We’ve all seen those videos of animators “acting” as they draw. They want to see how their character will move like they move, think like they do, react the way they would. I don’t know what Glen Keane would say if you asked him what his favorite character has been throughout all his years at Disney. Without a doubt, he has made some amazing ones such as Ariel, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Rapunzel, and the list goes on. The character I most love however is in my opinion, one of the most complex and endearing in all of the Disney canon and that is a character who sadly, does not even have his own name.
In the movies, we are taught to believe that the main character goes through an arc and changes. Now I’m the first person to defend all Disney films, but I have yet to see a true transformation as I have seen in Beauty and the Beast. I find the Beast fascinating simply because out of all the Disney male leads, he is the only one who has villain-like qualities. In fact, in the beginning of the story, the Beast IS the villain of his own tale. The brilliantly told prologue (which may I add, was one of the many amazing ideas thought up from the genius of the late Howard Ashman) depicts the story of a selfish and spoiled prince. He is turned into a monster so that his outside appearance may mirror his cold inner nature.
In the West Wing, he slashes at his own portrait, knowing that no one would ever love the “thing” he had become. When Maurice is found trespassing in the castle, we don’t see an angry prince throw him in the dungeon. We see a “horrible, monstrous beast.” I always think of that moment when Belle escapes and he has to come save her as another moment that depicts his animalistic nature. All those years of being a beast comes out when he’s fighting the wolves, because again, you don’t see a person — you see all his anger as just another animal fighting. His eyes look alien as he roars in the face of one of the wolves and as they surround him, he really just looks like one of them.
Soon however, the audience begins to see his other, more human side. It is in these moments, for example when he’s watching Belle with Philippe wondering how to make her see him differently, that we finally do. In so many ways, the Beast is his own nemesis because he needs to overcome his own weaknesses to prove that he has the heart to break his own spell. And soon, the transformation begins and I’m not talking about the physical one from beast to human, but the inner transformation that turns him from someone consumed by bitterness and hate, to someone who is gentle and sweet. He is someone who will put on a very handsome suit to take the girl he loves dancing. He sees beyond his own needs and lets Belle go so that she can be happy. As Mrs. Potts says, “After all these years, the Master has finally learned to love.”
The test in all this, I believe is in the very end when the Beast is fighting Gaston. I find that this villain also has a very interesting personality because in the way that the Beast has certain attributes of a villain, Gaston has similar attributes of a Disney hero. Take away his vain and arrogant personality and you have a brave, good looking man. However, unlike the Beast, Gaston does not succeed in showing us that he could change. When the two are fighting on the castle, the Beast wins (obviously) and as he holds him over the ledge, Gaston begs for his life. I absolutely love this moment when there is a close up of the Beast’s face and all the anger slowly melts away. You could see his human side telling him to stop — stop being this monster, stop being this person you once were. I don’t know who decided on adding this moment (most likely Howard), but it’s a brilliant use of storytelling because the audience now knows that this is not the same character they encountered in the beginning. When he finally transforms physically, Belle knows that it is indeed her friend because she looks into his eyes. Inside there was always a prince and she succeeded in bringing out the human side of him. That’s what my dad calls changing for the love of a good woman.
I’m glad though that when I visit Disney World and I go in search of the two main characters, it is the Beast I find and not the human prince. You must forgive me for this preference since I did spend 80 minutes falling in love with the buffalo, lion, wolf hybrid and I don’t even KNOW the name of this Parisian Prince. When I do meet Glen Keane someday, I believe that is the very first question I will ask him because an incredible character like this, deserves the respect of a name.
Don’t you think?