Legendary animator Glen Keane spent some time with journalists to discuss one of his greatest creations, The Beast from Beauty and the Beast. The recent DVD/Blu-ray re-release delivered a new treasure trove of behind-the-scenes footage, but lacked a truly in-depth look at Keane’s creation of the Beast.
Keane became a household name in animation with The Little Mermaid in 1989. Only two years later, Keane served as the supervising animator on Beauty and the Beast. It was the first animated film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The only other was Disney Pixar’s Up nearly 20 years later.
The “Disney Renaissance” was essentially led by Keane’s animation teams, via the successes of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Tarzan. Thanks to his passion for animation and tremendous work ethic, Keane helped design some of the most beloved animated films ever made. But the creation of The Beast in Beauty and the Beast was a worthy challenge for Keane.
Keane spent endless nights trying to create The Beast. Along with his team of animators, he traveled to Europe to conduct research for the film. Before the trip, Keane was admittedly skeptical about Beauty and the Beast, but the trip changed everything and soon executive Jeffrey Katzenberg spearheaded the revamping of the film. The turning point occurred when the crew visited the Chateau of Chambord in the Loire Valley of France.
“It was an ominous, impressive place with all of these spires and just standing there before us. I mean I’ll never forget the morning driving up there through the mist and fog and seeing it there. I thought this is the Beast’s castle. This is where he lives.”
Once the animators reignited their confidence in the film, Keane led the hunt for the look of The Beast. Discussions brought a number of animals to the table for inspiration, including wild boars, goats and mandrills. In fact, Keane admits they gave The Beast a rainbow butt, just like real-life mandrills.
“Beast actually has a rainbow bum but nobody knows that but Belle.”
Considering Belle’s profound romance, it would be no surprise that Belle has seen the backside of The Beast. Of course, a sex scene was out of the question for Beauty and the Beast, but Keane had plenty of trouble trying to create a creature that Belle could believably fall in love with. Each part of the animals they researched became a part of The Beast – all adding up to a creature with emotional physicality.
“The center of emotion in a character is in the brows and the eyes. And that’s the place where the audience is looking. All the other cool stuff, the animal things, and all the horns and everything are set dressing for the eyes.”
Keane loved the specific features of individual animals. He felt so strongly about the way a gorilla’s brow instilled a real, recognizable emotion that he began to associate those qualities to other animals. The softness of a lion’s mane, the ugliness of a boar’s tusks, the sadness of a buffalo’s beard, the legs and tail of the wolf and the powerful body of a grizzly bear all became a part of The Beast. Then, Keane added one more step to truly finish The Beast – he put it on all fours.
“And suddenly I looked at him, and it was like, that’s him. That’s the Beast. That’s what he looks like. And it was like I said, it’s as if the character existed beforehand, and suddenly he appears on the paper and you recognized him. And that was the experience of that moment.”
Even though Keane supervised the core of Beauty and the Beast, he was not allowed to observe Robby Benson’s performance in the studio. When he did finally hear Benson’s work, specifically the iconic song “Something There,” he truly bought into the concept of love between Belle and The Beast.
“Jeffrey Katzenberg was so afraid that I was going to draw the Beast like Robby Benson. And so he said, I don’t want you to meet Robby Benson until after this movie’s done. Because I had usually gone into recording sessions, worked with the actors. But in this case I wasn’t allowed to specifically because of this thing with Jeffrey.”
Benson’s performance was arguably just as integral to the success of the film as the overall animation. When the Academy Awards came around, the world gave Beauty and the Beast unprecedented recognition. Finally, an animated film broke the threshold and earned a nomination for Best Picture. It lost the award to Silence of the Lambs, but Keane believes in the possibility of a future animated victory .
The argument that animated films do not have real actors, and therefore should not win Best Picture is one that frustrates Glen Keane. In fact, Keane believes animated films take more work to get right and therefore deserve more credit.
“Silence of the Lambs was a phenomenal film. So was Beauty and the Beast. And is it going to happen again? I believe it will. I have to believe that this art form animation is the greatest art form there is… Toy Story 3 could win the Best Picture and a lot of other people feel that way.”
“I really poured my heart and soul into this character. And Robby Benson’s voice, I mean I feel like both of us put so much into that. And the fact that we’re drawing it doesn’t cheapen it. It actually adds more value to it to me. You know so I think it’s coming.”
One animated scene that earned its weight in Oscar gold was the powerful transformation of The Beast into his human form. It still holds its weight as an emotional moment in one of animation’s most legendary films. The scene was more than just a piece of the puzzle for Keane – it holds a place in his heart.
“I had one week left in production and I hadn’t even gotten to it yet… As The Beast is turning, you think that the back is not expressive. But it’s actually an incredibly expressive aspect of this character… And his head coming around slowly. But I am keeping it in the shadow. And then as the head comes toward us, this transformation, this – this is a spiritual moment.”
Keane’s memories of Beauty and the Beast are pleasant ones. But like so many great artists, Keane is also his own harshest critic. He loves the film, but there are still things he wishes he could have done differently.
“I wish he could have stayed the Beast. In fact, I did have us record a line at the end of the movie where Beast and Belle, the prince – who knows what his name is. I mean you know his name was Beast – were dancing. And I knew that the audience was going to be disappointed that here was – what happened to our Beast? So I had them record Belle saying, do you think you could grow a beard? [Laughter] See? You’re laughing. It was a good idea. It’s not in the movie. We should have put it in there. Yes.”
In a career filled with animated masterpieces, Keane finds it difficult to rank his work. Each one affected him in a different way and finds its own place in his memory. But Keane is full of anticipation for his latest work, Tangled, which presents a new challenge in CG animation.
“The Little Mermaid to me was like wow. Beast was such a personal – like a spiritual expression for me. Tarzan was absolutely a thrill because of the joy of animating this character and space and the thrill of drawing that that gave to me.”
Keane’s passion for animation bleeds through every answer. He discussed his passion more directly by simply stating his desire to always work. He hates sitting around with nothing to do. Keane is always working on the next project, trying to challenge himself as an artist.
The man who helped usher in a new era of animation was responsible for so many great films. Keane owned the 1989-1999 with work on The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and Tarzan.
As the Directing Animator of the upcoming Tangled, we will be graced with Keane’s first work in seven years. Hopefully, the 56-year-old animator will continue to create Disney films that enhance his astounding career.