Today! Because we’re not safe until he’s dead/he’ll come stalking us at night –
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Starring Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach (x2), David Ogden Stiers (x2), Richard White, Rex Everhart, Jesse Corti, Jo Anne Worley, Kimmy Robertson
Had the Academy not expanded the number of potential Best Picture nominees in a given year to ten, it’s likely we’d still be referring to Beauty and the Beast as the only animated movie ever put up for the top award, back in 1991. Sure, maybe this doesn’t seem like anything now, as there have now been wholly three animated films in the big contest, as of this writing – along with Up in 2010 and Toy Story 3 in 2011 – never mind that they added a Best Animated Feature category since BatB days, but it getting in alongside #174 Silence of the Lambs and #357 JFK and Bugsy was a huge deal at the time. However, despite the large number of ’91 films on this list (this is #11!), it was a weak enough year that The Prince of Tides was the fifth Best Picture nominee, so…
But despite it being my (spoiler alert) tenth favorite animated movie, I think a solid case could be made for it as the best, and certainly one of the top five movie musicals of all-time. There isn’t a lot you can fault this movie on – the voice acting, the songs, the design! One of the first big screen uses of computer animation is the dazzling ballroom sequence, which manages to fit near-seamlessly into the hand drawn goings on. It was an immediate classic upon release, and signified a high water mark critically for the resurgent Disney Animation wing, following years of mediocre schlock (Oliver & Company, The Great Mouse Detective, etc.). The Little Mermaid kicked it off in 1989, and for many years after there were hits and music Oscars for Aladdin, #391 The Lion King, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and so on, but the pinnacle of the era was Beauty and the Beast. It was a run of animated films unparalleled in modern times, until the real heyday of Pixar a little over a decade later.
If I had to guess, I’d say most people associate Angela Lansbury’s voice with this movie, right? Like, maybe to see her you think of afternoons at your grandma’s house watching Murder, She Wrote, but just her voice? That’s that “Tale as old as time” dog whistle, isn’t it? For most people – but as I might’ve mentioned, I had a pretty serious run as an old theater guy, which for a brief period of time entailed listening to tons of Broadway soundtracks, because folks, I didn’t have a lot else going on in high school. And so, Angela Lansbury’s voice in this movie always sort of weirded me out, as I associate her with Mrs. Lovett in the original cast of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street – not to be confused with the undersung averageness of Tim Burton’s movie. Sure, I don’t think there’s any bit of time where Mrs. Potts conspires with the oven to cook Belle and serve her to the Beast, but her voice makes me suspicious enough to side with Gaston far longer in this movie than anyone should.
In total, Beauty and the Beast was nominated for six Oscars, three for Best Song alone – “Belle,” “Be Our Guest”, and winning for “Beauty and the Beast,” along with a win for Best Score. It also took home Best Picture Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes and a slew of other animated accolades. But no awards were handed out for Best Representation of a Human Being Roughly the Size of a Barge! Big miss, Shipbuilders of America!