In 1991, I was five years old and had just moved to Florida a year prior. I was still getting used to everything, especially with learning English. I wasn't looking forward to starting school in a new country/state/city with no friends. No one I knew. My one friend, however, was my babysitter Alex. My mom worked herself to the bone everyday for me and my newborn brother, and Alex helped take some of the load off. The funny thing is, I don't remember what Alex really looked like. I don't remember what she wore or what her voice sounded like. But the one thing I do remember, was the fact that in December of 1991, I got dressed up in a jean skirt, a pink shirt and bow, and she took me to see The Beauty and The Beast in the theater for the first time. It was the first movie I had ever seen in a theater. And what a spectacle it was. Seeing all those colors, the music, the lights for the first time....it was a life changing experience. I left that theater, love at first sight. From that point on, I tried to get my hands on everything Beauty and The Beast related. And when my mom bought the VHS for me the following year, it took all of my energy not to watch it every moment of every day. (However, Aladdin came out this year which started the vicious cycle all over again).
A couple of years later, my brother, Jon, was first diagnosed with autism. I now had another brother, 1 year old, and it was a lot for our family to deal with. But we didn't get loved any less by my mother. Autistics has something called echolalia, which means that they commonly repeat what they hear verbatim, even to the pitch or tone of the sound that they hear. This also causes them to want to repeat the things that they do hear...so my brother got my VHS tapes, and we often watched Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, and other Disney films all day long together. While most would find this completely tiring, I found it as relieving. If I didn't want it, all I had to do was leave the room. But most of the time I stayed.
Growing older, I found myself as a mirror image of Belle. I would find myself reading while walking to and from school, and pretty much wherever I went. I would go to the library and check out the same book every month (a pink, Random House fairy tale book for children which now proudly resides on my bookshelf), and more often than most, I felt like an outsider compared to all of the other kids in the neighborhood and at school. I felt that way all through middle school, high school, and college. The thing with Belle is, to the townspeople of her village and [and her family in the classic stories] thought Belle a mediocre woman, one of questionable idiosyncrasies and habits; a smart, independent woman unusual to that time and place. But to an outsider, she was a beauty like no other, and for a girl growing up in a familiar setting, Belle was always one that was easy for a girl to sympathize with. Sure, Snow White was an orphan, and Aurora had to be banished in a forest and needed a band aid for her finger, but they were taken care of. They had minimal challenges (their princes took care of those for them). While Jasmine could be classified in that same respect, she was very independent and risked losing everything to WANT to be an outsider. That's a real woman, my friends.
There was one thing that I completely envied Belle for (you know, besides the true love of a prince, an awesome buffet, and an enchanted wardrobe that picked your clothes for you) and that was this:
Um, excuse me? Completely ruined my standards for a future library in my house. If I were ever to win the lottery, this will be the first thing in the plans.
But I digress.
What all this boils down to, especially for a young girl, is the romance. As gruesome as the beast can be, from a different perspective, you can see the soul behind the man, and root for it to shine to Belle like a brilliant star. Glen Keane and fellow animators said it best in their notes about the Beast:
"[The] Beast must show a sadness within--great frustration and inner pain & turmoil. It is this fire within that has been a cleansing catharsis for the proud, selfish man who once was. There is a humility mixed with determination, a gentleness mixed with ferocity. An anger mixed with passion. A sensitivity mixed with basic animal instinct. Beast's eyes are a window to his soul.His face can frighten yet intrigue, even captivate. Beauty must be drawn into the man inside, past the animal exterior....The animal and man wrestle for dominance for the heart of animal instict mixed with the heart of mankind's love."
--From The Art and Making of Beauty & The Beast
When we see these two characters fall in love, there's magic behind it. Whether it being the strokes of the animator's pens, the softness of the character's voices, or the majestic, soft sound of Ashman and Menken's score...it all falls into place so gracefully, that when it reaches the
climax of the film, it's nothing short of extraordinary. And then there is the line that wraps everything up so nicely, it hurts the heart..."At least I got to see you one last time." Something that Jeffrey Katzenberg said when working on the finishing dialogue really struck me, and it still holds true today--"...sometimes the most important thing you can know is the last line of a movie. Because if you know what the last line is, which is in effect the goal line,, you can go back down the field and play to get to that line...If you can tell me the last line your main characters say to each other, everything else will fall into place."
When you mix in all the factors, the shooting fireworks, the bewitched beast turning into the man [you and] Belle believe he is to be...it's something that can't be messed with.
It's something that can't be wrong. It's something that even though it is considered a classic in present time (has it really been almost 20 years? Sheesh), it will transcend through every other film after it...all hoping to capture that magic Disney essence. And that's why I'll be getting up early on Tuesday and picking this up post haste. Because it's more than just a silly Disney movie to me. It's my past, my memories. It's the magic of everything I hoped my life would be, and possibly can be.
'Til next time, friends...don't forget: "If it ain't baroque, don't fix it."