MUSICAL MONDAYS PRESENTS:
DISNEY FANATIC! #2
Walt Disney Productions became the first American studio to produce a full-length animated feature film in 1967, with the classic Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, and made its mark in the annals of film history by redefining and immortalizing Western fairy tales for another generation. Despite stumbling through the 70's and 80's with relatively under-performing and lackluster fair, they regained their composure and became bigger than ever in the 90's.
I had the privilege of growing up right alongside the golden age of Disney Animation that has become known as the "Disney Renaissance"; a period of fantastic films made by Disney beginning with the Little Mermaid (1989) and fizzling out by the end of the decade with mediocre films like Tarzan (1999). It is unfortunate that Walt Disney didn't live to see this "Wonderful World of Disney" that we all grew up in.
Today's subject is probably my favorite Disney animated film, (Aladdin was my favorite as a kid), and is rightfully considered to be one of the greatest animated films of all time. If The Little Mermaid started the wave of the Renaissance then Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991) built a castle of sand and glass that would stand as a role-model to all Renaissance films to follow. The film is a perfect Disney film; beautifully animated, with Computer Graphics used sparingly- keeping the effects from making the film look dated, well-written, expertly performed and filled with some of the best songs in the Disney library. Most Disney films have at least one song that is grating or inferior BUT Beauty and the Beast avoided overstaying its welcome with any such song ,you can find the would-be unnecessary song in Deleted Scenes and its not great but its okay, and each of them feels perfectly placed.This, in my opinion, is the perfect Disney musical.
One of the things that sets Beauty and the Beast apart is the villain, Gaston. He is the most handsome, manly, would-be-heroic hunter in the little French village our heroine lives by, oh and he is also a cruel, scheming, chauvinistic beast (lol, puns). He wants Belle, not because he likes her, but because she is "the most beautiful girl in town" but even more so, because she protests his aggressive advances. His first of two big songs is one of my favorites, simply titled "Gaston".
After Belle refuses his marriage proposal and boots him out of her house, after a rather predatory scene, he lumbers back into the safety of the local tavern to lick his wounds and drown his sorrow in beer. He is remiss to how Belle could possibly pass up his offer; after all, in Gaston's mind, he is perfect! Seriously, check out that Bruce Campbell chin!
Seeing their town hero looking so depressed and glum is bumming everyone out, especially his best pal and minion Lefoo. The affably goofy goblin takes it upon himself to start a song comparing Gaston, who is seen as the "pure paragon" of virtue, to every other man. The song is a celebration of everything that is manly- in short, it is really a light and frothy mockery of everything perceived to be "manly".
Except the "manliest man" is also incapable of dealing with rejection, humiliation, morbidly vascular, greasy, intimidating, violent, dishonorable, bitey, rude, crude, burly, brawny, hairy, and probably filled with salmonella (dude eats three dozen eggs every morning! 0.0). On its surface, they're celebrating everything that is embarrassing about the chauvinist mindset and modern ideal of physical perfection. They associate "manliness" and "greatness" with these attributes that just points out what kind of villain he is; Gaston is the perfect punching bag for feminists because he is the purest example role-model for the abusive, controlling, and cruel man.
Yet, in the reprise of our song, and in his other big number, "The Mob Song", we see his animal cunning in action. In the latter, we see his ability to motivate the village to do just about anything through fear and intimidation. In the Reprise of "Gaston", he plans to get Belle by blackmailing her with Maurice's freedom from an insane asylum. Gaston would be practically harmless if it wasn't for his hunter attitude. In the end, he is a great villain and this a great villain song.
As always, I hope I live to see a second Disney Renaissance.