Album Review: “Beauty and the Beast [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]” (1991)

I grew up being a Disney fan. My mother and grandparents indulged me with most of the VHS tapes of the Disney cartoons from my childhood- The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King, and of course,Beauty and The Beast. Beauty and The Beast was always my favourite of all the Disney films, and was, in-fact, the first film I ever saw in theatres as a child.

I loved the story of the beautiful bookworm, Belle, and how she falls in love with a prince, magically disguised as a terrifying Beast. I loved the music even more, though- and to this day, The Beauty and The Beast soundtrack is one of my favourite Disney soundtracks. Disney composer, Alan Menken, is responsible for the music on the album (including the instrumental pieces), while lyricist, Howard Ashman, wrote the words to the songs we all know and love.

The album begins with a Prologue, which serves as the first introduction to the lush, string-based theme that plays throughout the film. The music in the prologue is pretty recognizable as being the main theme from the film, as we hear the same melody a few times during the soundtrack. There’s also a narrator speaking over the music (just as in the film), whom sets the mood by telling the story of how the Beast came to be transformed.

The first of the musical numbers appears next with Belle. This was always my favourite song in the movie and I love being able to listen to it on the soundtrack. The whimsical number is our first introduction to the film’s antagonist, Belle, and she sings about wanting to live the little village she’s grown up in. Meanwhile, the townspeople are going about ridiculing Belle for being different (“Look, there she goes that girl is so peculiar/I wonder if she’s feeling well/With a dreamy far off look/And her nose stuck in a book/What a puzzle to the rest of us, is Belle”). Broadway actress, Paige O’Hara, voiced Belle, and she is by far my favourite Disney princess mainly due to her gorgeous, Judy Garland-esque alto vocals. As the song plays out, more characters are introduced (including Gatson, who gets a solo later on) and the song becomes a big, rousing number with the entire town joining in.

As promised, the film’s villain, Gaston, gets his own number in a song of the same name. Actor/opera singer, Richard White, is the voice of Gaston and he does a great job sounding haughty, yet charming, as he sings of his plan to woe and marry Belle. Meanwhile, his sidekick, Lefou (voiced by Jessi Corti) builds him up by singing about how great Gaston is (“No one hits like Gaston/Matches wits like Gaston/In a spitting match nobody spits like Gaston”). The song is extremely catchy, especially as the rest of the bar patrons chime in, making it another fun sing-a-long.

Speaking of fun sing-a-longs, Be Our Guest is definitely the biggest and most fun. This scene in the film is pretty famous- here, Belle has reached the enchanted castle and is being served by all the similarly enchanted servants. Actor Jerry Orbach puts on his best French accent as Lumiere, while Angela Lansbury sings as Mrs. Potts, and the two do an impressive job leading this cheerful group number. The catchy chorus (“Be our guest! Be our guest!/Put our service to the test/Tie your napkin ’round your neck, Cherie/And we’ll provide the rest”) and lively instrumentation (horns, strings, and drums- oh my!) go far in making the song one of the album’s stand outs.

Because I love O’Hara’s voice, one of my personal favourites is Something There, a sweet, mid-tempo duet between Belle and The Beast (voiced by Robby Benson). The violins and pan flutes in the orchestration give another whimsical feeling to the music, while Belle and The Beast’s innocent flirtations (“She glanced this way/I thought I saw/And when we touched she didn’t shudder at my paw/No it can’t be, I’ll just ignore/But then she’s never looked at me that way before”) just add to the charm of the song. Meanwhile, The Mob Song is the typical Disney villain song, led by Gaston as he goes after the Beast. There are ominous strings in the background, adding to the tension, but this is pretty much the blueprint for all Disney villain songs (think of Scar’s song from The Lion King, and this is almost identical), so it’s nothing new now, nor exciting.

Naturally, the most famous song from the soundtrack is the title track, Beauty and the Beast. The original from the film’s score is a ballad sung by Lansbury as Mrs. Potts, in a scene where The Beast and Belle fall in love. It’s a sweet ballad- if not overly sappy- but I enjoy watching the scene a lot more than I do just listening to Lansbury sing on the soundtrack.

The rest of the soundtrack is made up of instrumental pieces from the film’s score. To The Fair uses some of the themes familiar to the soundtrack, but is sped up to go along with Belle’s day in the town. Violins and flutes make up most of the instrumentation during the piece. West Wing starts off as a romantic piece, with lots of lush stringed instruments, before fading into a playful number with cello and piano, and then finally incorporating some of the other big themes (particularly the one first heard in Prologue). As the song fades out, it becomes scary and foreboding (in the film, The Beast makes a terrifying appearance), and the violins race each other furiously, appropriately portraying the tension and fear in the film. Transformation is the final instrumental piece on the soundtrack, and is a slower version of the main theme, with added horns and extra strings. The piece then segues into a triumphant end, with more horns and flutes, as the Beast makes his big transformation. It’s a beautiful, classic theme, and it’s nice to hear it one more time before the soundtrack ends.

The album ends with another version of the Beauty and The Beast ballad, this time sung as a duet between Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. The song takes on a very contemporary feel- sounding like the typical 90’s pop ballad. That’s not to say it isn’t a great song- because it is- Dion and Bryson sound great, and Dion (whom was pretty unheard of at the time- it was actually this song that catapulted her to super-stardom) does some especially impressive runs during the verses. All that considered, though, the song sound dated now, and perhaps due to the fact that I’ve seen the movie too many times (as well as being released as a single, this version was played over the end credits of the film), it’s also a bit overplayed now.

Beauty and the Beast is a Disney classic, and a lot of what makes it so wonderful is the terrific soundtrack and score. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman do a stellar job of creating the music for the film, and the actors do an equally amazing job of bringing the characters and their songs to life. Any fan of the movie or Disney, in general, must add this to their collection.

Rating: 5 stars

Track Listing
1. Prologue
2. Belle
3. Belle (Reprise)
4. Gaston
5. Gaston (Reprise)
6. Be Our Guest
7. Something There
8. The Mob Song
9. Beauty and the Beast
10. To the Fair
11. West Wing
12. The Beast Lets Belle Go
13. Battle on the Tower
14. Transformation
15. Beauty and the Beast (with Celine Dion/Peabo Bryson)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQ0ODCMC6xs]
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