Why Beauty and the Beast Isn’t a Great Screenplay: Part 3

written by Tony DiGerolamo (Mike’s comments in BOLD)

 So here’s where the rubber meets the road.  Belle, the Beauty, is going to tame the prince, The Beast.  “Don’t go in the West Wing!” he cartoonily insists.  He also yells at her and is generally a jerk.  Is there no princely manners to this guy?  And how about a name?  Why do they keep calling him Beast?  Wasn’t he a normal guy once?

True!  But the story is called Beauty & the Beast, so the storytellers probably gave him a name and realized (though stupid) it was better to keep things SIMPLE and call him by Beast.  Mixing another name in there would just complicate things.  Simple is always the best choice!

Back at the village, Maurice can’t convince Gaston and the rest of the village his daughter’s been kidnapped by a beast.  Apparently, no one in French fairy tale world believes in monsters.  They throw him out of the bar.

Gaston immediately comes up with a scheme to win Belle.  Does he go with the old man to save Belle from the imagined Beast?  No!  He decides he’ll bribe a guy to have Maurice locked up in an insane asylum.  So if you’re keeping score, this French village has a bookstore, a bar, a hunter, an inventor and an insane asylum.  What kind of village is this?  Now you can write all these details off as “Well, it’s a kids movie, who cares?” but adults have to sit there too.  And it’s just lazy.  If this is a medieval village, Gaston could just bribe the local guards and arrest Maurice for whatever trumped up charge.  Why introduce the idea of an insane asylum?  Nutty.

True.  This is a super lazy choice.  I’m sure the writers thought ‘hey, it’s a kids film’.   BUT it works.  And it only works because they set up this world is illogical.  LeFou can turn into a rubber hose guy, candlesticks talk, and the Beast has no first name.  Because there are so many ‘wacky’ story choices that defy logic in a normal world, we (at this point in the story) accept that there could be an insane asylum in a small French village.  This is a case of how consistent rules will allow the audience to accept your story.

Back at the castle, Beast’s attempts to woo Belle fall flat and she almost immediately goes to the West Wing.  There she uncovers the torn painting of the prince and the magical rose that is dying.  If the rose loses all it’s petals before the Beast falls in love, he and his servants will be trapped that way forever. After another Beast temper tantrum, Belle says, “Screw this, I’m outta here.”  On the way out, she gets attacked by wolves.

Two things: 1) apparently the horse that drove Maurice originally to the prince and then wanders back to Belle, for some reason, waited outside for Belle rather than returning to the village.  2)  The wolves are an extremely convenient contrivance.  Although they were established earlier on, of course, the Beast saves Belle from them. Injured, Belle has to save the Beast and thus their romance starts…from a situation that was totally concocted by the Beast to begin with.

So now, suddenly, the Beast is giving it a try to be nice.  He cleans up his act and they fall in love, even though Belle is still a prisoner.  So what’s the moral here?  Take a chick prisoner and eventually you’ll wear her down and she’ll love you?  It’s not so much a plot twist as a contrivance by the writers to get the Beast to fall in love.

This is also true.  But we as the audience WANT the Beast to get his act together and get Belle to fall in love with him.  This is a romantic comedy, so the audience is primarily waiting for them to fall in love.  This is what allows us to accept this story contrivance.

Part of the disadvantage of working on such a huge, huge Disney movie is that the marketing will be known to your audience.  You’re going to see the Beast and know it’s a love story, so some aspects of the movie you’re going to see coming a mile away just because you’ve already seen the movie poster.  That’s not a comment of the quality of this beloved Disney flick, just a comment on the reality of really good marketing.
The second act concludes and the third act begins with the biggest problem of all.  Maurice goes searching alone for Belle and gets lost in the woods.  At the same time, the Beast is about to profess his love for Belle and potentially break the curse.  At the same time, time is running out as the magic rose is dying.  At that very moment, the Beast shows Belle a magic mirror that allow her to see her father dying, so the choice is, does he stay a Beast forever or let her go because he loves her?

Obviously, he lets her go.  But you see the weak choice the writers made: time limits.  After years of sitting in a castle driving everyone away, suddenly the time limit comes into play at an all-too-convenient moment.  And the servants have somehow remained loyal to the Beast through all of this.

Tony feels the ticking clock is a weak story choice. I feel it’s brilliant.  It creates suspense in the audience.  Plenty of great movies use this ‘ticking clock’ device to artificially generate a 3rd act.  Back to the Future, Titanic, Mission Impossible 4.  The Beauty & The Beast writers did set the rose up in the prologue, so this re-introduction at the end of act 2 never bothered me.  Had they brought it up in act 2 it probably would have been extraneous information.  Remember that you need to only offer up story information WHEN it’s needed.  If you introduce things too soon, or too late, it WILL kill your story.

Belle saves her dad, only to have the next subplot conveniently smack her in the face.  Gaston is having her father put in the “village asylum” unless she marries him.  The proof that Maurice is crazy is his talk about the Beast.  Belle, who still has the magic mirror, shows the villagers the Beast.  Gaston immediately decides to turn the villagers against the Beast and kill it.  Why?  Again, it’s just because he’s an asshole and writers need to get the final confrontation moving along.

It’s a weak choice because Gaston’s main thrust throughout the entire movie is to marry Belle.  Now the threat with the dad clearly doesn’t work and noting Belle’s reaction to the Beast, he could immediately switch gears and make the same force wedding invitation about the Beast.  “Marry me or I’ll kill the Beast.”  (Not to mention that this “magic mirror” ought to raise some questions to villagers who didn’t even believe in monsters.)

But no, torches and pitchforks prevail.  Gaston leads the villagers to the castle, they battle the animated furniture and Gaston fights the Beast.  The Beast, depressed, doesn’t fight back until he sees Belle, then suddenly he does and wins.  Reunited with Belle all is well, until Gaston suddenly rises up and stabs the Beast!  I mean, really stabs him.  I was taken aback by this.  It seemed awfully graphic for something that seemed so light and airy, but whatever.  Beast knocks Gaston off the castle to his doom, dies just as the last petal falls off the rose.  We sympathize with the Beast because now he’s a nice guy that’s been stabbed by Gaston, an even bigger bad guy than the Beast ever was.  That’s a good point to remember, if one of your “good” characters is kind of a jerk, the bad guy has to be a bigger jerk.

Tony makes a great point here.  This story had to antagonist’s for Belle – Gaston & the Beast.  At first Gaston was played for laughs while the Beast was scary and violent.  But as the audience comes to understand the Beast’s motivation, the storytellers slowly make Gaston the evil one.  To really cap that idea, they have Gaston STAB the Beast.  This single act makes us hate Gaston (and feel satisfied when he dies) and sympathize with the Beast and Belle.

Because the writers wanted to create suspense (and make you feel that the Beast could die), they made Gaston’s stabbing the Beast so violent.  It really heightens the stakes, even though it feels slightly out of place with the films more ‘jovial’ tone.

Naturally, magic brings the Beast back to life as the prince, restores the castle, the servants and everyone lives happily ever after.  (The servants, by the way, continue to insult each other with insults that indicate they’re still inanimate objects for some reason.)  Magic is another weak choice.  Magic tends to have customized rules and very convenient things (like bringing people back to life) happen with magic.  Although at this point, the movie has gone on long enough and we really just want to cut to the ending.

The magic was set up in the Rose.  And since the Rose was used as a ticking clock, when it finally ‘saves’ the Beast it causes a giant emotional release in the audience and ultimately a very satisfying ending.

So you can see the many plot holes in the screenplay, but music, pacing and fast-paced action often distract audience long enough not to notice or care.  But discerning view will notice.  (Like the moment when after weeks pass, Belle has to go save her father and the horse is conveniently still at the Beast’s castle.  Or why, for some reason, does the Beast forget so many of his manners?  He was a prince.)  Still, you can’t argue with the success of the movie.  It’s a Disney classic beloved by millions of little girls.

The devil’s in the details and if you’re going to wow an audience with a story, makes sure the details are in place or you beautiful project might turn out a beast.

So there you go, a story breakdown of one of the most beloved animated films of all time!