Beauty and the Beast [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] [Remaster] by Original Soundtrack/Alan Menken

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Number 1600: There's Really Something There in Beauty and the Beast

Mar 25, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:outstanding songs and vocals

Cons:the song that won the Oscar is my least favorite of the bunch

The Bottom Line: It's a beastly shame if you've missed out on this beautiful music.


I’ve never been very good at picking favorites, but if someone were to ask me who my favorite Disney heroine is, I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Brave, bookish, compassionate Belle from Beauty and the Beast is the best of the best, and her role in that powerful story of redemption and inner beauty is magical in every sense of the word. She is housed within an utter masterpiece, and one of its most noteworthy aspects is its fantastic soundtrack filled with songs through which characters are expertly revealed. It’s one of my all-time favorite movie soundtracks and a worthy subject for my 1600th post on Epinions.

It begins with the solemn prologue, with all its austere overtones indicative of a fairy tale setting. The haunting melody seems to breathe sylvan antiquity and somber royalty. Ebbing and flowing with David Ogden Stiers’ masterful narration, the music, with its deep, resonant notes and occasional sprightly hints of enchantment, sounds lovely but distant; the beast is not a real character to us yet. He’s an arrogant young man in stained glass, a mere two-dimensional representation of the living, breathing prince he truly is.

This opening track is probably the most memorable of the instrumental offerings, but woodwind-heavy To the Fair, which alternates between quick, lively runs and moments of wistful melancholy with some terrific percussion scattered here and there, is fun and West Wing, whose tone swerves dramatically from melodiously enchanting to dire and dangerous, is fantastic. The Beast Lets Belle Go, which carries hints of Beauty and the Beast theme music, is perhaps the most melancholy of the tracks, an achingly tender moment of farewell full of searing strings, while Battle on the Tower is the most fun, at least to begin with, when it is largely a faster, more orchestral version of Be Our Guest as the Beast’s servants find creative ways to guard their castle, though the tone turns dark and urgent as it follows Gaston’s pursuit of the Beast. Transformation, meanwhile, is simply gorgeous, beginning soft and gentle and taking on a majestic quality as the song slowly builds to the Beast’s long-awaited return to humanity, all the more miraculous given his near-death state a moment before. Both intimate and triumphal and culminating in a final chorus Beauty and the Beast, it’s the perfect way to end the film, and nearly end the soundtrack.

The final track is the phenomenally popular radio version of the title song, as performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. This is the first time I remember Disney releasing a different version of a song more suitable for the airwaves than the one included in the film. Perhaps it even influenced later songwriting choices, since the next few films all include songs that work equally well when taken out of context. This is a lovely duet that introduced the world to Celine Dion, and Angela Lansbury’s film version makes a gentle, melodic backdrop to Belle and the Beast’s big ballroom scene, encapsulating the theme of the movie in a few well-chosen words. It’s all about forgiveness, redemption, striving to become a better person, and the movie’s beautiful exploration of these topics is something to love indeed. But it’s always been my least favorite of the movie’s songs, partly because both the spinning of the room and the phrase “tale as old as time” give me vertigo and partly because it’s so detached. All of the other songs reveal the personalities of those singing, and with the exception of the short but spirited soliloquy of Belle (Reprise), they all involve several different characters. Next to those action-packed numbers, this legato ballad just seems a little too sedate.

Not so Be Our Guest, which Disney has often used as its theme music since the movie came out. This whirlwind of a flashy show, a spur-of-the-moment offering by castle workers who are desperate for someone to entertain, is a showcase mostly for the talents of Jerry Orbach as the seductive, hospitable Lumiere and Angela Lansbury as grandmotherly Mrs. Potts. The choreography of this scene is so clever that you’re missing half the fun if you’re only listening to the album, but it’s still one of the highlights. Orbach and Potts come together again and are joined by David Ogden Stiers for Something There, a sweet, reflective song that basically does the job of Beauty and the Beast but captures the transformation of the Beast’s personality and his relationship with Belle as it happens. Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson’s observations of each other are especially telling, and it’s nice because this is the last time we hear Belle sing and the only time the Beast sings at all.

Richard White, whose bombastic baritone voice is a joy to listen to, gets to do more singing as the nefariously narcissistic Gaston than just about any Disney villain I can think of. He has a starring role in four different tracks, most notably Gaston, a rousing, hilarious song in which his right-hand man LeFou (Jesse Corti) leads his buddies at the bar in an ode of appreciation to the most popular muscle-bound hunter in town. It doesn’t take long to improve his spirits, and soon he’s back to his smarmy, boastful self, perfectly capable of coming up with a dastardly plan in the quieter Gaston (Reprise). The whole rowdy bar scene reminds me of I Saw a Dragon in Pete’s Dragon, particularly once the seemingly delirious Maurice bursts through the door and is treated as a blathering idiot. I can’t help but wonder if this alcohol-drenched scene would fly in a G-rated movie today, but I love it.

The menacing The Mob Song is also terrific and much more of a traditional villain song. Gaston has gone from being an obnoxious annoyance to Belle beloved by the rest of the town to an indisputably cruel rabble-rouser bent on revenge for a dream that was never really in his grasp. His goal is no longer to marry Belle; it’s to kill the one who managed to claim her restless heart. This is a terrifying moment in the film, but it’s brilliant.

My favorite track, however, is the exceptional opening number, into which the prologue segues. It begins with the soft trilling of woodwinds meant to evoke birdsong, and we meet Belle with O’Hara’s soft but gorgeous voice beckoning us into her “little town full of little people.” She complains of sameness and boredom, but there sure is a lot happening in Belle, where the whole village turns out to weigh in on the problem of this unusual girl. Rather like The Sound of Music’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? but more frenetic and mean-spirited, it becomes deliciously complicated as all the townspeople chatter at once as an oblivious Belle moves dreamily through the streets and a determined Gaston goes to impressive lengths to pursue her. The song serves as a wonderful introduction to Belle, Gaston, LeFou and the town in general, and I consider it the real masterpiece of the movie.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman created a work of enduring brilliance in this soundtrack, and it makes me sad to realize how early Ashman’s outstanding career was cut short. Meanwhile, Menken continues to produce excellent songs, but I think this album will always stand as my favorite of his achievements.

Beauty and the Beast. Pure enchantment.


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