Over the Christmas break, I discovered Lindsay Ellis on Youtube. She makes videos with commentary about popular culture and looks at various different trends and ideas, with a serious, scholarly foundation combined with her biting sense of humour.
One of my favourite videos she’s made is about the 2017 live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and not just because Ellis put “Thanks! I hate it!” in my vocabulary.
I hadn’t watched the animated movie in years, even though it was one of my favourites of my childhood and is probably the best of the Disney renaissance that happened in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.
I re-watched the animated movie recently. There is a texture and a life in the hand-drawn animation that Disney has since dropped in favour of computer animation.
It features a villain that is both threatening and hilarious, and Gaston’s hyper-masculinity and entitlement seems as relevant today as it probably was in the early 90’s. I mean, look at him:
He’s awful and great.
The standout for me is Lumiere. I remember how happy I was when I discovered years ago that Jerry Orbach (aka Lenny Briscoe from Law and Order.) It’s a quick movie, the songs are memorable and funny. “No one's neck's as incredibly thick as Gaston!”
The thing that really stood out for me is how adept the animation on the Beast is. He is truly menacing at points and also quite goofy and awkward when it’s time to be.
One thing that really stood out about the Beast is that he has wonderfully large and expressive eyes.
Eyes were really prominent in the Disney movies of that era.
Ariel and Jasmine both have enormous eyes. They take up half their faces.
The Beast’s design is a combination of wolf, lion, gorilla and buffalo. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly he is made up of. He does, however, have enormous blue eyes. Blue isn’t an eye colour that occurs in animals that often so the blue eyes are a call back to the Beast’s humanity. It’s subtle and lovely.
When the Beast finally transforms at the end of the movie, Belle doesn’t recognize him at first. She looks into his blue eyes, and knows it’s him.
When I saw the remake, I was trying to put my finger on why I didn’t like the look of the Beast and why the design of the Beast misses the mark. And I realized finally what that is: the motion capture creature looks to be made up of most of the same animals, but the Beast has little beady eyes that aren’t at all expressive.
The 1991 Beast shows rage, sadness, happiness, shyness and uncertainty in those eyes. The 2017 Beast has none of those nuances because there is no expression in his eyes. I think the whites of the eye in the 1991 version add to the expression.
And I can’t find the reference at the moment, but I recall that there is something about being able to see the white of the eye underneath the iris and it’s relation to attractiveness.
They also didn’t give the Beast any eyebrows in 2017, and eyebrows are essential in conveying emotion. The 1991 Beast’s eyebrows move more than just about any other part of him.
The 1991 Beast is full of expression and physicality. I watched the movie again recently and paid specific attention to the animation of the Beast. It’s really beautiful and subtle.