In 1991, the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar were “Bugsy,” “JFK,” “The Prince of Tides,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and… Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” While “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t win (“The Silence of the Lambs” did), it was the first and only animated feature nominated for Best Picture. For its 25th anniversary, Disney has just released a Signature Collection edition Blu-Ray/ DVD/ Digital HD of the movie.
The film’s anniversary was also honored May 9, 2016 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Marc Davis Celebration of Animation. The sold-out evening included character concept art, a discussion featuring talent from the film, and a screening of an original 70 mm theatrical release print presented to the Academy by Disney. The event was hosted by Randy Haberkamp, the Academy’s Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs.
After their success with “The Little Mermaid,” executive Jeffrey Katzenberg brought back lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken to make “Beauty and the Beast” into a musical. The film was dedicated to Ashman who died before the movie’s premiere.
Story Supervisor Roger Allers recalled that Ashman had a vision for all the characters and particularly wanted Angela Lansbury to voice Mrs. Potts. After receiving a standing ovation, award-winning actress Lansbury told the audience she based Mrs. Potts’ accent on Beattie, a cook from her childhood. A bomb scare on her flight to New York delayed Lansbury’s recording session of the song “Beauty and the Beast.” Fortunately, she arrived safely and insisted on going ahead with the recording. According to actor David Ogden Stiers (voice of Cogsworth and narrator), Lansbury’s first take was “diamond bright.” Producer Don Hahn noted that first take is the one used in the film.
The lead animators tried various “looks” for the characters before final choices were made. Andreas Deja said it was a challenge to find the right blend of handsome arrogance for the villain, Gaston. Glen Keane researched Beast’s appearance by sketching wolves, mandrills, and gorillas. When he heard recordings of actors auditioning for the role of Beast, Keane said one voice was particularly “conflicted, warm, tender, deep.” That actor was Robby Benson, who said his knowledge of recording technology helped him come up with the right tone.
Animator Mark Henn discussed the creation of the character of Belle. He said she was “more mature” than the other Disney princesses and “knew her own mind.” Paige O’Hara, who provided the singing and speaking voice for Belle, remembered how nice it was that all 25 people involved with her character shared a common vision.
“Beauty and the Beast” was groundbreaking in its blend of hand-drawn animation and cutting-edge computer generated imagery (CGI). According to Allers, computer planning orchestrated Belle and Beast’s ballroom waltz scene with visuals that “swirl” through the chandelier to the cupid-decorated ceiling and back to the dancing figures.
Although “Beauty and the Beast” didn’t win the 1991 Best Picture Oscar, its nomination reflected the renaissance of feature animation that had begun with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” In addition to Best Picture, “Beauty and the Beast” received five nominations including three in the Best Original Song category. It won for Best Original Score (by Menken) and Best Original Song “Beauty and the Beast” (by Menken and Ashman). Ten years later, the Oscars were expanded to include a separate category for Best Animated Feature.
The opening minutes of the film make it clear why the Academy and the public were mesmerized by the animation and entertainment achieved in “Beauty and the Beast.” 25 years later, the artistry still draws the audience into the evergreen “tale as old as time.”