Burning Questions (and Answers) about “Beauty and the Beast”

 

This is probably the last post I’ll write before I go to see Disney’s new live action Beauty and the Beast, which comes out on March 17th. As a huge fan of the original film, I look forward to the remake with a mix of excitement (Emma Watson is perfect casting), worry (still not loving the computer animated enchanted objects), and the knowledge that the quality of the new film does nothing to change the first one and the way I feel about it. The impending premiere also has me revisiting some of the interesting details I’ve learned about the original movie and its creation. This includes a few answers (or near answers) to some of the Internet’s burning questions, which is what I’m going to share with you today.

How old is the Beast?

This seems like an easy question. If you follow the terms of the spell as they’re laid out in the prologue, he’s twenty and turns twenty-one at the end of the film. But according to a line in ‘Be Our Guest,’ the castle and its inhabitants have been enchanted for at least ten years, which means this is supposed to be a portrait of an 11 year old.

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Arguments have been made about magically aging artwork or the portraits guessing (with uncanny accuracy) what the prince might look like post adolescence. But there isn’t a really great answer in the context of the story.

The making of the film offers one possible reason for the incongruity. One of the earlier drafts of the film had a different prologue sequence where the prince was transformed as a young boy. Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise weren’t on board with the idea of a little boy Beast and scrapped the scene, but not before a heated verbal battle with lyricist Howard Ashman, who had a major hand in the development of the film’s narrative. Between the breakneck development pace of the movie and possible lingering resentments on Ashman’s part, the lines in “Be Our Guest” that put a definite timeline on the spell may have slipped in without being revised.

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What is Belle’s Favorite Book?

“Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise.” Lots of stories could potentially fit that description, but few – if any – seem like a perfect fit. Disney has heavily suggested in various places that the book in question is “Sleeping Beauty.” Decades ago, I remember seeing a shirt at the Disney Store showing Belle reading by the fountain with characters from the Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty depicted above her. More recently, Disney imagineers included a copy of the book in Belle and Maurice’s cottage, which serves as the queue area for Enchanted Tales with Belle at Disney World.

Of course, the most important reason for including a vague description of Belle’s favorite story is to foreshadow her meeting with her own heavily disguised Prince Charming, whom she won’t come to see the good qualities of until later on.

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Why Can’t Maurice Find the Castle?

You could make the argument that only Phillipe actually knows how to get to the Beast’s castle. But the angry mob of townspeople finds its way there quite easily without having to ask for directions from the horse. Everything we see points to the castle being less than a day’s journey from the town, yet Maurice’s attempt to rescue his daughter leaves him lost for days, possibly months. (More on that later.)

During the film’s production, some of the Disney artists came up with the idea that Maurice had a truly horrendous sense of direction. It’s hinted at when he gets lost on the way to the fair, but we’re talking a Ryoga from Ranma 1/2 level of navigational ineptitude. Sketches began circulating of Maurice searching for Belle at landmarks that became progressively less geographically appropriate: Big Ben, the pyramids of Giza, the Taj Mahal. It’s not exactly an official explanation, but it’s certainly fun to imagine that Maurice went on an unplanned World Tour before returning to the woods and nearly dying.

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Why Did “Human Again” Get Cut From the Original Version of the Movie?

The Menken and Ashman song in which the enchanted objects sing about their hopes for life after the spell is broken was included in the Broadway musical and animated for the film’s IMAX rerelease in 2002. It’s highly likely that it will be part of the live action version as well. But the song never appeared in the original theatrical release of the film. Why was it cut?

This question has multiple answers that may all contain some degree of truth. If you watch the commentary on the DVD release of the film, you’ll hear that it was an issue with the film’s timeline. The song and the corresponding scene both reference the passage of time with the changing seasons. The feeling was that this was just too long to have Maurice languishing out in the woods somewhere. But as we discussed in the previous question, the final film doesn’t really solve the problem of Maurice’s lengthy absence. Based on the weather and the landscape, the movie seems to begin in late fall and conclude sometime around the end of winter or early spring. So is there another reason why “Human Again” was nixed?

Looking at the running times for the film’s musical numbers, “Human Again” is a rather lengthy song. It’s about 15 seconds shorter than “Belle,” the longest song in the movie, and a good minute longer than the second longest song “Be Our Guest.” So it’s not unusually long for the film overall, but it does take up a good chunk of time in a medium where a few extra minutes means weeks and months of additional work. And when you consider that the original version was reportedly a whopping eleven minutes long, you can see why it might have been cut for time.

Still another issue was the song’s content. Earlier interviews I’ve read, where the crew may have been under less pressure to justify the song’s re-inclusion in the film, suggest that the issue was less the time Maurice was spending lost in the snow and more the time the narrative was spending away from its two main characters. “Human Again” is mostly about the enchanted objects watching the couple start to fall in love and dreaming about regaining their human forms. It’s still enjoyable, but it was too much of a detour from the central plot. “Human Again” was replaced by “Something There,” the shortest song in the film other than the reprises and one that keeps the focus on Belle and Beast and their blossoming relationship.

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Who is This Guy?

To be fair, you probably never wondered about this guy, assuming you even noticed him. The castle is packed with all manner of random enchanted objects. (Who was that fork, anyway?)  But this particular one does have an interesting back story.

Earlier versions of the film included a character who was a music box. He was to have been one of the main enchanted objects and would have stowed away with Belle when she left the castle. He never spoke, but played music to express his feelings.

The music box was the victim of two developments. First, the character just didn’t work as well as the filmmakers had hoped. The film’s vaguely 1700s setting meant he couldn’t play many songs the audience would easily recognize, robbing him of much of his comedic potential and limiting his vocabulary to mostly generic happy and sad tunes. The second was the transformation of a throwaway joke character into one of the movie’s stars. Originally, Mrs. Potts had a son named Chip and the character was done when the joke was. But when Bradley Pierce auditioned for the role, the filmmakers felt that his voice had the potential to elevate the character to a major supporting role. As the writers and artists worked to find more for Chip to do, they found themselves taking more and more scenes away from the music box and giving them to the teacup. Eventually, all that was left of the music box was this one appearance.

The music box did get a prominent role in a comic book prequel to the movie, where he’s accidentally smashed by the Beast. Poor guy just couldn’t catch a break.

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What is His Name?

There is an answer to this, but its authenticity is highly dubious. A CD-Rom Disney trivia game called “The D Show” included the supposed fact that the Beast’s real name is “Prince Adam.” The problem is that no one can find any other source to back this up. No internal Disney documents seem to mention a name for the prince. It’ll be interesting to see if the new movie decides to give the guy a real name or simply leave him as the Beast transformed.

If you’ve got your own burning questions about Beauty and the Beast or your own hopes and fears for the live action remake, let us know in the comments.

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