Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is now 25 years old, which is hard to believe but here we are. I’ve always been incredibly fond of the movie, in part because it’s one of the few animated Disney classics that I was able to catch in theaters on its initial theatrical release. As a 5-year-old watching BEAUTY AND THE BEAST I thought I was just watching a fun cartoon, but in reality I was watching history happen right before my eyes. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST played a significant role in boosting feature-length theatrical animation, bringing prestige back to the format and making it a force at the box office.
These days it’s not unusual to see a number of animated films towards the top of the box office charts, but before BEAUTY AND THE BEAST that wasn’t always the case. In fact it was pretty much never the case. Per Box Office Mojo only 5 animated films finished in the top 20 at the box office between 1981 and 1990, 6 if you count WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? and maybe it’s just me, but for me I don’t count that as an animated feature. Of the 5 films during that timeframe THE LITTLE MERMAID proved to be the most successful bringing in $84.4 million and holding down the 13th spot in 1989. In that entire 10 year run only 4 years managed to see animated films in the top 20 with 1988 having two such films.
In 1991 BEAUTY AND THE BEAST finished third at the box office pulling in a whopping $145.9 million becoming the highest grossing Disney animated film of all-time and marking the first time ever that an animated film made over $100 million. That’s a huge leap from what the previous 10 years offered and in a way changed the box office landscape forever. In the decade to follow BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 16 films of the animated variety finished in the top 20 at the box office, with 8 movies finishing in the top 5 and 2 taking home the top spot. In this 10 year stretch only 1993 failed to have an animated film in the top 20 with THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS being the most successful finishing 27th. If we jump further ahead and look at the last 10 years (2011 – until now) we’ll find 48 animated movies so far that have finished in the top 20 with every year being represented. In fact each of the last 10 years has had at least 3 animated films finish in the top 20. Currently FINDING DORY is the highest grossing film of 2016.
Is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST solely responsible for this change? No, of course not. The advancements in computer animation and the growth of companies like Pixar and Dreamworks obviously played a large role. Still you have to think studios were a lot more willing to put money into animation once they saw how much profit there was to be had. And what may get overlooked is the fact that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST actually played a major role in helping computer animation rev into high gear as it was produced using CAPS – computer animation production system. CAPS is basically a blend of traditional hand drawn animation and computer generated images. This style of animation specifically played a role in the stunning ballroom scene and helped convince studios, mainly Disney, that investing in further computer animation was the way to go. So it could be argued that a company like Pixar never really gets going if BEAUTY AND THE BEAST isn’t the smashing success that it was.
While the box office numbers and use of computer animation are impressive feats worthy of celebration they both take a backseat to an even more extraordinary accomplishment – BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was the first animated film ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. That’s a hell of a big deal. It took 64 years before the Academy recognized an animated feature on the same level as their live-action counterparts. Since the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST nomination in 1991 two other films – UP and TOY STORY 3 – have also received nominations. It it worth noting that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST does remain as the only animated film to earn a Best Picture nod with the field limited to 5 choices. Both UP and TOY STORY 3 received their nominations after the Academy made adjustments to allow up to 10 films to be nominated for Best Picture each year. In 2001 the Academy introduced the Best Animated Feature category. And why did they introduce this new category? Because of the uptick in major animated features being produced each year, which as I pointed out can be traced directly back to the success of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the impact and success of the Disney Classic is the actual quality of the film itself. Having recently watched it for the first time in 15–20 years, on a Blu-ray that is gorgeous I may add, I have to say it holds up remarkably well. Not only is the animation still flawless and breathtaking but that magic I remember on my first viewing is still very much present. This really is a tale as old as time.
A lot has changed in the twenty-five years that have passed but BEAUTY AND THE BEAST continues to be a heartwarming story full of excitement, adventure and whimsy just as it was back in 1991. The film will continue to inspire generations of movie-goers going forward even if they don’t know it. Every time a packed theatre gathers in their seats to watch the newest animated feature they owe a little something to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is now available from Disney.