There are few animated films that cast shadows as long as Beauty and the Beast. Although it isn’t the first movie to be given the live-action remake treatment by Disney, it’s expected to be among the biggest, and that’s not a huge surprise. Beauty and the Beast is a masterwork of animation, and it’s become one of Disney’s most iconic movies in the years since its release.
There are numerous reasons for the reverence that Beauty and the Beast has been given in recent years. Everything from the voice cast to the score is noteworthy; not to mention the lasting legacy that the film has in the minds of the audiences who saw it at a young age. By most metrics, the film is a classic. Its story is timeless, and its retelling may well be enormously successful for Disney. It’s unlikely to usurp the original, though.
Here are 15 Reasons The Original Is Still A Classic.
15 Lumiere and Cogsworth
While it’s true that there are many wonderful characters in Beauty and the Beast, the film’s best relationship might actually be between Lumiere, the French candelabra, and Cogsworth, the British clock. The pair provide much of the film’s comic relief, in part because of the way that they often butt heads with one another. Cogsworth is a notorious curmudgeon, and rarely has time for Lumiere’s tomfoolery.
Still, there’s a clear fondness and friendship between the pair, even if Cogsworth is more interested in sticking to the rules set out by the Beast than Lumiere. While it’s true that this is far from the first time we’ve seen two characters who contrast in this way, Cogsworth and Lumiere are among the most entertaining, in part because of the way that they function as audience surrogates, inserting jokes and commenting on the plot of the film in ways that are often pointed and hilarious.
14 Angela Lansbury is Perfectly Cast
Mrs. Potts provides the soundtrack to one of the film’s most iconic moments, and it’s unlikely that that would be the case without the work provided by Angela Lansbury. The actress’s rendition of the titular song adds so much to the scene, but it’s far from the only reason that Lansbury’s performance is the most hailed in the film. She plays Mrs. Potts as a genuinely kind presence in a film that’s initially lacking in that regard, and also provides a bit of comedy.
Lansbury’s voice is also so distinctly British that it’s hard to mistake it for anything else. Lansbury infuses her voice with a motherly presence that signals comfort and warmth, fitting Mrs. Potts perfectly, and allows the character to immediately slip into a care-taking role. Throughout the film, Potts’s perspective is that of the surrogate mother, who softens the Beast’s edges while assuring Belle that things may work out better than she expects. Lansbury’s voice is key to all of that.
13 A Perfect Prologue
From the very first moments of Beauty and the Beast, we come to understand that this film is going to be different than most Disney fare. It opens with a prologue explaining how the Prince came to be cursed by an enchantress. In addition to its beautiful piano score, the sequence is also notable because it is a departure from the animation that dominates the rest of the film. The prologue employs stained glass windows which give us a sense of how the Beast came to look the way he does, and does so in an incredibly artful way.
This prologue immediately suggests that this film will be more artful than it needs to be. A typical Disney film may handle its opening moments with less grace, using it only as a perfunctory beat that’s required to set up the story. In Beauty and the Beast, that’s anything but the case. Instead, the prologue tells us that this is a movie that was made with deep care, and one that isn’t going to disappoint its audience.
12 The Score
While the original songs in Beauty and the Beast get the lion’s share of the attention, the score for the film is also worth noting for the ways in which it compliments the scenes as they unfold. The score is most noticeable during the film’s brilliant prologue, when its intricate piano melody is used to describe the story of the Beast’s curse.
There’s a certain delicacy to these opening moments, and to the score as a whole. It’s not as over the top as it could be, and the subtle moments add just as much to the film as the bombastic songs that the score often accompanies. The score is filled with iconic lines, and also manages to heighten the emotions being experienced in every moment of the film.
In short, it does exactly what every good score should, and manages to be a good listen even if you aren’t watching the movie.
11 "Gaston" is Just Perfect
Although it may not be the most widely hailed, it’s hard to find a reason to describe “Gaston” as anything besides a perfect song. The tune is rousing, and the lyrics are among the most hilarious that have ever been put to paper. In essence, the song is an ode to Gaston, sung by Gaston and a crowd of admiring onlookers. Never has a character given so much effusive praise to himself. Not only is Gaston muscular and hairy, he’s also “especially good at expectorating,” which is a word most kids probably didn’t understand.
The song is also a perfect summation of the kind of casual egotism that Gaston represents in the film, taken to an absurd level. Gaston expects to get his way every time he sets his eye on a goal, and that kind of entitled perspective comes with a fair share of misogyny and more than a little irony. In “Gaston”, all of this is boiled down to its purest form, and we get a song that is both hilarious and, somehow, fairly rousing in its own right.
10 Beautiful Animation
While the style of animation that dominates Beauty and the Beast has fallen out of favor in recent years, it’s hard to argue with the form’s merits when you look at the beauty on display in this movie. The vividness of every color in the movie is only one reason the animation works. The marvelous character designs are another, although they may have become needlessly intricate in the live-action version.
Beauty and the Beast remains a great argument for the careful design of animated movies. Every element is controlled, and so things can look exactly the way the animators want them too. That’s true in the climactic rooftop fight, which uses the backdrop of a thunderstorm to great effect, and it’s also true of some of the movie’s smaller moments, like the way it animates the iconic rose. Even things as important as The Beast are carefully rendered, so that the final product looks as beautiful today as it did more than 25 years ago.
9 It was the First Animated Film Nominated for Best Picture
While this entry may seem more like a confirmation of Beauty and the Beast’s quality, it also represents another way in which it’s hard to overstate the impact the movie had when it was released. This movie wasn’t just outstanding for an animated movie; it was outstanding period. Every aspect of the film was worthy of praise, and the Academy saw it as one of the five best films of 1991. Although it didn’t take home the top prize, it did manage to snag a couple of trophies for its score and titular song.
Although several other animated films have also been nominated for Best Picture at this point, Beauty and the Beast did it when the category was much more limited, and paved the way for these other entries. It seems that the film solidified the idea that animation was an art form worthy of praise from the prestigious Academy, which is part of the reason the genre is taken more seriously today.
8 The Beast is Realistically Complicated
The Beast’s story isn’t easy to parse. He was punished at age 11 for being rude to an enchantress disguised as an elderly woman, and was forced to spend the next 10 years in the form of a giant beast. While it’s true that the Beast was being punished for his cruelty, his punishment is a harsh one, and it explains the shame and sadness that fills his expression. He’s been punished for a mistake he made as a boy, and as we discover as the film progresses, he seems to be a genuinely good person in many regards.
The Beast is warm and kind to Belle, and we begin to discover that the gruff exterior is an expression of the only the worst parts of him. People treated him like a monster, and so he became one. The Beast isn’t good or evil. He’s a nuanced person, and he’s a worthy partner to Belle for that reason. Like most things in Beauty and the Beast, the Beast isn’t one note, and the movie around him is better for it.
7 The "Be Our Guest" Sequence
Although Lumiere and Cogsworth work best as a pair, there’s one notable exception to that rule. It comes during one of Belle’s dinners in the castle, when Lumiere decides to explain all of the numerous things that these sentient objects have to offer. This is a staff of servants who have longed to perform some task worthy of their skills, and now Belle is here, ready to be served.
The excitement is simply too much for Lumiere, who breaks into “Be Our Guest,” which is perhaps the most dazzling song in the entire film. As he explains all of the options that Belle has, the audience is treated to a marvelously choreographed sequence in which everything from plates to silverware gets up and begins to dance along. The number is certainly the movie’s showiest, and it provides some of the most dazzling animation the film has to offer viewers, which is really saying something.
6 It Confirmed Disney's Resurgence
Disney had some rough years after the death of Walt Disney, and by the 1980s, it seemed as though its influence over the cultural landscape might be dwindling. Beauty and the Beast changed those perceptions, and led to one of the most productive periods in the company’s history. While it’s true that The Little Mermaid was the first sign that things might be shifting within the company, Beauty and the Beast brought true critical acclaim, and went on to become one of the company’s most iconic properties.
The formula established in Beauty and the Beast would be replicated throughout the '90s, which also produced great movies like Mulan, Aladdin, and The Lion King. All of that truly began with this 1991 movie, which combined the musical elements with a winning story and outstanding animation.
Disney’s dominance throughout the 1990s is what allowed them to be a cultural force worth reckoning with in the 21st century, and all of that can be traced back to Beauty and the Beast.
5 The Rooftop Climax is Thrilling
A lot of older animation doesn’t quite hold up when compared to its modern counterparts. When it comes to the animation in Beauty and the Beast, it’s hard to argue that the movie is dated, and that’s especially true during the film’s climax. As Gaston rouses the townsfolk to storm the castle and attack the beast, the fires of their torches come to life and the rain adds a level of tension that serves to heighten the action without making it confusing.
In the final moments of the fight, when the Beast has Gaston’s life in his hands, he chooses to save it, though Gaston plummets to his death because of his own arrogance. The climax perfectly articulates the differences between the Beast and Gaston, and also proves to be thrilling in its own right. That kind of suspense is hard to pull off, but Beauty and the Beast manages to make it work, and gives the movie the ending it deserves.
4 A Relevant and Hilarious Villain
Gaston perfectly combines two elements that are a must for all good Disney villains. In being both over-the-top and frighteningly realistic, the character is laughable and, in some ways, horrifying. Really, Gaston is a hypermasculine man child who’s used to getting what he wants, and throws a massive fit when he doesn’t. While he may seem cartoonish, Gaston’s particular form of misogyny is still relevant today, and the rage that’s bubbling just under his exterior is doubly so.
Gaston’s enormous muscles hide a very fragile interior, and his wounded pride is the sole reason that the movie almost ends on a much more sour note. Gaston’s not nefarious in the way that many Disney villains are. In some movies, the female heroine would even end up with a character like him.
Gaston’s the cartoon version of the daring prince, a character who’s aware of his own reputation, and is badly hurt by the fact that Belle doesn’t appreciate it the way he feels she should.
3 The Film is About Outcasts
In its recent history, Disney has leaned into telling stories about characters who, for one reason or another, simply don’t fit in. Whether it’s Elsa from Frozen, who has powers she doesn’t understand, or Ralph from Wreck-It Ralph, a villain who wants to be heroic, its recent protagonists tend to be outcasts in some shape or form. That legacy began with Beauty and the Beast, which chose to focus on a normal, bookish girl with a weird father, and a prince who’s not exactly likeable.
This was a change for the company, which had previously been interested in the relationships between princes and princesses. While it’s true that many of the stories that came after Beauty and the Beast certainly contained royalty of one form or another, these characters were invariably more complex and sympathetic than those that populated the old Disney films, and that’s certainly a change for the better.
2 The "Beauty and the Beast" Sequence
Perhaps the most iconic moment from the whole film comes when Angela Lansbury begins singing the titular, Oscar-winning song. Belle and the Beast are starting to grow together, and all of that becomes crystal clear as they begin to dance with one another. As Angela Lansbury about a "tale as old as time", we are treated to luscious animation of Belle and the Beast twirling together, complete with the now iconic yellow dress that the remake has attempted to replicate.
This moment is iconic because of its feeling of romance. This is a film that allows itself to be both intelligent and romantic, and those elements are perfectly combined in this moment. As Belle and the Beast become closer to one another, it’s hard to ignore the aesthetic value of the scene, but it’s just as hard to miss what a pivotal moment this is in the story. This may be a tale as old as time, but few tales have been told better than Beauty and the Beast.
1 A Wonderful Main Character
Up until this point in its history, Disney wasn’t exactly known for its complicated female characters. The heroine was typically a princess, someone in need of rescuing by a handsome prince. While it’s true that this princess was often the main character, it didn’t mean that she was particularly complex. With Belle, Disney declared that its central figure could be interesting in her own right, even without the introduction of a man.
Belle is courageous and clever, charming and smart, and she’s the kind of character that works as an outstanding role model for the children watching the film. She knows when to stand up for herself, and understands her own value. She rejects the overtly possessive Gaston in favor of someone who better appreciates her for who she is, and embraces her intelligence and her personality instead of simply tolerating them.
Above all else, Belle is smart. The fact that Beauty and the Beast celebrates that is, in and of itself, pretty spectacular.
What do you love most about the original Beauty and the Beast? Let us know in the comments.