Beauty and the Beast (1991)

by Afra Nariman

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Director: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Stars: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury


I hadn’t seen this since I was probably six or seven years old, but tonight had the opportunity to watch this on the big screen, followed by a Q&A with (in-person), Terry Press — one of the leaders of the film’s Oscar campaign in 1992; and (virtually) Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), and Dick Cook (Disney executive). 

Pretty cool that they screened an “unfinished” cut of this at the 1991 New York Film Festival. The film was practically finished at the time, but they chose to create an unfinished cut that combined scenes which were at different stages of being drawn, colored, and/or animated. This was done to illustrate the amount of work and artistry that goes into the making of animated films, with the hope that by seeing this, critics and audiences would develop a newfound respect for animation. As Guillermo del Toro (and others) have expressed:

“Animation is a medium, not a genre — nor an interest for kids and families only.” ~ GDT

Beauty and the Beast was a pivotal work in establishing this mode of thinking as having merit, and in garnering the respect deserved — but too often not given — for mainstream animated films. In the short term, the film’s success obviously led to a revival period for Disney animation (i.e. The Lion King), and also to the emergence of Dreamworks (i.e. Shrek) as a competitor; but Beauty’s legacy is still felt within the animation industry today. Beauty and the Beast’s proclaimed identity as an animated movie that adults could legitimately enjoy (even without kids around) set a new precedent for the animators and filmmakers who followed. It not only changed the way that audiences view animated films, but also how filmmakers approach making them — as they started to take into account the broader target audience which now includes teenagers and adults. Throughout the 21st century, Pixar (ironically owned by Disney) has created a legacy of its own, making animated films that adults can not only enjoy, but genuinely relate to: Ratatouille, Inside Out, Up, Soul, Wall-E, etc.). 

Beauty and the Beast isn’t perfect. Belle’s imprisonment and the nature of the “choice” offered to her can certainly be viewed as being problematic, and these are valid criticisms. Still, Belle is a strong female character who makes her own decisions and makes it clear what she wants and doesn’t want. In other words, she doesn’t conform. Additionally, the heart of the film has good intentions regarding its notion of love — that one should look for inner beauty above all else; and the film’s success ultimately paved the way for later animated works which offer fresh stories that are perhaps less anchored in the hegemonic. All that being said; overall Beauty and the Beast is enjoyable, charming, funny, and features some classic Disney side-characters brought to life by illustrative personification — these characters being the highlights of the film.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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