Beauty and the Beast is a seminal Disney work, defining not only the animation studio’s renaissance in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but the ideas of love, healing, and marriage within the studio’s animated output as well. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary and set for a live action remake, Beauty and the Beast has cemented itself as an animated classic whose artwork, music, and themes have continued to resonate with generations.
Much has been made of Beauty and the Beast’s magnificent animation style, which was created on a shorter-than-normal two-year timeline and used Computer Animated Production System (CAPS) to digitally scan, paint, and composite the film’s art. Just as much focus is paid attention to the film’s iconic score and songs, which were composed by the prolific Alan Menken with lyrics written by the late, great Howard Ashman. However, these exquisitely crafted elements resonate because they are informed by the film’s deeply loving, gentle heart, which crafts a resonant reflection on romance and healing and gives life to some of Disney’s greatest characters.
These elements come together to form something greater than the whole. While the film’s music, animation, performances, and writing can all be studied and praised on a piece-by-piece basis (and truly deserve such detailed appreciation), they form something magical when brought together. Beauty and the Beast is an experience. A rapturous fairytale of healing love that harkens back to classics of the genre while giving a more modern polish that never breaks the movie’s timeless quality.
This healing love comes in three forms, each as important as the next and playing a crucial part in the healing process: family, friendship, and romance.
Family, Friendship, and Romance in Beauty and the Beast
People most often consider the romance of Beauty and the Beast as the film’s central concept of love. However, love comes in many different forms in Beauty and the Beast. That of the romantic kind, the kind experienced in friendship, and the familial kind. Each brings healing and happiness in its own ways and all three come together to change lives.
Familial love is what is actually first shown in Beauty and the Beast. Belle finds few people to relate to within her village, with villagers who scoff at her bookish ways and Gaston who sees her as yet another trophy. However, her father is even more eccentric than she is and has built a loving and supportive home for her to flourish, expand her mind, and be who she wants to be. This caring, familial love allows Belle to be a person who could see beyond The Beast’s appearance and grow to love him. It’s also what motivates Belle to take her father’s place in The Beast’s castle, creating a sacrificial love that thinks of others rather than herself.
Familial love is also seen between Mrs. Potts and her son Chip, who pay witness to the growing love between Belle and The Beast. It’s a love that is nurturing and sweet, one that brings its own happiness in the film’s denouement when Mrs. Potts and Chip are restored to human form with everyone else. Their happiness is just as infectious as the romantic culmination between Belle and The Beast because their familial love is just as important.
Platonic love between friends comes into play throughout a large portion of Beauty and the Beast, with Cogsworth and Lumière coming to define much of it. Their friendly rivalry and genuine care for one another makes them into a funny and capable team that helps both Belle and The Beast grow in their relationship. The bond between Cogsworth and Lumière grows throughout the film, as they both eventually acknowledge how important they are to one another when turned back into humans.
Friendship is also the basis for Belle and The Beast coming together, as they simply do not move from being antagonists to being romantic interests. Much has been made of the so-called “Stockholm Syndrome” within Beauty and the Beast, but this Disney film is a rumination on love that transforms hearts, not a gritty examination of captivity. In truth, Belle’s captivity is a very small portion of the film and is a necessary element of this classic fairytale. It’s a means to bring these two vastly different characters together and to emphasize their love, which transitions from misunderstanding to friendship to love.
Love’s Transformation of the Heart and Body
Consider the romantic love of Beauty and the Beast. In truth, it springs from that of friendship and a bond that develops when two people see deeper into one another’s hearts. Yes, Belle must look past Beast’s ghastly exterior in order to see who he truly is on the inside. However, The Beast must also look past his own insecurities and past his preconceived notions concerning Belle. In doing so, both better understand who the other actually is and are able to connect as people. All those scenes of reading together, eating together, and enjoying one another’s company result in friendship that allows them to consider each other as something more, which culminates in the unforgettable ballroom dance scene.
The ballroom dance is the first of three key sequences regarding the romance between Belle and The Beast. The dance represents the beginning of their courtship and an unspoken romantic bond that has begun to form. The second comes when The Beast lets Belle go in order to attend to her sickly father, who she sees in his magic mirror. This is The Beast’s act of selfless love and his unspoken profession of love for Belle in letting her go by giving up his hopes of transforming back into a human. The third and final act of love is Belle’s spoken confession of love for The Beast, as he lies dying from Gaston’s wound. Her grief-stricken profession isn’t the first instance of her loving him, but is the first time she completely accepts it. In professing her love out loud, her words turn her inner truth into an exterior reality. That reality brings complete healing to The Beast, who not only recovers from his fatal wound, but is also remade into the human prince.
The Beast’s magical transformation is defined by light that literally shoots out from within him and in turn changes his exterior appearance. Internal healing from love has radically changed his outward appearance. Upon transforming, Belle seems unsure of the man standing before her, but is soon convinced by his eyes and the love that shines out from them. That love in turn transforms the people and castle around them, a simple and literal expression that feels triumphant in its affirmation of love.
Is the love at the center of Beauty and the Beast simpler than love in the real world? Yes, but it acknowledges core truths and allows for some recognition of the messiness that often comes with it. As a work of art whose ultimate purpose is to espouse the virtues of true love in its many forms, Beauty and the Beast cuts deep into the heart. Not to harm it, but to open it. The experience is one of tender joy that will continue speaking to generations to come.