may go anywhere in the castle, it is her home now, except the West Wing. His parting words are “You will join me for dinner. That’s not a request.”
Back in town, Gaston is moping. “Disgraced, publically humiliated” because someone actually said no to him. LeFou, Gaston’s little stooge and punching bag, riles the town up into singing Gaston’s praises (boiling down to Gaston being the manliest of men). Gotta say, not impressed by someone whose every inch is covered in hair, nor by someone as large as a barge. Maurice stumbles in at the end, pleading for help to rescue Belle. Everyone laughs at him and his claims of a “horrible, monstrous beast!” Even Gaston throws him out, declaring him to be crazy and old, yet leading the muscular man to “thinking.” *Gasp!* “A dangerous pastime.” Since Maurice is Belle’s father, he can manipulate the man and essentially blackmail Belle into marrying him. And the villagers see absolutely no harm in this. (We discover a little later that Gaston’s plan involves locking Maurice up in an asylum. The film hints that this is bad, and historically it was. When Maurice wasn’t home, Gaston leaves LeFou to watch the house…in the snow.)
At the castle, Lumiere is sure that Belle and the Beast will be in love by midnight, breaking the spell. Mrs. Potts cautions that such things take time. And not aided by Belle refusing to come to dinner. Beast loses his temper, as he is wont, but Belle stands up to him (through the safety of her door). He thunders, “if she doesn’t eat with me, she doesn’t eat at all.” Well, when Belle emerges later, Mrs. Potts is not about to let the girl starve. After all, she is their guest. The kitchen whips up the production Be Our Guest (for what would dinner in France be without a little music?), which gives us a glimpse at their life. [This is also where some incongruity comes in. Lumiere at one point states “ten years, we’ve been rusting.” Meaning, if the rose is wilting and almost dead, that the Beast is now twenty-one, thus, making him only eleven when the curse was cast. What enchantress curses an eleven-year-old? And where are the parents? This is solved in the live action version] I loved this sequence as a child; all the flashing lights, the singing, the dancing. (I’m sure it was a delight to adapt to Broadway.)
Afterwards, Lumiere and Cogsworth take Belle on a tour of the castle. Unfortunately, they point out the West Wing. They realize their error at her interest and attempt to distract her with a library. While they dance off, Belle stays and moves on. It is a foreboding part of the castle, gargoyles at every corner, eventually coming to the Beast’s destroyed chambers. There’s a slashed portrait on the wall. There’s a pause on the eyes (hint hint), but then the glowing rose catches Belle’s attention. She removes the glass cloche and is about to touch it when the Beast leaps out, screaming to “Get Out!” Belle flees the castle, but is set upon the wolves. (This part frightened me as a child.) Beast, realizing that his temper has gotten the best of him again, goes after her and rescues her. She makes a good stand, arming herself with a stick, but there are too many wolves. The Beast does incur some wounds and Belle takes him back to the castle (hesitating for a moment; this could be her only chance to escape). Inside, Belle tends to his wounds amidst verbal sparring. She shouldn’t have run off. She wouldn’t have if he hadn’t frightened her. She should have stayed away from an area termed “forbidden” (though really, what can you expect? It’s human nature to want what we can’t have. Tell us “don’t go somewhere,” and what do we want to do? Go there.) Well, he should learn to control his temper. Belle’s got him there. She still quietly thanks him for saving her life.
Over the course of the next few days/weeks (not entirely sure how long…might be days because we later see Maurice still in the woods. Can’t imagine it taking weeks to find the castle. And this is why people claim “Stockholm Syndrome.” My argument…at least she’s not instantly falling in love with him, unlike some princesses.) Beast and Belle slowly fall in love, realizing there’s Something There. They both admit that once they get to know one another, they see the kinder parts (hitting on the “true beauty is found within” from the prologue). Beast admits to Lumiere and Cogsworth “I’ve never felt this way about anyone.” Cogsworth throws in a joke about giving Belle “promises you don’t intend to keep.” [This was thrown in by David Ogden Stiers]. But soon they agree upon gifting Belle Beast’s enormous library. I. Want. That. Library. It’s massive; I can only wonder at how many books. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, you need a ladder to reach a good portion. I love Belle because she reads.
The 25th Anniversary brought us another song that had been originally written for the film, but had been cut due to time. The Broadway production showcased Human Again, and the anniversary disc brought to life the full animated number. The objects are looking forward to being human again and returning to their lives. Cogsworth wants to retire to get away from Lumiere. At the end, Belle is reading to Beast, Romeo and Juliet (I think in some versions it is a tale about Guinevere and Arthur), encouraging Beast to read again. While they sing, the castle is cleaning itself up in preparation for that evening.
The iconic section of the film, and my favorite part, the ballroom follows. Mrs. Potts lovingly sings their tale, “barely even friends/then somebody bends, unexpectedly. Just a little change/small to say the least/both a little scared/ neither one prepared/Beauty and the Beast.” This is my favorite Disney love song. The dance is the most complicatedly choreographed of the princesses, and it was a technical masterpiece for its time, being the first time to use CGI (the background). [I discovered this in Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, by Charles Solomon; a behind-the-scenes history of making the classic film with some input on the 2017 live-action remake. I splurged because it’s my favorite.] I was fascinated by the little cherubs moving on the ceiling to watch the dance as a child.
After their dance, Beast leads Belle out onto the balcony and asks if she is happy at the castle, with him. She replies “yes,” but she also misses her father. Beast then shows her his magic mirror, which allows him to see anything he wants (he’s used it previously to see her in his castle, when he was sure she could never love him). Belle sees her father in trouble and Beast releases her from her promise to stay at the castle. He gifts her the mirror, so she can look back on him. She rides off after her father and the enchanted objects wonder aloud “why?” Mrs. Potts realizes that Beast has finally learned to love. But Belle hasn’t openly returned his love, so they are not free of the curse.
LeFou witnesses Belle and Maurice’s return and informs Gaston. The hunter comes knocking with the man from the asylum in tow. The crowd once again laughs at Maurice’s claims, and Belle actually begs Gaston for help. He’ll help, for a price: her hand in marriage. She refuses again and decides to prove her father’s story, showing everyone the Beast in the mirror. This just frightens the villagers and further turn them against Belle and Maurice. Gaston locks them in their cellar and agitates the mob into a frenzy. The Mob Song extols their fears and how they’ll kill the Beast. “We don’t like/what we don’t understand/and it scares us/and this monster is mysterious at least.”
Throughout, Belle realizes she has to warn the Beast. Once the mob reaches the castle, the enchanted objects band together to fight off the encroachers. What is a bit more terrifying as an adult is realizing that the mob is stating “here we come, we’re fifty strong/and fifty Frenchmen can’t be wrong.” Beast is so morose, he allows the invaders to simply come, it doesn’t matter anymore. In the animated version, Chip snuck away in Belle’s bag and is able to start Maurice’s invention, chopping down the door to the cellar, freeing them.
The objects surprise the invading villagers and fight them off soundly; except for Gaston, who sneaks up into the castle. He eventually comes across the Beast (who at this point, just wishes for death). Gaston taunts Beast, “did you honestly think she’d want you, when she had someone like me?” Frankly, the man is a maniac, laughing manically as he causes another being pain. He enjoys hunting the Beast. Beast refuses to fight back until he hears Belle below. Then he turns his strength against Gaston. Gaston, free for a moment declares “Belle is mine!” In response, Beast picks Gaston up by his neck and dangles him over the edge. Gaston begs for his life, “I’ll do anything!” Beast’s reply: “Get out.” Beast turns his back on Gaston to reach Belle. Gaston uses it as an opportunity to stab Beast in the back. Belle manages to pull Beast to safety while Gaston falls and plummets to his death. The damage has been done to Beast. He’s happy to see Belle, one last time, then closes his eyes as the last petal falls. Belle cries “please don’t leave me. I love you.” The last three words break the curse. Lights shoot down and Beast rises in his cape, transforming back into a prince. [I also love the music that plays here, the trumpet fanfare and the deliberate march, the strings simply holding notes so the straight beat is emphasized].
Belle doesn’t recognize the prince at first, but the eyes are her clue. We get our kiss and the castle transforms back, the rain turning to gold glitter. We see Lumiere, Cogsworth, Plumette, Mrs. Potts, and Chip as humans. A reprise of the ball and Beauty and the Beast signify a happy ending. The closing shot is a new stained glass window, Belle and the prince happily dancing.
I adore Josh Groban singing If I Can’t Love Her from the Broadway production. Well, I tend to love Josh Groban singing anything. I don’t really remember the song from the versions of the show I’ve seen. The year after I graduated high school, they did Beauty and the Beast and one of my friends was cast as Belle, so I went to see it. I also went to a neighboring school while I was in school to see their version. And found out recently that a work friend was in the production; we’ve found that our paths crossed years before we worked together. (We went to see the new movie together).
The blu-ray copy of the 2017 live action remake offers the option of watching the movie with an overture; like a traditional Broadway musical that weaves all the themes together to give a taste. And unlike the live action update to Cinderella, Disney kept Beauty and the Beast as the full musical. This film features Emma Watson (Hermione Granger from Harry Potter) as Belle, Dan Stevens (Matthew Crowley from Downton Abbey) as the Beast, supported by Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as Gaston, Josh Gad (the voice of Olaf from Frozen) as LeFou, Emma Thompson (Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter) as Mrs. Potts, Ian McKellan (Gandalf from both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) as Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars prequels), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games) as new character Maestro Cadenza, and Tony award winning Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe. (Do you think they could get any more A-list actors and actresses in the movie? But I love all of them in their roles.)
I like the touch of Disney changing the castle to match the movie. The prologue, narrated by Emma Thompson, has been updated and fills in some plot holes. The enchantress erased the memory of the castle and its inhabitants from the village (because, wouldn’t the village [named Villeneuve this time around] have remembered their rulers at some point?) and by this point, both of the prince’s parents have passed on and he’s a grown adult. The rose will bloom, but there’s no end age given. We don’t get a full glimpse of any of the servants yet (Spoiler: they’re fully revealed at the end of the movie.) Audra McDonald’s soprano voice lends an overall realism to the film. The terms of the curse are the same.
Personally, I think casting Emma Watson as Belle was genius; it combines my two favorite bookworms: Hermione Granger and Belle. And I think she sounds wonderful, again bringing a realistic sound to the movie (not that I have anything against the original’s Paige O’Hara). New characters have been added and major characters have been expanded. The bookseller is now Pére Robert, which makes it more historically accurate, since the priest would have been the most educated and most likely to have books. The book Belle is reading is Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, again lending authenticity to the story. I liked the touch of Pére Robert telling Belle “bon voyage!” as she leaves, since Belle uses it as an escape and feels like she’s visiting other places.
I was also surprised by Luke Evans’ performance. I was unaware that he gotten his start on stage, and his voice had me almost swooning in my seat the first time I watched the movie. I actually enjoy this version of LeFou (despite finding Josh Gad as Olaf annoying). I laughed at LeFou pointing out to Gaston that Belle is so well read and he’s so…athletically inclined [read: not well read]. He focuses more on how Belle is unlike everyone else. I like this version of Gaston at times, till his true colors start showing. Tee hee, the silly girls are splashed with mud. As for the chorus, it’s nice to hear a fuller mixture of tones; again, more realistic.
Belle is more blunt with Gaston. She is not busy, she just doesn’t want to have dinner with Gaston. As Gaston remarks to LeFou, she has…dignity. How outrageously attractive. Yes it is. But you still should not refer to the woman you wish to court as “prey.”
Maurice creates music boxes in this iteration and his home is filled with paintings and sketches. A new song was written for the movie, How Does a Moment Last Forever. We get glimpses of Belle’s mother (someone not even mentioned in the animation). She too was different from other people, but they learned to admire her. She was incredibly fearless. Maurice takes his creations to sell at a market and will bring Belle home a rose, like the one in his painting. Belle is the inventor, creating a new way to do laundry because she isn’t content with how things are. It also allows her time to read, or more importantly, teach another young girl how to read. The village’s headmaster sneers that one girl reading is enough. Another old woman remarks that something must be done about Belle. They dump her laundry and Pére Robert is the only one to help Belle clean it up. LeFou calls Gaston to the rescue. The hunter’s advice to Belle is that the simple folk of the village don’t trust change, and if Belle is not careful, she’ll end up like the hag, Agathe; a spinster once her father passes. He encourages her instead to consider a future with a certain man from the village. However, Belle has met all the men of the village and she has no desire to start a family with any of them. This may be Gaston’s world, but it’s not hers. She firmly tells Gaston “I am never going to marry you,” closing the door (literally) on their conversation. Once he’s gone, we get an imitation of The Sound of Music hill scene; Belle escaping the village, yearning for someone who understands.
Maurice’s path is blocked with lightning strikes a tree, though he’s aware enough to notice it snowing, in June. Wolves slink out of the trees and give chase to he and Phillipe. They once again find the castle for shelter. This Maurice is more perplexed by the enchanted objects and starts to leave. However, he catches sight of a rose garden and picks one for Belle. There’s a shadowy creature that stops him and Phillipe runs off. The horse finds Belle the next morning and she rides off (in far more sensible clothing).
This Belle also arms herself (admittedly, it’s a stick, but it’s better than nothing) before entering the castle. Her father cautions her that the castle is alive. A deep voice proclaims Maurice a thief, for taking a rose. Belle rebuts that the rose was for her, she should be punished. Maurice warns the punishment is life in prison. The voice retorts he “received eternal damnation for one,” he’s only locking this man up. Belle once again offers herself in Maurice’s place, casting light onto the captor, revealing the Beast. She even argues that “forever can spare a minute,” so she can say good-bye to her father. She’s clever and pushes Maurice out of the cell, locking herself in so her father can be free, promising to escape.
It is Lumiere who frees Belle, and continuing to show spunk, she arms herself with a stool, uneasy hearing a disembodied voice. She even uses it, and re-arms with a pitcher at Cogsworth’s appearance. They are the ones to show Belle to a suite and explain a bit about the castle, including the off limits West Wing. As Belle enters her room, which is exquisite, if a little dusty the tune Home from the Broadway show can be heard (I love this song too and grinned when I heard it in theatre). Plumette’s role is expanded in the live action version, beyond Lumiere’s fling. The hideous gown that Madame de Garderobe puts Belle in supplies materials for Belle to make a rope with which to escape.
I also honestly prefer the new version of Gaston; I read in a magazine or book or somewhere that LeFou’s character was updated a bit; the violent humor not appropriate for live action (very true). He’s fleshed out and not simply a stooge. Still over the top, but I think that suits Josh Gad’s personality. The friendship is still skewed in Gaston’s favor and LeFou still hangs on his every word but this Gaston at least attempts to be a friend, complimenting LeFou at the end of the scene. I also enjoyed the added dancing element and wish they would have made it longer. Gaston’s character now has a backstory (not entirely made clear in the movie, but in the additional material), he’s a war hero; Maurice calls him “Captain” at one point. Gaston does not care about being fair in hunting (not good news for the woman he refers to as “prey.”) LeFou remarks on his own illiteracy at the end (proving the importance of education and reading). When Maurice enters the tavern, Gaston stands up for him, instead of laughing at him. His ulterior motive, which LeFou quickly guesses is that helping Maurice will earn him points with Belle.
Come suppertime at the castle, the Beast enters his dining room to discover that his servants have set a place for his prisoner. And further discovers that they’ve given her a suite in the East Wing, well, Cogsworth rats out Lumiere. They’re urging a romance because they’re becoming less human every day. Beast retorts that “she is the daughter of a common thief.” Mrs. Potts comes back with “you can’t judge people by who their father are, now can you?” giving the Beast a significant look. (Not too much of a stretch for the audience at this point to guess that the Beast’s father may have something to do with how spoilt he became, leading to his curse.) So, the Beast “politely” pounds on Belle’s door, telling her to come to dinner. The servants figure she is scared to death in her room. Not so much, more like working on an escape attempt. I admire how Belle stands up to the Beast. She calls the Beast “insane,” prompting the Beast’s outburst of “if she doesn’t eat with me, she doesn’t eat at all.” That fury scares Belle, so when the Beast uses the magic mirror minutes later, he sees her curled up in a corner.
Mrs. Potts enters a while later. Instead of being angry or upset at Belle’s escape attempt, the kindly housekeeper simply offers the young woman a warm cup of tea before she leaves. That leads to Mrs. Potts commenting on dinner and leads Belle to the dining room. Maestro Cadenza is part of the ensemble, the husband of Madame de Garderobe, and Lumiere carries on with his production of Be Our Guest. It’s truly a CG marvel, but lacks a little bit of the whimsy of the original animated version. “Ten years” is removed, so as to not date the characters. For those paying attention, when Lumiere sings “they can sing, they can dance/after all miss, this is France,” he uses the butcher’s knife as a guillotine. Ewan McGregor as Lumiere has the singing chops and charisma to help carry the number (he has previously stared in Down With Love and Moulin Rouge).
After dinner, Belle remarks to her new friends, “I don’t understand why you all are being so kind to me? Surely you are trapped her as I am? Don’t you ever want to escape?” Mrs. Potts swears that the master is not as terrible as he seems, underneath he’s really a “prince…of a fellow.” She sends Belle to bed, but Belle takes the opportunity to explore the West Wing. She makes her way to the Beast’s chambers, witnessing the scratched portraits. In the family depiction, the mother is spared claw marks. Again, she’s entranced by the rose and the Beast scares her. She flees, evading Frou Frou, the fancy footstool, ignoring Lumiere’s plea “please don’t go, it’s dangerous!”, but once again, doesn’t make it far before wolves attack. She lands some hits with a small branch, but she’s still lucky that the Beast came along when he did. After the brief battle, Belle returns to the castle with the Beast and they have the same banter, ending in Beast needing to learn to control his temper.
In another part of the woods, Maurice is endeavoring to lead Gaston and LeFou to the castle, but Gaston has had enough with Maurice’s story. LeFou even whispers “you really want to marry into this family?” Magic, Gaston insists, is not real. But wolves, starvation, and freezing to death are. He admits that he only came because he wants to marry Belle. Maurice refuses on her behalf and Gaston, despite LeFou’s efforts at calming him (with thoughts of the war…and widows. Not entirely how LeFou means that. Does he mean Gaston slept with widows? Or enjoyed killing and thus making widows?) punches Maurice, then ties him to a tree. If the old man won’t help him, then he is in Gaston’s way. LeFou wants to explore other options rather than murder, but Gaston threatens to leave without him. Agathe wanders by in the morning and rescues Maurice.
While the Beast sleeps off his wounds, Mrs. Potts explains his tale to Belle – leaving out the details of the curse, particularly how it’s lifted. They stood by and did nothing when the Beast’s father corrupted his son after his mother’s death. The servants earned their fate and it’s not Belle’s concern how to lift the curse. The group separates, reminiscing their Days in the Sun (another new number written for the movie). Belle realizes that she’s changing in her short time at the castle. Before, she was “innocent and certain/now I’m wiser but unsure.” She’s “stronger now, but still not free.” The Beast later wakes to Belle reciting Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream, which he joins in on. She’s surprised he knows Shakespeare, to which he retorts, he had an “expensive” education.” But he’s not impressed that her favorite play is Romeo and Juliet, claiming it to be full of heartache and pining. There are so many better things to read. “Like what?” Belle urges. Again, that library is beautiful. And even more so because it’s realistic! (This is why Oxford library is at the top of Places I Want to Visit list.) I made the same squeal that Belle did when Beast gifted it, even after making a joke about of course he hasn’t read all the books, some of them are in Greek! For a girl who has had only a handful of books to read over and over for her entire life, now her world has exploded!
Again, the couple slowly falls for each other, seeing Something There that they didn’t notice before. The pair reads at the dinner table, soon sitting next to each other. Belle helps the castle clean and Beast nails her with a giant snowball. A quiet interlude was added with the couple in the rose garden, discussing Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the Knights of the Round Table, and commiserating how laughter dies when they enter a room. Belle admits that the villagers call her a “funny girl,” and not as a compliment. Beast states that her village sounds horrible; they should run away. And he has a way to do so. This enchantress left another gift, a book that can transport you to anywhere you want to do. But he remains a Beast and there is nowhere in the world he’d be accepted. But Belle can now see all the places she’s read about. He encourages her to “think of the one place you’ve always to see. Now, find it in your mind’s eye and feel in it your heart.” They are transported to the windmill apartment where she was born. Her father never told her how her mother died, but Beast recognizes a doctor’s mask (one of those old, terrifying ones), and deduces “plague.” He apologizes for ever calling her father a thief. Now knowing, Belle whispers “let’s go home.” (Huge clue as to their relationship status!)
LeFou still wants to return to the forest to rescue Maurice (we discover it’s been five days). They don’t need to; he’s in the tavern and accuses Gaston of attempted murder. Gaston sidesteps the charges, pointing out that he wants to marry Belle, why would he harm her father? And one cannot trust the word of a beggar woman. Maurice turns to LeFou, but Gaston pressures his “dearest companion, oldest friend and most loyal compatriot.” Gaston turns the accusation onto Maurice, claiming his ravings make him a danger to himself and to others. Some other men of the village move forward to take him away. LeFou is visibly unsettled by what transpired.
The Beast apparently told Belle that she looked so beautiful in the ballroom, so they should have a dance. She agreed and now they are preparing. His servants insist that he tell her how he feels, because if not, the Beast will have to suffer through cold tea in the dark and dust for the rest of his days. (A humorous bit is that they discover his old style of make-up does not suit his current form.) I love the updates to the classic outfits. The embroidery on the Beast’s coat lends a regal touch. Belle’s new dress simply floats over the floor and seems more comfortable. The dance is magical, the choreography elegant; the candles during the lift look like stars. I do have to admit, I prefer Angela Landsbury singing to Emma Thompson. It’s a beloved song from my childhood, I tend to be stubborn about change. Beast timidly probes Belle whether he has earned her affection. Sadly, Belle can’t be truly happy if she’s not free. She still misses her father. Beast offers his mirror and she witnesses Maurice in trouble. Beast releases her; she’s free. He still insists that she keeps the mirror, so she can look back on him.
And the song that makes my heart melt every time, Evermore (my mother and I contest who sings it better, Dan Stevens or Josh Groban [I the former, she the latter, there’s something that strikes me to the core about the deeper voice]). The Beast bemoans that he once thought he was master of his fate. But he let a woman steal into his melancholy heart. She’s changed him, forever. He will always remember her, but now she is physically gone. But her presence left a lasting mark that will never leave him. “Now I know, she’ll never leave me/Even as she fades from view./She will still inspire me/be a part of everything I do.”
In the village, a mob has amassed to send Maurice off to the asylum; Pére Robert tries to stop them, but no one listens. Maurice refuses Belle’s hand to Gaston again and Belle rides in as they lock the coach, still in her gold gown. She begs the crowd to free her father, even asking Gaston for help. Gaston claims loyalty to her family, but her father’s claims are too wild. Her word alone is not proof, she would say anything to rescue her father. The mirror shows them the Beast, but Gaston sees it as sorcery, dark magic [Luke, you’re letting your Bard out, lol]. Clearly, Belle is under some sort of spell, especially when she spouts that Gaston is the monster, not the creature in the mirror. He has her locked away as well and now has “a threat to their very existence” to destroy. LeFou protests, but Gaston threatens he’s next. The former captain riles up the mob, “you can bet they all will follow/for in times like this they’ll do just as I say.” LeFou, now really wondering what side he’s on, mutters, “there’s a beast running wild, there’s no question/but I fear the wrong monster’s released.” The mob marches to the castle and the servants must prepare to defend their home. Beast is still despondent. Meanwhile, Belle reveals that she knows the truth of what happened to her mother and asks her father for help. Yes, it’s dangerous. But Maurice can see that his daughter loves the Beast. He can pick the lock, “after all, it’s just tumblers and gears.”
Cogsworth sounds so much like Gandalf for a moment when he orders the objects to man the barricades (hmm, I wonder why?). Madame de Garderobe still dresses up three of the village men in gowns, though this time, one likes it. She comes to her husband’s rescue, shouting “this is it! The fat lady is singing!” when a crotchety woman orders “silence that harpsichord!” LeFou catches Mrs. Potts and informs her that he has changed sides; he and Gaston are in a bad place. She tells him he is too good for Gaston. The hunter has snuck up the stairs and found the Beast on a tower. He tries to hurt the Beast first by saying “Belle sent me,” then fires his pistol (more violent that the arrows in the animated film). When he goes for his crossbow, Belle is behind him (in her undergarments, having discarded the gold gown), snapping the arrows. Incensed, Gaston tells Belle, “when we return to the village, you will marry me. And that beast’s head will hang on our wall.” They struggle for his pistol, the crumbling castle giving way beneath Gaston, knocking the gun away temporarily (Gaston merely falls one level).
The sight of Belle spurs the Beast on. Gaston pounces and pummels the Beast. Belle’s cry has Beast turning and dangling Gaston over the edge. The hunter begs for mercy and Beast releases him, ordering him to “get out.” He finally turns back to Belle and at the last leap, Gaston’s second shot hits him in the back. He reloads for a third shot, sending the Beast careening onto his balcony. The archway beneath the man gives way and he falls to his death (you can actually hear a small thud at the end). Belle and the Beast share a tearful reunion, but three bullet wounds take their toll and the Beast closes his eye as the last petal falls. This time, we witness the servants turn fully into objects, first Plumete, Garderobe, Cadenza, and Frou Frou. Then Mrs. Potts as she’s looking for Chip, Chip a moment after his mother has gone silent. Finally, Cogsworth and Lumiere. I cried in the theatre. I knew it couldn’t end that way, but it was still heart wrenching. Belle finally whispers “please don’t leave me, I love you.” A kiss to his brow breaks the curse and Agathe (revealed to be the enchantress) casts a golden light that surrounds the Beast as he transforms back into a prince. They did a better job this time of matching the eyes between Beast and the prince. (Dan Stevens as the prince is very handsome) And hurrah for a kiss! The golden light rains down on the castle, changing it back and bringing the servants back as human. Turns out, when the enchantress erased the memory of the castle, a few spouses were stuck in the village. The forgetful Monsieur Jean is Mr. Potts, and the crotchety woman is Cogsworth’s wife (he’s not happy to see her, hoping to turn back into a clock…because she’s been lonely).
The Finale is beautiful; Belle has a new dress, the prince is in light blue and Audra MacDonald shines as a soprano [I like to sing along to this piece in the privacy of my car so I can drop into my operatic voice and savor the high notes; well, not the last, I’d need to warm up more that]. Emma sings the forgotten verse of Beauty and the Beast. LeFou and Stanley share a brief dance (there was a bit of an uproar of Disney including a gay character. It was barely a minute, leave it be). Belle wants the prince to grow a beard and he responds with a flirty growl.
[Fun note: the credits include French job titles]
Along with the Broadway adaptation, there have been a few television shows and direct-to-video stories connected with the animated film. I’m sure I saw some of them, but I could not tell you which since I don’t remember and don’t own any.
As I stated at the opening, Belle is my favorite princess (I told her as much when I met the costumed actress in Disney World), primarily because she reads. I have loved reading since I was a child; my parents read to me from a very young age and I would enjoy sitting and reading for hours on end. Still do, though most of the time it’s online fanfiction anymore…my stack of books to be read is ever-growing (and to imitate Ariel a little), I want more. Just like Belle, I loved going to far-off places and on daring adventures immersed in a book. “With her nose stuck in a book,” described me a good portion of my young school days. I always had a “book for fun,” with me in school, so I could occupy myself if class finished early. Even in college; I’d read before classes start, I’d read during lunch, I’d spend weekends lying on my bed, reading. Indoor recess; I read (I overheard some other girls ask my friend why she liked hanging out with me because I read so much). My favorite room in any school was the library and I’d always befriend the librarian. For a long time, my career goal was to become a librarian (life did not go according to plan). The career goal that stuck with me, however, is to become an author so I can tell all the stories in my head to others.
And just like Belle, I have always been a bit of a misfit. My dearest wish, same as hers, is “to have someone understand.” (Until then, that is what TV shows/movies and fanfiction are for). So, to see a young woman so very much like me, get a happy ending, still gives me hope (when I beat back the cynicism). She’s feisty, she speaks her mind, she’s not scared away from being different. Belle is a strong and positive role model. Heck, she evens help rescue her prince! A truly great role model for girls and young women.
Speaking of fanfiction; some recommendations!
emjee (MerryHeart) on AO3 has a small series of college Alternate Universe stories featuring Belle and Beast (again, typically named Adam) based on the 2017 counterparts. Still want a guy like Adam 🙂
hester-latterly (also on AO3) has a marvelous tale Honey You’re Familiar (Like My Mirror Years Ago), a modern “marriage of convenience” AU, again based on the 2017 film, wonderfully told and I’m eagerly awaiting its finish.
As always, I welcome your questions or comments. Do you have a version of Beauty and the Beast you prefer? Up Next: Aladdin
We’ve reached the Disney movies that came out during my lifetime. The Little Mermaid is also the first movie part of the coined “Disney Renaissance,” when Disney returned to making movie musicals. The story is based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, though we no longer have a storybook opening to introduce the tale. Instead, we’re greeted by a sailing ship, with the sailors singing Fathoms Below. One comments to Prince Eric and his advisor, Grimsby, that King Triton is to thank for the fair weather; Grimsby denounces mermaids as “nautical nonsense,” while the sailor insists. Once under water, we eventually come to the city of Atlantica, which is preparing for a concert, featuring Triton’s daughters, composed by Sebastian.
[Note: is has been suggested by pintrest that Triton’s daughters stand for the seven seas, depending on their hair and personality. As a kid, I just he just wanted all of his daughters to have names starting with “A”]
Ariel misses her debut because she is out exploring old shipwrecks with her fish friend, Flounder, searching for human artifacts. Flounder is certainly more cautious than Ariel and they manage to run into a shark. They take their findings to the surface to ask a sea gull, Scuttle, what they are for. According to the idiotic bird, a fork is a “dinglehopper” and used to comb one’s hair, while a pipe is a “snarfblat” and is a musical instrument. That reminds Ariel she missed the concert. Triton is furious and is even more so when he finds out Ariel has been going to the surface. Such actions are forbidden; she could have been seen by a barbaric human (the prequel that came out in 2008 explains that Triton’s wife had been killed by humans). Ariel’s retort is that she is sixteen, she’s not a child (and every adult is thinking, oh yes you are). Triton fires back with the classic, “as long as you live in my ocean, you obey my rules.” (That rarely works on kids/teens.) Once the argument has ended, Triton assigns Sebastian to look after Ariel.
What Sebastian discovers is Ariel’s treasure trove. And while Ariel has numerous bits and bobs, she wants more; she yearns to be Part of Your World. As anyone who daydreams about life being different, she guesses, “betcha on land/they understand/bet they don’t reprimand daughters, bright young women.” [Yes, for a while, I thought I’d be all grown up at sixteen….nooo. I’m almost twice that and I still have no idea what I’m doing. Yes, Ariel dear, human daughters do get reprimanded when they do something stupid]. All the while, the sea witch Ursula (who apparently once ruled the ocean) has had her two eels, Flotsam and Jetsam tailing Ariel and figures that she can exact revenge on King Triton through his daughter. Ariel is intrigued by a dark shape and swims to the surface to discover Eric’s ship is throwing a celebration for the prince’s birthday (complete with huge statue, which Grimsby hoped would have been a wedding present; the whole kingdom wants to see their prince settle down with the right girl [at least they include “right”]). The party is cut short when a hurricane blows in; lightning hits the sail and starts a fire. The ship runs into a reef and the crew is thrown overboard (or manages to get into a lifeboat somehow). However, Eric’s beloved canine companion, Max, is still onboard. The prince goes back for Max, but his foot gets stuck in the crumbling deck. He throws Max overboard and we next see an explosion, caused by the fire hitting gunpowder. Ariel swims in to rescue the handsome prince. They wash ashore a beach and she reprises her song, even more desperate to be part of the human world.
Sebastian’s got everyone in on the song
Ursula is positively cackling; King Triton’s daughter has fallen in love with a human! A prince, to be precise! Sebastian attempts to talk sense into the teenager, rationalizing life is better Under the Sea (a catchy, full-ocean production that I can’t help but smile every time I hear). Ariel’s sisters, and even Triton notice her changed behavior; humming all the time, always in a happy mood. The older girls inform their father that the youngest is in love. He assumes it’s a merman (who else could it be?) and calls in Sebastian. Sebastian, despite telling himself to “remain calm,” spills the secret. Ariel is happily flirting with the statue of Eric that has landed in her trove (how serendipitous) when her father appears in the shadows. He is absolutely incensed and destroys her treasures, including the statue, as a way to get through to her. As we’ve noticed before, he regrets his actions once his temper has abated. Flotsam and Jetsam swoop in and persuade Ariel to go to Ursula to solve her problems.
Ursula welcomes Ariel into her domain and justifies that she uses her powers to help Poor Unfortunate Souls [gotta admit, I’d love to perform this song; it’s sassy and so much fun to portray a villian]. The only way for Ariel to get what she wants is to become a human. And for this, Ursula just wants Ariel’s voice. When Ariel protests on how can she convince Eric to bestow true love’s kiss by the third sunset (in order to remain a human versus turning back into a mermaid and belonging to Ursula) Ursula retorts that she’ll “have your looks, your pretty face.” After all, human males prefer ladies to not say a word [I could go into how this has happened in periods of society, but I shan’t] The teen signs the contract, Ursula casts her spell and Ariel indeed becomes a human. Sebastian and Flounder rush her to the surface.
On land, Eric hasn’t been able to get the woman who saved his life out of his head, or the tune she sang. Max leads him to Ariel (the dog recognizes her scent). She seems familiar, but without her voice, she can’t be the one. Nevertheless, Prince Eric is a gentleman and eagerly agrees to take care of the young woman (they assume she was in a traumatic shipwreck). Sebastian follows Ariel into the castle, though he has to run for his life in the kitchen from French chef Louis, who loves Les Poissons. During dinner, Eric stares at Ariel and is happy to give her a tour the next morning. Ariel demonstrates that she is certainly different from other ladies. That evening, Eric takes her out in a boat and Sebastian takes matters into his own…claws; they’re running out of time to keep Ariel out of Ursula’s grasp. The crab sets the mood and urges the prince to Kiss the Girl (and helps Eric guess her proper name). Yet, just when the couple is leaning in, the eels dump them. Things are getting too close for Ursula; she has to take matters into her own tentacles. While Eric is deciding to choose Ariel over a mysterious woman (thanks to advice from Grimsby), a mysterious woman appears on the beach! With the voice he remembers! And…Eric is hypnotized.
Scuttle wakes Ariel the next morning, congratulating her on the happy news of her impeding marriage to Eric; the whole kingdom is talking about the wedding that afternoon. But when Ariel runs down the stairs, there is a dark-haired woman simpering next to Eric, who is instructing that the wedding ship leaves at sundown. The ship sets sail at dusk, without Ariel onboard. Yet, Scuttle has more news; he’s discovered that the new woman, Vanessa, is Ursula in disguise. Sebastian has Flounder help Ariel get to the ship, he’ll fetch Triton, and Scuttle is to stall the wedding. Scuttle is aided by the nearby animals who wreak absolute havoc. Max is pleased to get back at Vanessa (who kicked him; add animal cruelty to the charges, and further proof to Eric if he wasn’t hypnotized). In the commotion, Ariel’s voice is released and returns to its proper host, breaking the spell over Eric. Unfortunately, before they can have a proper conversation and kiss, the sun sets, turning Ariel back into a mermaid. Ursula has returned to being an octopus (or squid) and takes off with Ariel.
They meet up with Triton, who attempts to break the contract with his trident. Signed, it’s binding and no magic can change it, except, an exchange; Triton for Ariel, relinquishing the crown and trident to Ursula. Reacting as a father, Triton agrees. Now the commander of the seven seas, Ursula advances on Ariel, but Eric throws a spear to distract her. He’s lost his love once, he won’t lose her again. His attack causes Flotsam and Jetsam to pull him further under water. Sebastian and Flounder team up to release him. Ursula’s shot with the trident, meant for Eric, misses (thanks to Ariel) and hits her pets, destroying them. Angry, she grows until she towers over the surface. Ariel and Eric were initially caught on her crown, but jump away, quickly separated by the waves churned by Ursula. The sea witch traps Ariel and is bent on killing her with a blast from the trident. Those same waves also brought up the shipwrecks; Eric commandeers one and aims, running Ursula through (he jumps off during her death throes). With her death and the return of the trident, her curses are reversed, reverting her garden of creepy seaweed back to merfolk, including Triton.
Ariel once again returns Eric to shore and she wistfully sits on a rock (in a mimicry of the real Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen; I thought the movie took place in France for the longest time, actually, it’s probably set in Denmark). Sebastian muses to Triton that children must be free to live their own lives. One problem – how much Triton is going to miss his daughter. He grants her legs (and a new, sparkly dress; better than that sheet from earlier). Ariel eagerly runs to Eric and they finally get their kiss. Which transforms into a wedding. Triton rises in the water for a final goodbye, Ariel whispering “I love you, Daddy,” and Eric bowing to his father-in-law. He casts a rainbow over the ship and we know “they lived happily ever after.”
Little Mermaid did have a spin-off cartoon that ran in the nineties (I watched regularly) and it has been adapted into a Broadway stage musical (I think I saw part of it while at Disney World). There was a sequel, Return to the Sea involving Ariel and Eric’s daughter, Melody; and as already stated, there was a prequel. There is another Little Mermaid movie that came out in August of 2018 that seems to have a completely different storyline from the Disney classic (I was excited, then confused). There have been rumors of a Disney live-action retelling for several years, but nothing is truly known for certain, especially a release date.
While Ariel is not my favorite princess (nevertheless, it found its way to our VCR plenty), I do appreciate that she wanted to take her fate in her own hands (to good and bad consequences. If it involves visiting an evil witch and signing over your voice or “belonging” to someone, bad. Good that she fights for what she loves). She swims after Eric’s wedding ship, even though she’s uncoordinated as a human, to save Eric. She does not ask her father for legs at the end, but he was kind enough to gift them (that whole: if you love something, let it go). Triton is a typical father (though he has to balance raising seven daughter and running a large underwater kingdom). He wonders if he did the right thing and wants to lay down rules, but not stifle his children. Eric is a good match for Ariel. He does not hesitate to rescue his beloved dog, takes care of his advisor and crew. He takes in a woman in trouble even though he had no clue who she was. While Ariel instantly fell in love with Eric and Eric had fallen in love with the woman he rescued, he also fell in love with the true Ariel. All in all, a better role model for young people.
Questions? Comments? Any other adults find it a little disconcerting that a man is being encouraged to kiss a young woman who can’t speak?
A play on the word “aristocrats,” ’tis a tale of a family of aristocratic cats in early twentieth-century Paris. Their owner, typically referred to as Madame, though occasionally referred to as “Adelaide” by the elderly lawyer, is a former opera singer (her favorite role was Carmen, from Bizet’s opera of the same name [the song playing on the record player is Habarnera]). Her dearest companions are her four cats; Duchess and her kittens Toulouse (a nod toFrench artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), Berlioz (a reference to French composer Hector Berlioz) and Marie (an homage to Marie Antoinette, most likely). They are cared for by indulgent butler, Edgar. Except when Edgar eavesdrops on Madame’s conversation with her lawyer, he discovers that he will inherit her vast fortune after the cats.
One could call Madame a crazy cat lady; leaving a family of cats a fortune seems…ridiculous on a level. They’re cats; what are they going to do with it? But I view her sympathetically with Duchess. She’s an old woman who has admitted she has no living relatives (we don’t know if she was ever married, ever had any children) and her closest companions have been this family of cats. So, if she wants to, why not leave the money to the cats?
Duchess carries on her day, heedless of Edgar’s plotting and scheming, educating her offspring to be proper aristocrats. Toulouse practices his painting while Berlioz accompanies Marie practicing her Scales and Arpeggios. Toulouse and Berlioz are typical brothers, who like to roughhouse a bit (the piano gets some paint on it at one point and they practice fighting alley cats) while Marie is a little diva, swooning at romantic phrases and insisting she’s a lady. “Ladies don’t start fights, but they can finish them.” Her brothers’ response to her insisting “ladies first,” is that she is “not a lady, you’re nothing but a sister!” Duchess keeps patient control of them. Their lunch, served by Edgar, includes sleeping pills so he can remove them from the house that evening quietly.
He drives his motorbike out into the country and runs into two hounds, Napoleon and Lafayette (yes, the movies does indeed take place in Paris. If Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower aren’t enough proof). A wild and slightly improbable chase later, the basket with Duchess and her kittens is left under a bridge. A storm wakes them up and they realize what has happened. They take shelter in their basket and wait for morning.
Morning brings Thomas O’Malley Cat singing an introduction (with words that I am not sure of to this day). Duchess is the only cat visible during his exposition, so he flirts. He’s flustered by the appearance of her kittens and almost rescinds his offer of help. Duchess, while very ladylike, does not hesitate to set off with her children. O’Malley comes to his senses and scares up a ride for them (Marie spends a portion of the movie as the damsel in distress). When they’re kicked off the truck by a “horrible human,” the group attempts to take the train tracks. An actual train chases them off and Marie is in distress again. That escapade introduces them to Abigail and Amelia Gabble, very silly English geese. (Their giggling is incessant). With them they do manage to return to Paris and meet up with “Uncle Waldo,” who is “marinated.” He seems a harmless enough drunk, but as an adult, I take it with a grain of salt. (Abigail and Amelia giggle throughout)
Back at Madame’s mansion, she has discovered her beloved cats missing. Edgar brags to the horse, Frou Frou, and mouse, Roquefort (a French cheese) that he is the now famous catnapper from the paper, though he realizes he lost some items when he abandoned the cats. He must retrieve them before they’re found by the police. This leads to another run in with Lafayette and Napoleon (who still asserts he is the leader and he’ll decide).
It is too late in the evening for Duchess and her kittens to return to Madame, so they crash at O’Malley’s pad where Scat Cat and the gang are swinging. (I used to like Everybody Wants to Be a Cat more before it was part of a medley for a synchronized swimming routine. It took several years before I could listen to it again.) I think I even cringed as a child at some of the stereotypical racial characterizations; I knew that was not how Asians should be portrayed, it was demeaning. The song is still “bouncy,” as Berlioz states. There’s a harp interlude that I always forget is part of the song. It’s a nice demonstration that both sides can appreciate each style. Once the kittens are asleep, Thomas and Duchess have a conversation. Duchess wants to stay with Thomas, but she won’t leave Madame. Madame loves them very much and would miss them terribly. Berlioz sadly sums up the children’s feelings: “Well, we almost had a father.”
O’Malley is still a gentle-cat and sees Duchess and the kittens home. To be grabbed by Edgar again and locked in a trunk to be sent to Timbuktu. Roquefort is sent to fetch O’Malley, who sends him to Scat Cat (real smart, Tom, sending a mouse to a gang of cats). They attack Edgar, with some help from Frou Frou, and he switches places with Duchess et al and he’s carted off to Timbuktu instead. Madame is happily reunited with her companions, and gladly adds another man to the house. She comments to her lawyer that the new will should include any offspring Thomas and Duchess have, both of whom seem open to the idea. Madame blithely mentions that if Edgar knew about the will, he would not have left. I guess she thought that Edgar had just run off. In addition, Madame has started a new foundation, giving a home to all the alley cats of Paris (so she can enjoy the swing music).
I tend to associate this movie with my mother, since she loves cats. The kittens are adorable and act like human siblings; Duchess is a remarkable female feline, with all of the poise and manners of breeding, but she’s also able to accept and befriend those of a lower class, without being condescending. Overall, it would rank under Jungle Book, but certainly higher than some other Disney movies (Lady and the Tramp, for instance. I didn’t mind puppies and dogs in 101 Dalmatians, but I’m not fond of Lady and the Tramp).
Let me know if you have any questions or comments!
Ah yes, Disney. I’m in the generation that grew up during the coined “Disney Renaissance,” the early nineties when they put out some of their best work. Hercules, Lion King, Little Mermaid, Aladdin all had cartoons on the Disney Channel. I love Winnie the Pooh to this day. I sing along with Disney songs almost anywhere. Very nostalgic.
But, going to start with the first full length animated movie. Released in 1937, it retells a Brothers Grimm tale about an evil sorceress who becomes the stepmother to a beautiful princess, named Snow White due to her “skin as white as snow” (it’s a fairy tale, they can have…not normal names). But the queen is jealous and wants to be known as the fairest in the land (here, they use “fair” as a synonym for “beautiful” because the queen is certainly not kind.) When her magic mirror tells her otherwise, she orders a huntsman to kill Snow White and bring back her heart as proof. Because Snow White is the eternal optimist (her mannerisms remind me of Shirley Temple, a child star of the same era), the huntsman can’t bring himself to kill her. Instead, he tells her to run away into the forest and never return.
That forest has given children nightmares; falling in line with the purpose of original fairy tales to scare children into behaving. Snow’s fear fueled the terrifying images, until she calms down and sees it for cuddly woodland creatures. Those bunnies are absolutely huggable. They lead her to a filthy house in the middle of the woods and they all clean!
Okay, let’s interrupt the narrative a little further to discuss a few things. Modern women look back on this and huff about how the princess just wants to clean and take care of men/children. Let’s remember when this was produced; women were not a major part of the workforce yet. And, the original Grimm fairy tale was unlikely to be proponent for women’s rights. Re-watching this, I take it as, that’s what she wants to do, fine. I don’t have to. However, can someone explain to me when woodland creatures learned how to clean a house?
Returning to the story; they all whistle while they work and take a well deserved nap afterwards. The owners of the house, seven dwarfs, not orphaned children, return from their work in the mine. At first, they’re suspicious about having an intruder in their home, yet that melts away when they discover it’s a beautiful young woman.
They’re smart enough the next morning to warn Snow White that the queen will still be hunting her and to not let strangers in the house (good message for kids). Snow’s not the smartest apple in the barrel and willingly talks to a haggard old woman (personal vendetta: not all witches are evil, and why do they have to be ugly? The queen goes through all that work just to be known as the prettiest? Alas, those all fall into traditional fairy tale tropes). When the birds try to warn Snow White, she takes pity on the woman – and does the thing that the dwarfs just told her not to do! Proving that animals are smarter than humans, the woodland creatures fetch the dwarfs. Sadly, it’s too late. Snow White has fallen prey to the Sleeping Death, though not permanent death, since the queen cackled the dwarfs would bury her alive.
Classic Disney death, the queen falls off a cliff followed by a boulder (though not every death is accompanied by creepy vultures). The dwarfs hold vigil for months; we witness the changing seasons. And the prince has been searching for months for this young woman. Yep, that classic trope of love at first sight, and love’s first kiss. “And they lived happily ever after” completes the fairy tale.
I can understand “I’m Wishing;” she’s a fourteen-year-old princess from some undetermined historical period. Entirely accurate to be wishing for a handsome prince to marry (doesn’t quite jive with modern viewpoints, again, it’s the thirties). Young girls and tweens still wish for a prince to see them off their feet. Fully grown women still secretly wish for love (we just know it’s a lot harder to acquire).
Snow White’s song is interrupted by a strange prince coming up to her, then serenading her. I reiterate my question: how do you love her if all you’ve done is listen to her and see her for thirty seconds? Later, Snow White tells her new dwarf friends she dreams of her prince returning. Okay, first issue, how do you honestly know he’s a prince? He could be lying, a vagabond that stole the prince’s clothes. And you know you’ll be happy, how? We keep circling back to the fact that you’ve known each other all of a minute. That is not love, that’s barely infatuation or a crush. One is essentially saying, “oh he/she is cute.” It means nothing. You’ve never spoken to each other. This is not how marriages worked even in the medieval or Renaissance time. Arranged marriages were negotiated. Royalty had to go through a rigmarole to get married. Guess we’ve got to chalk it up to “because it’s a fairy tale.”
The seven dwarfs of Disney
Tolkien’s Company of Thorin Oakenshield
I’ve gotta to compare the dwarfs here to the dwarves of Tolkien, brought to life by Peter Jackson. There are some similarities; they have memorable names: Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, and Dopey vs Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, Ori, Dori, Nori, Fili, Kili, and Thorin. They’re all miners, though, the Tolkien dwarves are far more traditional. Children, that is not how gems are mined and smart people do not throw away the slightly imperfect ones. They’ve got fun songs: Heigh-Ho vs Blunt the Knives (those dwarves clean up similar to woodland creatures). And they’ve all got beards, for the most part and color-coded garments. However, Tolkien created a wonderful history for the dwarves, rich in culture. His are characters that take part in the grand scheme of things. Disney’s are…lifelike garden gnomes. And would you really want to go up against the dwarves from the Hobbit?
In conclusion, Snow White has never been a favorite Disney movie of mine, but re-watching it, it’s not too bad. Fine watching if there’s not much else on TV, but not something I would be in a hurry to elect to put on. Kids, do not talk to strangers or accept food from strangers or let them in your house. Most of the other views are honestly outdated, but if you don’t let yourself get distracted…. I respect it for being groundbreaking for animation. I do have to say, I enjoyed the recharacterization that Once Upon A Time made to Snow. I can totally get behind a woman who takes her destiny into her own hands and kicks butt at the same time.
I do not intend to do an analysis on Once Upon a Time. I love the show, but it’s seven seasons.
Questions? Comments? Want me to do OUAT? Let me know.