ARTICLESBeauty and the Beast: Journey to a Classic
Ever Just the Same: Origins
Literary scholars trace the Beauty and the Beast legend back to ancient folklore of every culture, with the theme of a beastly groom and human bride almost as prevalent as the Cinderella story. “It’s perhaps one of the last of the red-hot fairy tales,” says producer Don Hahn. “It existed in the verbal culture of storytelling long before it was ever written down.” Giovanni Straparola first recorded the Beauty and the Beast story in writing in 1550. Later versions, including two by Madam Le Prince De Beaumont and Madame Gabrielle de Villenuve, come from the French courts of the 1700s. Beaumont’s version was published in France in 1756 and in England in 1783, and it is this retelling of the tale that became the most famous version. In the 1940s, Walt Disney gave serious consideration creating an animated feature inspired by this famous story. “Probably before Cinderella (1950), Walt asked us to read Beauty and the Beast and come up with some ideas for it,” legendary animator Ollie Johnston once recalled. “The story guys may have done some work on it, but I never heard anymore about it.” Years later, Walt confided to another top animator, Frank Thomas, that Beauty and the Beast was one of the stories he most longed to transform into an animated feature. But it never happened, apparently because of the restrictive nature of the tale. “This was a very challenging story to tell," Don explains. “In the original fairy tale, Beauty’s father goes to the castle and picks a rose. The Beast is enraged, throws him in a dungeon but agrees to let him go if he sends his daughter back in his place. She very passively follows her father’s instructions, and the rest of the story is essentially about two people having dinner together every night with the Beast repeatedly asking her to marry him.”
Song as Old as Rhyme: The Music and the Story
To create an animated fairy tale so fantastical that book-loving Belle herself would be entranced by it—full of “far off places, daring swordfights, magic spells, a prince in disguise”—a special approach was needed. So it was that in mid-1989, producer Don Hahn and a key group of artists journeyed to London for 10 weeks of development. The result of the London session, under the guidance of husband-and-wife animation team Richard and Jill Purdham, was a serious drama, conveyed through majestic art by production consultant-visual development artist Hans Bacher—and with no songs and precious little humor. It was decided to start from scratch, and first-time feature directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale were recruited. By December 1989, with The Little Mermaid a smash in theaters, the decision was made to transform the burgeoning feature into a musical.
Linda Woolverton flew to Cold Spring, New York, to work with Mermaid lyricist/producer Howard Ashman on the placement of songs in a new story structure. “Before Howard came onto the project, the enchanted objects were not really leading characters,” revealed Linda. “They just sort of floated around magically and didn’t speak at all. Howard really needed the objects for the music and his greatest contribution was in bringing them in, giving them personalities and making them an important part of the story.” Both Howard and his creative partner, composer Alan Menken, thought of each song as a chapter in the story. Their sophisticated use of song as story led to one of the most effective uses of musical storytelling in the film.
“The biggest issue to me was how the audience was going to really believe that Belle falls in love with the Beast,” said Beast’s supervising animator Glen Keane. “We didn’t have that moment until we were about six months from being done. Howard Ashman wrote a song, ‘Something There.’ It was this moment where the Beast actually does something very unselfish and is sensitive to what Belle loves, which is reading. He gives her a library as a gift. As soon as that happened, suddenly Belle could really fall for the guy and the whole movie turned on that moment.”
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How Classic Disney Characters Led Paige O’Hara to Discover Her Own Disney Destiny
Most every little girl dreams of one day growing to be a Disney princess. But Paige O’Hara—the melodic voice behind Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, actually managed to make her Disney dream come true—and without an ounce of Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!
How’d she do it? By drawing inspiration from classic Disney characters and working her ponytail off in grade school musical productions that led her all the way to the Broadway stage and beyond.
“I’ve always loved Disney,” says O’Hara, born Donna Paige Helmintoller. “When I saw Cinderella, I thought, ‘Wow, what an amazing job she has to be the voice of Cinderella.’ I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever do it.”
But it was another fairy-tale character who first inspired young Paige to gaze up toward the second star to the right. One of the many millions who had seen Broadway legend Mary Martin take flight as Peter Pan on a 1960 television special, O’Hara recalls being “totally mesmerized by her performance. I said, ‘I want to be like Mary,‘ and I didn‘t give up from that day forward!”
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Tales of the Songs and Score for Beauty and the Beast
In hindsight it seems a no-brainer that Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s 30th animated feature, would have begun life as a musical. But as many folks know, this wasn’t the case. Songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, fresh off their success with The Little Mermaid, immediately began working on songs for Aladdin. Beauty and the Beast was being developed for Disney by a British animation director and was intended to be a straight, non-musical feature. When, after viewing early story reels (filmed storyboard drawings, with accompanying temporary dialog (scratch tracks) and music (temp tracks)), the powers-that-be decided to start anew with a different director, and Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg approached composer Ashman and lyricist Menken and asked them to become involved in the project. They agreed, setting aside work on Aladdin, with Ashman taking on the additional role of executive producer.
In Ashman’s notebooks, now housed at the Library of Congress, he outlined brief character studies for each of Beauty’s dramatis personae under the heading “The Important Stuff.” In particular his assessment of the relationship between the Beast (“The King”/”Yul Brynner”) and Belle (“[She] tames him. Teaches him table-manners. To dress. To love music. To dance. TO READ.”) provides the framework upon which the story and songs would be placed. As a lyricist, Ashman knew that he had to understand his characters backwards and forwards before he could begin to put words in their mouths.
Working quickly, Ashman and Menken recorded song demos with Howard performing the majority of the vocals while Alan played piano, singing along from the keyboard when a second voice was required. It was principally Ashman who thought out what action was to take place during a song. Just as a choreographer tells a dancer where and when to move, Ashman, working with Menken, figured out when and where a character would speak or sing. The opening number, “Belle,” amply demonstrates this plotting of action. Within a single song we’re introduced to Belle and hear her sing to herself of her wishes (“There must be more than this provincial life…”), we hear her talk to the baker and the bookseller, we hear what the townspeople think of Belle (“She’s different from the rest of us…”), and we’re introduced to Gaston and LeFou and hear the former sing of his desire for Belle (“Right from the moment when I met her, saw her…”). It’s an incredibly compact four minutes of entertaining exposition—and all set to music!
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The Legend Behind the Lyrics of Beauty and the Beast
“To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”
This dedication in the closing credits of Beauty and the Beast pays homage to the film’s lyricist, Howard Ashman, who never lived to see the final print. Were only real life as just and compassionate as the wonderful world of Disney, where a kiss can wake a sleeping princess and an evil enchantress’ curse can be broken just as the final rose pedal falls.
For Ashman, there was no miraculous last-minute reprieve. The Oscar-winner passed away due to complications from AIDS in March 1991 at age 40—eight months before his masterpiece was unveiled to the world.
Even so, there were miracles. That Ashman was somehow able to conjure such life-affirming lyrics while privately waging a fight to survive in an era of great fear, ignorance, and prejudice is nothing short of remarkable. Those who worked with Ashman believe his private frustrations and struggles found their way into the film’s characters—most recognizably within the Beast.
“It was Howard who really shifted the focus to make it about the Beast,” explains Tom Schumacher, former president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, now president and producer for Disney Theatrical Group. “That the Beast has made a tragic mistake [and is] looking for redemption… that was constructed by a man who at that time in the AIDS crisis knew he wasn’t going to get out.”
Read the full article here.
Enchanting Concept Art from Beauty and the Beast
How to Make a Beauty Fall in Love with a Beast
One of the greatest challenges facing the creative team behind Beauty and the Beast was convincing their audience that a lovely young French maiden with her head buried in books could fall in love with a monstrous buffalo-headed creature sporting a lion’s mane, wolf’s tail and the tusks of a boar.
Not to mention making the story appropriate viewing for children.
The daunting task required the invention of scenarios that allowed Belle to see beyond the physical into the soul of a cursed young man paying dearly for crimes he committed as a boy. “Basically, it’s a story of the Beast and Belle having dinner every night,” notes the film’s Oscar®-winning composer Alan Menken, now scoring Disney’s live-action Beauty and Beast remake set for release in March 2017. “So there’s a lot of story invention that had to happen in order for it to really come to life.”
“They’re up against incredible odds,” adds former Disney Feature Animation President Tom Schumacher, now president & producer, Disney Theatrical Group. “And I think that’s the story’s romance. [She] doesn’t like him to begin with, but [comes to] see through why he behaves like he behaves. And they bond.”
Read the full article here.
Model Citizens: A Look Back at Maquettes from the Production of Beauty and the Beast
One of the many reasons that Beauty and Beast continues to live on in the hearts of generations of Disney fans is its incredibly realized characters. We all know that writers, actors, and animators played pivotal roles in bringing these characters to life; less well-known are the contributions of former Disney animation artist and sculptor Rubén Procopio, whose maquettes—small-scale reference statues—of Beast, Belle, Gaston, and LeFou, helped animators visualize characters in three dimensions and from every possible angle. As Procopio said about the making of Beauty and the Beast in an August 29, 2007, interview with the Burbank Leader, “Our media was 2D, but we have to think in 3D and draw as if this character were alive on paper.” Procopio eventually left Disney to form his own animation studio in 2003.
His impeccably nuanced maquettes, which measure between four and 20 inches high, were made first from polyform—or “sculpy” in sculptors’ parlance—and then cast in polyurethane using silicone molds.
Read the full article and see more images here.
Catching Up with the Enchanted Objects from Beauty and the Beast
Having previously collaborated with Disney on the partially animated 1971 fantasy classic Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Lansbury didn’t hesitate when approached to play a Cockney teapot, whom she based on her childhood cook—a “wonderful woman” named Beatie. It is rare nowadays, says Lansbury, when a child does not recognize her voice. “I can be at a supermarket, buying an apple, and a child will suddenly turn to his mother and say, ‘It’s Mrs. Potts!’,” says Lansbury, now 91 (as of 10/16/16). “That’s a curious and lovely event when that happens.”
Woolverton credits Beauty and the Beast’s late lyricist Howard Ashman for helping her create Mrs. Potts’ adventure-seeking son, Chip. “That came about as a joke when I was working with Howard on the characters,” Woolverton recalls. “We already had Mrs. Potts, and I was just fooling around with the idea of a chipped cup. He liked it, so Chip became Mrs. Potts’ son.”
Read the entire article here.
Five Fascinating Facts from Beauty and the Beast's Animators
The impact of Beauty and the Beast’s Best Picture Oscar® nomination—the first for any animated film—was not lost on its animators…
It was truly a life-altering moment—not just for Walt Disney Animation, but for the animators themselves. “It had been a while since animation really was in its ‘heyday,’” admits Keane. “And now, Beauty and the Beast was all over—on the cover of cereal boxes and whatnot… And to have that final kind of authoritative stamp of approval by the Academy—to have it nominated for Best Picture—it really meant a lot to all of us, as a team.”
Henn agrees, adding, “I think that it was just a validation [that] we take these films very seriously… we have a lot of fun doing it, but the art form—this whole thing about Disney animation is something that’s very near and dear to our hearts. And to finally have that kind of validation from an outside, well-respected entity like the Academy… it was just nice to finally have that recognition.” And despite the fact that the film didn’t win that year, Henn is still appreciative of the experience. “I’m sorry we didn’t win,” he explains, “but on the other hand, I’m not too disappointed—because I felt like I think we can do better, you know? Because we’re always looking ahead…
Disney characters impact audiences around the world… in sometimes surprising ways!
“A few years ago, I found out that a friend of a friend of mine, who lives in France, was a young actor who was motivated to become one based on [seeing] Gaston [in Beauty and the Beast],” explains Deja. “He saw the film when he was a kid and he had sort of this obsession with that character. So he ended up playing Gaston in Paris on stage! I went and saw it. He did a really fantastic job too… And not only that, but he’s also got a small part in the live-action version that’s coming out next year. He’s not playing Gaston, but he has got a part in it. So, you [never know] what an impact your character might have on somebody… ”
Read the entire article here.
D23 FANNIVERSARY EVENTSStained Glass Cookies
Be Our Guest's Triple Chocolate Cupcakes
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CRAFTSBelle's Beautiful Bookmarks
Coloring with Cogsworth and Lumiere
Enchanted Rose Pen
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