Sometimes my persona as Cinema Siren and my metier as an art gallery owner and expert in animation come together in a delightful way. Not often, mind you, but yes, from time to time. This week I got to see the new Beauty and the Beast in advance and reviewed it for my readers (you can find it here), and I daresay there are few people outside of Disney who have seen the 1991 animated feature as often as I have, so it was fairly easy to compare the two films, the songs, the characters, and the live-action verses the animated backgrounds and scenery.
Though excited and openminded about what Disney might do to bring new life to a recent classic, I was also concerned that Belle would remain the strong, positive, inspiring role model Linda Woolverton created her to be. In fact, I needn’t have worried. As portrayed by Emma Watson and written by the new screenwriters, (both of whom were men) Belle is not only a loyal friend and daughter, she is also an inventor, avid reader, and would-be fearless adventurer.
As someone who loves the animated film and its heroine to be near perfection for the era and technology of the time, of course seeing the new movie brought back all the warm feelings I have for the older one. That includes the memories I have of talking to John Alvin about his part in creating the adult campaign, which wound up being the only campaign. That iconic poster of Belle and the Beast dancing is forever etched in my mind, as only the best cinematic images always are. Disney hired John to create an image for the movie poster that would appeal to adults because he was already known for iconic, emotional images like the one he had created for E.T. John excelled at the use of light, smoke, and shadow to build a magical, mystical quality. It’s the Beauty and the Beast poster that gave birth to the expression “Alvin-izing, which captured a feeling, a visual romance, that, as John himself used to call it “created the promise of a great experience”. In talking about the making of the poster image, he talked about using “heavy light”, the light Stephen Spielberg used in E.T. and Close Encounters. That was the look he was trying to emulate in the Beauty and the Beast art. It was only the second time John Alvin had worked with Disney, and the poster was such a success, it led to a long and fulfilling partnership with Disney feature animation.
I also remember when Disney had the auction at Sotheby’s where they sold original backgrounds from the film. You see, Beauty and the Beast had no cels. It was just after they had switched away from using them, in favor of scanning the original 2D drawings and coloring them inside the computer. Still, the movie was such a hit, people wanted whatever original art they could get from it, so it was standing room only, and even famous collectors filled the auction house, eager to get a piece of what even then they knew was animation history. Since then, if you ask members of the Disney archives and research library, they’ll tell you it was a mistake to let backgrounds vital to the history of the film go to collectors. At the time, it was very controversial in the world of animation that they were going to create cels for the original backgrounds from the movie. Some collectors wouldn’t touch them. The original estimate, during all the fuss about created cels, was $670,000. The results of the auction were actually double that, bringing in $1,255,815.
Check out these two articles from the time:
Also, the ballroom scene was an example of the steps towards computer animation, and the entire scene was a mix of both hand-drawn and computer animated elements. One of the best things about the new film is the fact that the ballroom sequence could be brought to real life. The design team, which I highlight in my review as being all female-led, spearheaded the utilization of 7 x 4 foot chandeliers inspired by those in Versailles.
As to some of the concern by fans that artists involved with the original would feel like they were slighted by a live action film that was so heavily inspired by their work, I say, ‘rest easy’…I know a bunch of them, including one of the producers who also produced the new live action update. They feel honored, appreciated, and edified to know their project not only stands the test of time, but so inspired a new group of artists that they painstakingly researched their work in the development of this new iteration.
If you’d like to see several originals used in the process of John Alvin creating the iconic movie poster for 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, stop by ArtInsights. See the new movie first, so we can talk about it, and celebrate the wonderful history of this classic story, a tale, as they say, as old as time.