Disney’s 30th animated masterpiece, “Beauty and the Beast”, is one of the most beautiful and sincerely romantic love stories to ever be created. Hailing as one of the crown jewels of the Disney Renaissance, “Beauty and the Beast” recounts the timeless tale of a beautiful young woman named Belle (Paige O’Hara) and a Beast (Robby Benson) whose lives are intertwined by sacrifice and circumstance.
The irony of the story may be found in the narrator’s final words in the prelude: “who could ever learn to love a beast?” This line is directly connected to the two main masculine characters: Gaston and the Beast. The question one must ponder is: which one of these characters is truly the beast? For most young women, Gaston would be the ultimate prize. He is handsome and strong on the outside, but beneath that flawless physique he is a narcissistic, vile, conceited, and pretentious villain who wants the whole world to bend to his will. He is also madly infatuated with Belle, and his logic leads him to believe that because she is beautiful, naturally, she should be his.
On the other hand, we have the Beast. Initially, our impression of the Beast is that he is a frightening, imposing monster. His tragic past has shrouded him in anguish and as a result, he isolates himself in his own inner darkness. Despite this ominous first impression, the Beast possesses a fragile heart. When Belle first comes to the castle, his aggression frightens her, but secretly, the Beast is a captive of his own fragile psyche and he does not feel he is worthy of her. Although he fights his attraction to her, the Beast ultimately recognizes his true feelings for Belle and he is able to break the darkness and open his heart to her. Despite his otherwise monstrous appearance, the Beast’s eyes are distinctly human, and his true nature is gentle and caring. The Beast’s human eyes are the very catalyst which allows Belle to recognize him when he is transformed back into his human form.
One of the strongest elements of “Beauty and the Beast” is the strength of Belle’s character. She is not a flimsy damsel in distress who relies on a man to save her when trouble arises. Nor is she a woman who is willing to be subjugated by a man simply because of his dominating nature. Instead, she is a heroine who demonstrates courage in the face of stark danger when she sacrifices herself to the Beast to save her father. When the Beast frightens her and she flees from the castle and is attacked, instead of running away after the Beast comes to her aid, she shows compassion by helping him back to the castle and tending to his wounds. Instead of cowering in fear when the Beast expresses anger or frustration towards her, Belle stands up to the Beast and lets him know exactly how she feels.
The greatest characteristic that Belle’s character illustrates is, by far, the unique way that she falls in love with the Beast. Instead of the instantaneous love which is the trademark of most Disney couples, the Beast wins Belle’s heart only after he shatters his arrogant and imposing nature and begins treating Belle with respect and kindness. When the Beast lets her into his dark, lonely world, he begins to trust her and they become friends. The climax of Belle and the Beast’s love occurs ultimately when Belle returns to the Beast after he lets her go, admits her love for the Beast, and ultimately saves his life.
One of the primary themes illustrated in "Beauty and the Beast" is sacrifice. The Beast sacrifices his humanity (albeit unwillingly) because his selfish arrogance and lack of compassion reveal his true nature to the enchantress at the beginning of the movie and as a result she transforms him into the Beast to teach him the true meaning of love. The love Belle has for her father motivates her to sacrifice herself to the Beast to purchase her father’s freedom, even though her sacrifice means she would never see her father again. When Belle breaks through the layers of pain and loneliness around his heart and they finally have a connection, the Beast makes the ultimate sacrifice in the name of love; he lets Belle go, even though it meant he might never regain his humanity. The sacrifices that Belle and the Beast made for each other ultimately result in Belle admitting that she truly loves the Beast and the consummation of their love allows the spell to be broken.
Beauty and the Beast is quite possibly one of the most renowned and distinguished animated masterpieces to date. The movie won an Academy Award in 1992 for Best Original Score by Alan Menken and Best original song (Beauty and the Beast) by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The movie went on to win Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture, Best Original Score and Best Original Song (again for Beauty and the Beast). This movie is particularly special because it is the only animated film to win a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture until Pixar’s "Up" would claim the title seventeen years later. "Beauty and the Beast" is also the first animated feature to be adapted into a Broadway musical.
The essence of what makes "Beauty and the Beast" such an extraordinary masterpiece is that while the film is rich with memorable characters and stunning animation, the strength of the story may be defined by Belle and the Beast being able to recognize true love’s worth beneath a surface shrouded in pain and despair. These are only a few reasons why “Beauty and the Beast” is one of Disney’s greatest classics.