It’s the moment that made believers out of those who thought animation automatically meant cloying kid’s stuff. As our earnest heroine, Belle, begins to fall for her capture, the domineering and horrific Beast, the fragile voice of an old china teapot sets the tone. As performed by Broadway and film veteran Angela Landsbury and illustrated by a new breed of Disney artists, the title song to the House of Mouse’s 1991 masterpiece Beauty and the Beast proved that the pen and ink designs that drove the company for nearly 80 years could transcend the genre and turn into something seminal…something special…something sensational. A few months later, when the supposedly unthinkable happened, that singular sequence was constantly referenced as one of the reasons why.
That’s because, like it or not, Beauty and the Beast was a trendsetter. It pushed industry envelopes and defied categorical limitations. Up until its release, part of the late ‘80s rebirth of the company’s creative fortune, no animated film was deemed worthy of Best Picture consideration. While they had snuck into certain categories (score, song and some of the technicals) and even warranted their own class of recognition, “cartoons” just couldn’t cross over and compete for the Academy’s highest honor. Beauty and the Beast changed all that. While Aladdin would become a huge commercial hit and The Lion King would tap into a whole different demographic (read: boys) who typically avoided such “girly” goings-on, it was the classic fairytale reimagined that brought an aesthetic and critical shot in the arm to the genre.