Beauty and the Beast is often considered the crown jewel of Walt Disney’s ‘90s renaissance, a lushly animated romance with terrific music and a uniquely independent heroine in the form of Belle. Twenty-five years after its 1991 release and its subsequent Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the movie still casts a spell over audiences. Behind the scenes though, Beauty and the Beast presented a number of narrative challenges that stymied the studio’s repeated attempts to bring the fairy tale to the screen. “There’s a fundamental flaw with the story,” producer Don Hahn explained in a recent interview with Yahoo Movies. “In the second act, it’s just this ugly monster going, ‘Will you marry me?’ And Belle says, ‘No, that’s OK.’ We had to invent things to make the second act more interesting.”
Solving Beauty and the Beast’s second act doldrums is a problem that stretched all the way back to 1930s, when the studio’s namesake, Walt Disney, and his trusted “Nine Old Men” first applied their formidable creative minds to the story. Surviving evidence of those earlier versions are scarce, but there is one “missing link” that provides some indication of the animators’ thought process. In this exclusive clip above from a bonus featurette included on the upcoming Beauty and the Beast 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, due to be released on Sept. 20, viewers have the opportunity to feast their eyes on a rarely-seen concept painting for a never-made Beauty and the Beast. Watch the clip above and read on for the story behind this painting.
Sketched in the late ‘30s or early ‘40s by famed Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen — who was brought into the Disney fold by Walt as a concept artist and whose striking imagery inspired the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence from Fantasia — this painting depicts the moment when Belle tends to a wounded Beast. “This is a seminal moment in the story,” Hahn said. “It’s the moment where the ice breaks [between them].” The fact that this particular image resembles a Japanese scroll painting as opposed to the more European-influenced art seen in the finished film is a sign of the times. “If you were anyone who was anyone, you wanted Japanese artwork; that style was just in the air” said Hahn, adding that Walt Disney was as fascinated with Asian-influenced imagery as the rest of the country. “If you look at Bambi, it’s in the Japanese style, which is very minimalist.”
According to the above clip, after plans to make Beauty and the Beast were scuttled, Nielsen’s painting hung in the home of two Disney colleagues for nearly six decades. Eventually, it found its way back into the studio’s archives, and was re-discovered by members of the Beauty and the Beast creative team after they had completed their version of the film. And while Nielsen’s image of Belle bandaging the Beast didn’t directly inspire the similar moment in the 1991 movie, Hahn says that both the painting and the sequence in the film speak to what’s so powerful about this particular turning point: “It’s the image of two people at opposite sides of the spectrum finally coming to the singular moment where their lives are going to be changed by each other, and they didn’t see it coming.”
Hahn promises the sequence will be just as memorable in Bill Condon’s upcoming live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which stars Emma Watson and Dan Stevens and will hit theaters on March 17, 2017. “I didn’t talk to Bill about Nielsen’s piece, but the moment in the film is exquisite. Bill crafted something that’s wonderfully caring, romantic and beautiful at the same time,” said Hahn. “It’s the kind of moment that filmmakers dream of, and it inspired Kay Nielsen, us, and now Bill.”