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« Beauty vs Beast: Foes of the Vampire Slayer | Main | The Furniture: Stark Contrast in "The Eyes of My Mother" »
Monday
Mar132017

Revisiting Beauty and the Beast (1991) - Rank the songs!

By Lynn Lee

With the live-action remake of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast just around the corner, what better time to revisit the original animated masterpiece and its endlessly hummable songs?  If you saw the movie when it came out in 1991 and happened to be a bookish, musical theater-loving little girl (or boy) at the time, odds are you got the soundtrack and learned it by heart.  (I plead guilty on all counts.) 

While I have no idea what happened to my copy, every beat and lyric – by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, respectively – are still firmly etched into my memory.  I never saw the Broadway musical, which restored a song that had been scrapped from the movie (“Human Again”) and added several new songs by Menken and lyricist Tim Rice, but reportedly the new movie isn’t including any of the latter.  Instead it’s adding four newly new songs by Mencken and Rice.  However, fear not, fellow original Disney B&B enthusiasts: it appears that all of the Mencken-Ashman songs from the 1991 movie will be in the mix.  As Cogsworth would say, “If it’s not ba-roque, why fix it?” 

We’ll have to wait to debate the merits of the new songs but we can discuss how the original ones stack up against each other.  With the caveat that this feels a bit like picking one’s favorite kid, here’s my ranking from lowest to highest...

Honorable mention: “Prologue”

Technically not a song, but it might as well be one.  Shimmering strings drive a haunting, slightly mysterious opening melodic line that sets the stage for what’s to come, perfectly paired with a series of memorable stained-glass vignettes and punctuated by the indelible image of a rose under the glass globe.

 

6. “Gaston”

As a song: Hilariously tongue-in-cheek send-up of 18th-century machismo on steroids, set to a surprisingly catchy tune.  Why isn’t it ranked higher?  Too much Le Fou (a character who seems to exist only to be abused, at least in the 1991 version) and a little too much of a reminder of how awful Gaston is. 

Narrative function? Mainly confirms what we’ve already picked up on – Gaston may be adored by the town, but he’s a vainglorious, narcissistic prick.  Also, he eats too many eggs.

Best line/moment: “I’m e-spe-cial-ly good at ex-PEC-to-ra-ting!”

 

5. “Be Our Guest”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afzmwAKUppU

As a song: A classic Disney showstopper, where the song is more of a backdrop to the dazzling visual pyrotechnics, which keep on escalating until, like Belle, you’re happily sated.

Narrative function? More of an interlude, but with what panache!  After all, miss, this is France, and Lumière’s not going to miss a chance to put on a show.

Best line/moment: The salt shakers “snowing” on an unimpressed Cogsworth and a theatrically despondent Lumière reflecting on their long guest-less days.

 

4. “Mob Song”

As a song: Easily the darkest in the movie.  But that’s what makes it so effective – rabble rousing at its best, or worst.  (Also, is it just me or does it sound a little like a minor-key version of “Be Our Guest”?) 

Narrative function? Sets up the final confrontation between the Beast and Gaston.  You just know Gaston wouldn’t have had the guts to go by himself without a crowd at his back.

Best line/moment: “We don’t like / What we don’t / Understand, in fact it scares us / And this monster is mysterious at least…”  Could be an anthem for our present times, alas.

 

3. “Something There” 

As a song: A bright, sprightly little number, it sneaks up on you with its unexpected quiet sweetness – like the Beast.  Says something that this, and not “Be Our Guest” or “Beauty and the Beast,” is the one I sang the most often as a kid.

Narrative function?  Shows the evolution in Belle’s feelings for the Beast, and vice versa, and does so much more cutely and deftly than the typical movie falling-in-love montage.  It’s almost enough to make you forget Belle’s, still, y’know, a prisoner.  (Speaking of which, glad to see Emma Watson has at least thought about that aspect of the story)

Best line/moment: “Well, who’d have guessed they’d come together on their own?”  The servants nod and smile hopefully at each other, as in the background Belle bests the Beast in a snowball fight.

 

2. “Belle” ("Little Town”)

As a song: Inspired by French operettas, it has a brisk recitative quality that catches and keeps your attention – the perfect accompaniment to the fast-moving spectacle of the morning hustle & bustle of the town.

Narrative function?  Possibly the most efficient five musical minutes in the entire movie, it introduces us to Belle, the townsfolk, and Gaston, sketches their most salient character traits, and outlines the central narrative tension – between Belle’s lofty dreams and the more prosaic, circumscribed outlook of virtually everyone else around her.

Best line/moment: Lots of great gags in this one, but my personal favorite is Belle raving about her book to the sheep, because no one else will listen.  (“But she won’t discover that it’s him / Till chapter three!”)

 

1. “Beauty and the Beast" 

As a song: The Oscar winner, y’all, and one for the ages.  The one you probably still remember and can hum even if you weren’t as obsessed with the movie as some of us were.  

P.S. Nothing against Ariana Grande or John Legend, both of whom I like, but their version – cut for the new movie – can’t touch Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Potts for soulfulness.  A fairer comparison is probably to the Céline Dion/Peabo Bryson version that was released with the 1991 movie - but I confess I prefer even that one, for all its gloriously overcooked early ’90s-ness, to the slightly dialed-back new take.

Narrative function?  The emotional capstone of the movie – encapsulates the entire arc of B&B’s relationship in less than three minutes.

Best line/moment: “Bittersweet and strange / Finding you can change / Learning you were wrong.”  A lesson for all relationships.

 

How would you rank the songs?  Are you excited for the new version?

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Reader Comments (26)

Surprised to see GASTON so low. I remember in 91 being just bowled over by its comedy. But I'm all about "Belle (Little Town) for #1... one of the most brilliant opening setpieces.

March 13, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

A bit off topic but still related to the movie: Why did no one ever know of the castle before? Was it part of the curse? They "forgot" they had a kingdom with a prince?

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Switch Belle and Beauty and the Beast and this list ranking would be the same as mine. The latter is indeed a timeless classic -- and the best love song in the Disney canon -- but the former is an example of what great musicals can do and a reminder that Alan Menken has never been able to find another lyricist collaborator with the pathos and wit of Howard Ashman.

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAkash

I don't think you're giving Be Our Guest the credit it deserves by calling it a "showstopper". Yes, it's a showstopper, but one that I believe to be crucial to the narrative. What makes Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts some of the finest comic creations in any Disney film is that these characters have stakes of their own. They need this girl to fall in love with the Beast so they can be human again, and what makes it even harder for them (and all the other objects around the house) is that it's out of their hands, so the best they can do is make Belle feel comfortable in the castle. Be Our Guest is a dance of despair. These objects know they have very little time to break the spell, and they're doing what they can to at least make this girl feel welcome in the castle, hoping she'll eventually warm up to the Beast.

One of my favorite images in the film, one that no one has made a screencap of (if someone around here knows how to make one, I would appreciate it), it's this moment when Lumiere is introducing the Be Our Guest number, we get a quick shot of other objects on trays peeking through the kitchen door. What makes this image so brilliant is that it's at once a parody of pre-show jitters and in one image it re-inforces the stakes of this musical number (we have to win this girl over if there's a chance that she'll fall in love with the Master).

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

I enjoyed your thoughts on these songs, all of which I think rang among Disney's best. Seeing the TV spots for the new, live action version just makes me grumpy because it threatens to overshadow the original and shouldn't have been made in the first place, imho.

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDusty

Technically the Beast did let Belle free when he shouted "GET OUT!!!" after she went into the forbidden West Wing. But then she was attacked by wolves, he saved her and.... well, you know the rest.
And I love Belle's response to Gaston in the Mob song: "It's not a monster, Gaston. You are!"

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Sonja -- i dont remember this detail from the original but the remake does address this question.

March 13, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Why am I getting emotional (at work) just watching the prologue? Memories!

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterStritch Bankhead

I love every song in the film so ranking them is difficult. It is my favorite Disney animated feature and is probably in my top five favorite overall films. Oddly my favorite lines from a song is in "Belle (Reprise)" which isn't included in the ranking. "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere/ I want it more than I tell/ And for once it might be grand/ To Have someone understand/ I want so much more than they've got planned" . I'm a sucker for "I want" songs though.

My rankings would go:

6. Mob Song
5. Something There
4. Gaston
3. Belle
2. Be Our Guest
1. Beauty and the Beast

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I remember being bothered about the town's forgetting about the prince; I think I assumed maybe they were in a neighboring kingdom (although you think there'd be only one king of France) and being, y'know, provincial, not interested in affairs beyond their own immediate boundaries. But I hope the new movie does offer a better explanation.

Nathaniel - "Gaston" is a very clever (and catchy!) song but Gaston himself has just always rubbed me the wrong way - I mean apart from being the villain and all. :) I know he's supposed to be a compelling villain in some ways, but I've just never felt it. I realize I may be in the minority there!

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

I don't even know what I would put on the bottom of this list, because I love ALL of these songs to death, and the quality of each of them is just ridiculously high. I mean, I never really liked The Mob Song as a kid, but now? Dear lord, those lyrics are brilliant.

And Be Our Guest has more narrative function than you're giving it credit for, I think - this is the household servants doing their level best to get Belle to stay and put her in a mood to fall in love with their master so they can all return to their real selves. In addition to being a perfectly catchy showstopper.

I do know that I'd put Belle, along with its Reprise, in the top spot, though. Nothing against the iconic, beautifully simple title song, but this is up there with the greatest opening numbers of any musical ever written. It's just phenomenal in every way.

GOD I love this movie so much and am so afraid of this live action version, which just looks gaudy in the worst possible way.

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

1. Belle
2. Be Our Guest
3. Beauty and the Beast
4. Gaston
5. Mob Song
6. Something There (the only real throwaway song imo)

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

@Richter Scale-Yes! For me, #1 is definitely Be Our Guest. I thought Jerry Orbach did a fantastic voice acting job as Lumiere, and could actually sing Broadway-style.

#2 - Belle

#3 - Beauty and the Beast (love Angela, but Emma Thompson nails it, as she does Mrs. Lovett proud too!)

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPam

The titular song only works for me as a sweet, simple song. That's why Angela Lansbury's version is the only one for me. I will give Emma Thompson's a chance, though.

That being said, B&B is perhaps my least favorite of the songs. That's not because it's bad, but because the others are so strong. That Belle prologue is amazing.

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCash

The opening number 'Belle' has always been my favourite.

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarco

These songs are all terrific. Lynn: You chose my favourite lyric from "Beauty and the Beast"! I also really like "Both a little scared, neither one prepared"...

And Jerry Orbach's vocal performance in "Be Our Guest" is just great!

Oh, the jewel that was the Ashman-Menken partnership...

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

All the songs are so good I find it too difficult to rank them.

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

'Beauty and the Beast' is probably the best song (with Angela Lansbury's great delivery, bless) but after seeing a community theatre production of this I found myself humming 'The Mob Song' for days. It's definitely most propulsive and slightly horrifying number.

March 13, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

The Little Mermaid songs ranked:

8. Daughters of Triton
7. Fathoms Below
6. Les Poissons
5. Kiss the Girl
4. Main Titles
3. Poor Unfortunate Souls
2. Under the Sea
1. Part of Your World/Part of Your World Reprise

March 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAkash

Thank you so much Lynn for this post!
Personally, I have come to really love The Mob Song because of its unique tone in the movie, although Beausty and the Beast is probably my favorite.

March 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Thanks Nat! 8)

There was also a cut song called "Human Again", although I'm not sure it's the original name, I just think it is because in German it is "Mensch wieder sein", which was edited back in the German DVD version.
I knew why they did cut it, but actually it's quite nice. The scene shows how the ballrooom was cleaned and prepared for the dance.

March 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

I heard a rumor that Angela Landsbury did "Beauty and the Beast" in one take. Does anyone know if that is true?

@Brian- I agree with you on "Belle Reprise". As a bookworm. movie nerd in a small town, those lyrics about wanting adventure in the great wide somewhere spoke to me. It still resonates.

March 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTom

Rhyming "specimen" with "yes, I'm in-[timidating]" is peak Ashman.

March 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterN8

I am seriously not a fan of Tale As Old As Time. Ugh. I wish Disney's self-serious love themes would go away. #1 for me is Be Our Guest -- memorable, dazzling, funny.

March 14, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

@N8 - You are right! I love that man so much!!

March 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I always say that the best shot in the entirety of the Disney oeuvre is the pan down from the chandelier at 2:28. It's Disney magic at its very best.

My top 3:
1. "Beauty and the Beast," for its sentimentality
2. "Something There," for syncopated brilliance
3. "Be Our Guest," for its sharp-witted lyrics

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

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