On This Day In 1991 - 'Beauty and the Beast' Was Released and Enchanted Critics and Audiences

"A Tale As Old As Time"... and a classic as old as 25 years! As it was on this day back in 1991 that 'Beauty and the Beast' charmed and enchanted audiences with its incredible storytelling, delightful characters and iconic musical numbers. It had been a great ambition of Walt Disney to have an Animated Feature nominated for the illusive Best Picture Academy Award, alas it always alluded him. However it was 'Beauty and the Beast' that made history by being the first Animated Feature to finally achieve the Best Picture Nomination, and despite not winning, it cemented 'Beauty and the Beast' as an instant classic.

Photo Credit: Disney

Photo Credit: Disney

After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Walt Disney sought out other stories to adapt into feature films, with Beauty and the Beast being among the stories he considered. Attempts to develop the Beauty and the Beast story into a film were made in the 1930s and 1950s, but were ultimately given up because it "proved to be a challenge" for the story team. Peter M. Nichols states Disney may later have been discouraged by Jean Cocteau having already done his version.

Decades later, during the production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1987, the Disney studio resurrected Beauty and the Beast as a project for the satellite animation studio it had set up in London, England to work on Roger RabbitRichard Williams, who had directed the animated portions of Roger Rabbit, was approached to direct, but declined in favor of continuing work on his long-gestating project The Thief and the Cobbler. In his place, Williams recommended his colleague, English animation director Richard Purdum, and work began under producer Don Hahn on a non-musical version of Beauty and the Beast set in 19th century France. At the behest of Disney CEO Michael EisnerBeauty and the Beast became the first Disney animated film to use a screenwriter. This was an unusual production move for an animated film, which is traditionally developed on storyboards rather than in scripted form. Linda Woolverton wrote the original draft of the story before storyboarding began, and worked with the story team to retool and develop the film.

Script rewrite and musicalization

Upon seeing the initial storyboard reels in 1989, Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered that the film be scrapped and started over from scratch. A few months after starting anew, Purdum resigned as director. The studio had approached Ron Clements and John Musker to direct the film but turned down the offer saying they were "tired" after just having finished directing Disney's recent success The Little Mermaid. Disney then hired first-time feature directors Kirk Wiseand Gary Trousdale. Wise and Trousdale had previously directed the animated sections of Cranium Command, a short film for a Disney EPCOT theme park attraction. In addition, Katzenberg asked songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who had written the song score for The Little Mermaid to turn Beauty and the Beast into a Broadway-style musical film in the same vein as Mermaid. Ashman, who at the time had learned he was dying of complications from AIDS, had been working with Disney on a pet project of his, Aladdin, and only reluctantly agreed to join the struggling production team. To accommodate Ashman's failing health, pre-production of Beauty and the Beast was moved from London to the Residence Inn in Fishkill, New York, close to Ashman's New York City home. Here, Ashman and Menken joined Wise, Trousdale, Hahn, and Woolverton in retooling the film's script.Since the original story had only two major characters, the filmmakers enhanced them, added new characters in the form of enchanted household items who "add warmth and comedy to a gloomy story" and guide the audience through the film, and added a "real villain" in the form of Gaston.

These ideas were somewhat similar to elements of the 1946 French film version of Beauty and the Beast, which introduced the character of Avenant, an oafish suitor somewhat similar to Gaston as well as inanimate objects coming to life in the Beast's castle. The animated objects were, however, given distinct personalities in the Disney version. By early 1990, Katzenberg had approved the revised script, and storyboarding began again. The production flew story artists back and forth between California and New York for storyboard approvals from Ashman, though the team was not told the reason why.

Casting and recording

Disney had originally considered casting Jodi Benson from The Little Mermaid as Belle. They eventually decided upon Broadway actress and singer Paige O'Hara in favor of having a heroine who sounded "more like a woman than a girl". According to co-director Kirk Wise, O'Hara was given the role because she "had a unique quality, a tone she would hit that made her special", reminiscent to that of American actress and singer Judy Garland. O'Hara, who, after reading about the film in The New York Times, competed for the role against 500 hopefuls, believes the fact that lyricist Howard Ashman admired her cast recording of the musical Show Boat proved integral in her being cast.

Animation

A frame from the "Beauty and the Beast" ballroom dance sequence. The background is animated using computer generated imagery which, when the traditionally animated characters are composited against it using Pixar's CAPSsystem, gives the illusion of a dollying film camera.

Production of Beauty and the Beast was to be completed on a compressed timeline of two years rather than the traditional four-year Disney Feature Animation production schedule; this was due to the loss of production time spent developing the earlier Purdum version of the film. Most of the production was done at the main Feature Animation studio, housed in the Air Way facility in Glendale, California. A smaller team at the Disney-MGM Studiostheme park in Lake Buena Vista, Floridaassisted the California team on several scenes, particularly the "Be Our Guest" number.

Beauty and the Beast was the second film, after The Rescuers Down Under, produced using CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), a digital scanning, ink, paint, and compositing system of software and hardware developed for Disney by Pixar. The software allowed for a wider range of colors, as well as soft shading and colored line effects for the characters, techniques lost when the Disney studio abandoned hand inking for xerography in the late 1950s. CAPS also allowed the production crew to simulate multiplane effects: placing characters and/or backgrounds on separate layers and moving them towards/away from the camera on the Z-axis to give the illusion of depth, as well as altering the focus of each layer.

In addition, CAPS allowed easier combination of hand-drawn art with computer-generated imagery, which before had to be plotted to animation paper and then xeroxed and painted traditionally. This technique was put to significant use during the "Beauty and the Beast" waltz sequence, in which Belle and Beast dance through a computer-generated ballroom as the camera dollies around them in simulated 3D space. The filmmakers had originally decided against the use of computers in favor of traditional animation, but later, when the technology had improved, decided it could be used for the one scene in the ballroom. The success of the ballroom sequence helped convince studio executives to further invest in computer animation.

Music

Ashman and Menken wrote the Beauty song score during the pre-production process in Fishkill, the opening operetta-styled "Belle" being their first composition for the film. Other songs included "Be Our Guest," sung (in its original version) to Maurice by the objects when he becomes the first visitor to eat at the castle in a decade, "Gaston," a solo for the swaggering villain, "Human Again," a song describing Belle and Beast's growing love from the objects' perspective, the love ballad "Beauty and the Beast," and the climactic "The Mob Song." As story and song development came to a close, full production began in Burbank while voice and song recording began in New York City. The Beauty songs were mostly recorded live with the orchestra and the voice cast performing simultaneously rather than overdubbedseparately, in order to give the songs a cast album-like "energy" the filmmakers and songwriters desired.

During the course of production, many changes were made to the structure of the film, necessitating the replacement and re-purposing of songs. After screening a mostly animated version of the "Be Our Guest" sequence, story artist Bruce Woodside suggested that the objects should be singing the song to Belle rather than her father. Wise and Trousdale agreed, and the sequence and song were retooled to replace Maurice with Belle. The film's title song went through a noted bit of uncertainty during production. Originally conceived as a rock-oriented song, it was changed to a slow, romantic ballad. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken asked Angela Lansbury to perform the song, but she didn't think her voice was suited for the melody. When she voiced her doubts, Menken and Ashman asked her for at least one take, and told her to perform the song as she saw fit. Lansbury reportedly reduced everyone in the studio to tears with her rendition, nailing the song in the one take asked of her. This version went on to win the Oscar for Best Original Song. "Human Again" was dropped from the film before animation began, as its lyrics caused story problems about the timeline over which the story takes place. This required Ashman and Menken to write a new song in its place. "Something There," in which Belle and Beast sing (via voiceover) of their growing fondness for each other, was composed late in production and inserted into the script in place of "Human Again."

Menken would later revise "Human Again" for inclusion in the 1994 Broadway stage version of Beauty and the Beast, and another revised version of the song was added to the film itself in a new sequence created for the film's Special Edition re-release in 2002. Ashman died of AIDS-related complications at the age of 40 on March 14, 1991, eight months before the film's release. He never saw the finished film, though he did get to see it in its unfinished format. Ashman's work on Aladdin was completed by another lyricist, Tim Rice. Before Ashman's death, members of the film's production team visited him after the film's well-received first screening, with Don Hahn commenting that "the film would be a great success. Who'd have thought it?", to which Ashman replied with "I would." A tribute to the lyricist was included at the end of the credits crawl: "To our friend, Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice, and a beast his soul. We will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman: 1950–1991."

A pop version of the "Beauty and the Beast" theme, performed by Céline Dionand Peabo Bryson over the end credits, was released as a commercial single from the film's soundtrack, supported with a music video. The Dion/Bryson version of "Beauty and the Beast" became an international pop hit and performed considerably well on charts around the world. The song became Dion's second single to land within the top-10 of the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number nine. The song peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary chart. In Canada, "Beauty and the Beast" peaked at number two. Outside of North America, the song peaked within the top ten in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, while peaking within the top twenty in Australia, Netherlands and Ireland. The song sold over a million copies worldwide. This version of the song was also nominated for Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the Grammys, and it won the Grammy for Dion and Bryson for Best Pop Duo/Group Vocal Performance.

Release

In a first-time accomplishment for The Walt Disney Company, an unfinished version of Beauty and the Beast was shown at the New York Film Festival on September 29, 1991. The film was deemed a "work in progress" because roughly only 70% of the animation had been completed; storyboards and pencil tests were used in replacement of the remaining 30%. Additionally, certain segments of the film that had already been finished were reverted to previous stages of completion. At the end of the screening, Beauty and the Beast received a 10-minute-long standing ovation from the film festival audience. The completed film would also be screened out of competition at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. The finished film premiered at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood on November 13, 1991, and went into wide release through Walt Disney Pictures on November 22.

Source: Disney Wikia

Banner Photo Credit: Disney