As always, Spoiler Alert.
My oldest friend, Wendy, went to university a couple of hours away from where I lived. I couldn’t visit her often, but generally managed to once each school year. Those were always the best weekends.
It was on one of those trips that we went to see Beauty and the Beast. It was also the first time I met Wendy’s friend, Liane, who has since become a good friend of mine, as well.
So of course I asked them for their impressions before writing this article.
Turns out they don’t have any.
Yep. Neither of them remembers much beyond the fact that we saw it together. But that’s okay. I’ve got enough impressions for the three of us. ‘Cause B&tB is my Disney movie.
A lot of it is because of the voices. I don’t watch much animation, mostly because I find that everyone’s always shouting. It sets my teeth on edge, and has ever since I was a kid – I expect because my parents didn’t tolerate us kids shouting. So I never watched Saturday cartoons, and even today, when someone tells me I just have to check out the current hot animated show, I rarely make it past a few minutes because nobody ever just … talks. That’s not the case with B&tB.
But beyond what the voices aren’t, there’s also what they are. And in many cases, they’re turn-my-knees-to-water levels of beautiful. I remember the first time I saw B&tB, and instantly fell in love with the opening narrator’s voice. I was blown away when I learned it was David Ogden Stiers. I’d grown up watching M*A*S*H, and found it hard to believe that this was the same voice as the nasally Bostonian, Charles Emerson Winchester III. Paige O’Hara’s Belle is a pleasant surprise, with an adult sound, rather than the traditional childlike voice of a Disney princess. And I want to wrap myself in the Beast’s (Robby Benson) voice like it’s a blanket. A warm, fuzzy, weighted blanket.
Then there’s Gaston (Richard White). Fantastic speaking voice, sure. But when he sings, I hit levels of impure thoughts completely inappropriate for a kids’ cartoon. Especially from 0:20-0:30 of The Mob Song. Yes, it’s only 10 seconds. But to me, it’s the best 10 seconds of the entire film.
Which brings us to another reason I love B&tB – the music. Good Robot Brewing Co., my favourite pub, used to do Disney Karaoke nights, back in pre-pandemic days. I never attended – karaoke isn’t my thing – but once as part of their social media advertising for the event, they asked people what Disney songs give them ‘the warm fuzzies.’ Everybody was naming love songs and jaunty tunes, and I couldn’t resist throwing The Mob Song into the mix.
When it comes to B&tB‘s music, though, as amazing as it all is, it’s experiences with it outside of the film itself that mean the most. The day after we saw the movie, the three of us visited Old Fort Henry, one of those living museums and interpretation centres. It was a grey, windy, freezing ass cold day, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. At one point, Liane and I found ourselves in a small, empty antechamber with a high ceiling, and she decided to try out the acoustics. She sang a snippet from one of Belle’s songs, and I was struck by two things. First, Liane has a lovely singing voice. And second, I was kinda jealous at her ability to remember details of melody and lyric after one listen.
It also made me feel a bit better for having suggested going to see B&tB in the first place, as her only reaction while watching the film was a snort when The Bimbettes made their first appearance.
It was a few years before I’d get the same reassurance as to Wendy’s opinion of the movie, when we, along with my then husband’s best friend, went on a road trip to Toronto to see the B&tB stage musical. It was a quick jaunt, only overnight, but man, was it ever a blast. I’ll never forget the three of us bombing down the highway, drinking Dad’s root beer and singing along to Billy Joel. Nor will I forget the morning after the show – the three of us shared a hotel room – and how much Wendy managed to communicate to my husband’s friend in two simple words: “You. Snore.”
The show, meanwhile, taught me a lot about how much the way we experience entertainment can differ depending on the medium. Take, for example, Be Our Guest.
Be Our Guest is my least favourite song in the movie, yet it was the highlight of the stage show. The sense of the scale of the production, and of what one figures is likely barely controlled chaos behind-the-scenes as the castle’s servants entertain Belle before her meal, seemed to come across better live than on film.
Perhaps the better example, though, doesn’t relate to music at all. The night we saw the show, Gaston was being played by the understudy, who was phenomenal. I remember my husband’s friend asking, “If that was the understudy, what’s the regular guy like?”
Our appreciation of the skilled performance was tempered, though, by a discomfort at Gaston’s treatment of his sidekick, LeFou. Many people find Gaston’s abuse of LeFou funny, with Gaston’s punches, insults, and otherwise degrading treatment easily brushed off as slapstick. Personally, even though I’ve never found it funny, or even amusing, it’s also never particularly bothered me, as I’ve shrugged it off as a way for the filmmakers to emphasize Gaston’s dreadful nature.
When it came to watching two live people interact in the same manner, however, no matter how cartoonishly it was portrayed, with obvious stage punches and silly sound effects, it wasn’t something I could shrug off so easily.
Ultimately, given the choice between live show or the animated film, I’ll take the movie without hesitation. Especially because it features this:
I don’t have an easy relationship with libraries, but every time this one comes on screen, I find myself sighing. Watching B&tB for the first time in years for this article, when the Beast gives the library to Belle, I told Ron that, “I want it.” He glanced at the screen, then back at me, and asked with a grin what I’d fill it with.
There’s only one answer to that.
To see other posts in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order, click here.