Ink & Pixel: Beauty and the Beast

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I’m always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. If you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature animated films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

Once upon a time … there was a Christian Saint named Valentinus. Imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, it was said that in an act of love, Valentinus healed the daughter of his jailer Asterius. Before being put to death, Valentinus wrote upon a piece of parchment “from your Valentine” to his love and was then executed for his crimes. Throughout Disney’s history of making feature length films there has always been one theme in particular that has remained the backbone of each of their fairy tale related masterpieces … love. This is the Valentine’s Day Edition of Ink & Pixel. This is a tribute to love in animation. And what better way to pay tribute than to explore Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST?

Derived from a French fairy tale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve entitled “ La Belle et la Bête “, Beauty and the Beast is the tale of a down and out merchant king and the bargain he made with the lord of an enchanted castle, located deep within the wood of a dark forest. Legend has it that after taking refuge inside the castle and stealing a single rose from the rose garden, the king was made a prisoner by the beastly lord of the manor. The king begged the beast to spare his life and explained that it was a gift for his daughter, Belle, and that he meant no disrespect.

The horrible beast considered the sniveling merchant’s pleas and decided to pardon him, but only on the condition that he return after delivering the gift. Upon arriving home, the merchant soon confesses to his daughter that he must immediately return to the castle in order to honor the conditions of his release. Belle, aghast by her father’s words, sets out to the castle herself to carry out the sentence in his place. While surprised by her arrival, the beast accepts the offer to replace her father and allows Belle to tend to his every whim.

As the months pass, the beast soon falls in love with Belle, and it’s at the end of each and every night that he asks for her hand in marriage. Belle refuses, but in time eventually learns to love the beast. And all you really need know from this point out is that true love did indeed conquer a horrible magic and that they both lived happily ever after.

Later popularized by its more concise, abridgment version published in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, Disney took a shine to this love-laden fairy tale and decided, in 1991, to adapt it as their 30th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series. Written by a veritable army of talent found in the pens of Roger Allers (THE LION KING), Brenda Chapman (BRAVE), and Chris Sanders (LILO & STITCH), with a screenplay by Linda Woolverton (ALICE IN WONDERLAND), BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was one of Disney’s most successful and technically advanced films to date at the time of its release.

In the very early stages of the film’s production, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was a very different film. Staying very close to the abridged French original, Disney’s first attempt at the film was one that involved no singing and dancing whatsoever. In fact, when the first 20 minutes of the film was submitted for evaluation, the powers that be felt it was flat and uninspired. The progress on the film was deemed a failure and the brain storming began of how to make BEAUTY AND THE BEAST a better film. After much deliberation, arguing, and many writing and directorial staff changes, it was the late Howard Ashman (THE LITTLE MERMAID) and Alan Menken (POCAHONTAS) that transformed the film into the animated musical we’ve come to know and love.

It was decided that what was missing from the film was a bit of song, a way of telling the story, and emotions of the characters without having to explain everything through dialogue. So, of course, in traditional Disney fashion, when you can’t say it, sing it. Over 500 actresses were auditioned for the part of Belle before finally arriving at the talented Paige O’ Hara as our liberated female lead. And because the film was now being thought of as a musical production, Disney then called to arms any and all belonging to the Broadway stage to come out and give it their all when auditioning for parts inside the film.

But why call in several hundred individuals when the story only calls for a small number of lead roles? The answer to this is a rather simple one. When Disney made the decision to include enchantments and magic into the film, that reached beyond the confines of the original fairy tale, it was decided that not only the beast, but his entire manor, would be enchanted by the curse. This opened the doors to add more unforgettable characters to the cast as each object inside the castle was now alive and eager to please any guest that happened to grace its cobwebbed halls.

And in true Disney fashion, these characters were not merely there just for show. Each of them was a direct reflection of varying personalities and stations within the castle walls. For example, Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), the smooth, cavalier candelabra had the fiery personality of a romantic Frenchman, while Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), a mantle clock, was a rather wound-up and stodgy sort, always aware of the pressures that time places on one’s self. Even Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) was given a nurturing and calming demeanor. Her porcelain, round form was designed purposefully to send a message of calm and tranquility to the viewer’s brain as they experienced the film.

The fact is that art, even in its most basic of forms, provokes emotions from those who view it. An artist must be very careful and specific to choose the right look for a character in order to achieve the desired emotions and reactions from their audience. When creating the film’s hero and central character, The Beast (Robby Benson), artist Glen Keane traveled to the Los Angeles Zoo where he performed extensive research on the animals kept there. All manner of beast were explored from wolves to baboons, bison, polar bear, and in particular, a very angry and caged gorilla. When Keane gazed upon this confined beast he saw an anger and sadness in his eyes not met by any other animal in the entire zoo.

Keane rushed back to his studio and proceeded to create an amalgam of all the animals he’d witnessed in those afternoons of research. He even went so far as to purchase a tremendous bison’s head from a local taxidermy shop inside of town to hang in his office for inspiration. He soon went to work combining the jaws of a wolf with the massive skull structure of the bison adorning the wall inside his office. Taking things just a bit further, he gave the beast a small set of curled rams horns, just above the brow of a gorilla, being sure to include those sad, angry eyes of that one particular gorilla locked up inside of that cage. When he stepped back from the page he had discovered the film’s central character. The Beast had been born.

Some of you while watching BEAUTY AND THE BEAST might have noticed that it looks markedly better than most Disney animated films that had come before it. A lot of this is attributed to the implementation of a computer program designed by Disney and Pixar in the late 1980’s called CAPS. CAPS stands for Computer Animation Production System, and is a collection of software scanning camera systems, servers, networked computer stations, custom desks that allowed for the sharing of work between artists and the production staff. The system revolutionized the way the ink and paint and post-production processes of traditional animation was produced and presented in today’s animation market.

You remember all the sprawling, painterly backgrounds seen throughout BEAUTY AND THE BEAST? Or how about the famous “Beauty and the Beast” ballroom dance scene when Belle finally discovers she has true feelings for the Beast? Perhaps you’d noticed the way the ballroom looks computer generated, how the chandelier never quite looked like traditional hand-drawn animation? This is all thanks to the CAPS System. It allowed the artists to fine tune their work inside of a safe environment without the fear of wasting expensive materials or heaven forbid the spillage of precious inks onto canvas. It helped shape the look of the film as well as allow the artists to work faster and more efficiently as deadlines loomed over them from above.

During the films initial release back in 1991 the film managed to gross a total of $145,863,363 in North America alone! This would make BEAUTY AND THE BEAST the most successful animated Disney release in company history, and make it the first animated film to gross over $100 million in North America. Since then the film has been released both in I-MAX theaters to the tune of $31,033,346, and, more recently, a 3D presentation of the film in 2012 grabbed the film another $17.8 million! All told the film has earned a staggering $424,967,620 in box office dollars worldwide since its released in 1991. Be our guest indeed!

Obviously, Disney has approached the subject of love throughout its career in the animated film department many times. But to this day BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is still hailed by many to be the absolute best that the House of Mouse has to offer. I’m quite certain that when the film was released that I’d seen it a total of five times inside the theater and to this day it continues to be one of my favorite in the Disney animated catalog. Never mind that it’s essentially a story about death, slavery, and abuse. Never mind that at all. At the end of the day it’s all about the magic, and of course, the love. Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.