Review Summary: Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme...
The 1991 Disney musical production Beauty and the Beast is widely-regarded as one of the best animated films of all time. The flick's commercial and critical success led to it becoming the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category and earned it an eternal place in the hearts and minds of adults and children alike. But even more remarkable perhaps is the fact that the film was somehow able to achieve all this despite containing several rather unfortunate overtones that parents generally would not their children coming within a mile of. For example - and do correct me if I'm wrong here - but the film is
essentially about Belle struggling to become comfortable with the prospect of bestiality, right?
Moreover, the concept of sentient household items simply doesn't stand up to a moment's scrutiny - the very idea of drinking tea out of what is currently a young boy's orifice is horrifying; as is fiddling with the innards of a sentient clock (God knows what that might translate to in real life). Having a sexually-frustrated candlestick chase a feather duster around the grotty halls of an ancient castle in a desperate, libido-driven attempt to have her make out with him is equally as problematic. Frankly, much of the whole affair sounds like something one would find in the midst of a particularly disturbed bit of Freudian psychoanalysis as opposed to the middle of a children's movie. Clearly, Disney must have worked a bit of storyboarding magic in order for us to be able to completely suspend our disbelief (and our ethical considerations), and I for one am certain that the movie's soundtrack had everything to do with this.
Take the soundtrack's opening montage of "Belle", for instance; this idyllic, orchestra-driven number traces our beautiful protagonist (voiced by Paige O'Hara) during one of her trips to the nearby town - a place which is apparently swarming with horribly judgmental townsfolk ("Look there she goes that girl is so peculiar"; "It's a pity and a sin/She doesn't quite fit in"), swooning teenage girls, ridiculously incompetent barbers, aggressive man-chasing pigs, and flirtatious old geezers all at once. This song is likely one of the best bits of character introduction and exposition in recent film history, and also manages to introduce the impressive operatic voice of Richard White (Gaston) and the reedy vocals of Jesse Corti (LeFou). Here, the pair comfortably prime the number and then send it off into a magnificent closing chorus of gang vocals, capping a rousing start to the album.
Ever one to recognize a true gem, Disney then decided to employ White and Corti for the subsequent song "Gaston" and its reprise as well. These numbers are from the scene in the local tavern just after Belle's capture by the Beast, and are perhaps best remembered for being the manliest songs in the entire film. White manages to come across as a pure paragon of maleness, sporting rippling musculature and bristling chest hair all at once. Herein, White comfortably busts out lines like "As you see I've got biceps to spare!" and "I'm especially good at expectorating - ptooey!" with much gusto. The gaggle of incompetent, second-rate buffoons in the background do a stunning job too, rolling out accompanying refrains like "No one plots likes Gaston!/Takes cheap shots like Gaston!/Likes to persecute harmless crackpots like Gaston!" to rousing effect. Take it from me - it's ridiculously hard to come out of this one without having the burning desire to eat five dozen eggs per day and become roughly the size of a barge.
Elsewhere, it is unfortunate that Belle felt apparently the need to single-handedly liberate an entire castle from spending eternity as household appliances, for numbers like "Be Our Guest" provides evidence that Lumiere and co. are infinitely preferable as entertaining flatware. This song - which is incidentally also a nominee for the Academy Award for Best Original Song - contains Angela Lansbury's (Mrs. Potts - whom Disney mercifully decided not
to name Mrs. Jugs) first appearance on the album. The singer's delightfully personable contribution is almost
reason enough to forgive Disney for thinking her English accent (of all the damn things) would not look out of place in a film set in 18th century France. The following number "Something There" is the closest the movie comes to admitting its horrendously inappropriate stance on human-animal sexual relations, with Robby Benson (who voices the Beast) admitting that "when we touched she didn't shudder at my paw" and O'Hara somehow finding it within her to remark that "Now he's dear/And I'm so sure/I wonder why I didn't see it there before." Shudder.
At the tail-end of things however, the soundtrack fittingly draws to a close with the extremely effective rendition of "Beauty and the Beast" by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. Although the number's 1992 Academy Award for Best Original Song is something of an old chestnut at this point, it still bears some worth repeating - mainly as it is very likely the most famous of all the feature theme songs ever commissioned by Walt Disney Studios (at best, the song is probably only rivaled by Sir Elton John's "Circle of Life"). As the entirety of the film's poignancy is hinged on the chemistry between Bryson and Dion, having the pair pull their assignment off beautifully is ultimately a fantastic conclusion to events. At the end of the day, the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack provides shining evidence of the fact that the magic within the music of some films simply never die; instead they remain ever just the same, ever a surprise, ever as before, and ever just as sure.