San Diego Comic-Con celebrates Disney’s beloved “tale as old as time” during a panel on Friday. For Beauty and the Beast‘s 25th anniversary producer Don Hahn moderated a panel which included directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise along with animators James Baxter, Dave Pruiksma, Nik Ranieri, and art director Brian McEntee. The talk included behind the scenes anecdotes and trivia from the making of the animated classic.
- James Baxter was only 23 when he became lead animator for Belle. He thought it was a bit of a risk but made some of the most iconic choices for the character and the film. He wanted to have Belle move like a ballet dancer to build her musical stage posture, to get the grace of the movement to live up to the title. A little known fact is that his favorite reference for Belle was a popular Latina soap opera actress of the time. He cut pictures out of magazines of her and posted them around his work station. He also hand-drew the ballroom musical number, despite the assumption that it was all computer animated. Belle and the Beast’s dancing was all him.
Dave Pruiksma, lead animator for Mrs. Potts, created the rules for just how much stretch the animated characters could have. He noted that it was challenging but essential to limit their flexibility so they could remain believable as porcelain or wood. He established that the eyes and nose were keys to anchoring the dynamic angles.
- When it came to the opening, director Kirk Wise didn’t want to do the story book had been done a lot. So vet animator Vance Gerry suggested the stained glass visuals and gave them some sketches. Mac George did final versions we see in the film’s prologue based off his ideas.
- The production team spent weeks in New York holding auditions for the film. The only actor who didn’t have to audition was Angela Lansbury (Mrs.Potts). “That was a straight-up offer” shared Wise. During the process to find the rest of the cast, they tried to look only at drawings to determine if the voices they were hearing could fit their characters.
- Finding the voice of the Beast proved most difficult. They auditioned every single leading man on Broadway and LA. Everyone who came out either did beastly growl voices or sounded too handsome or young. Their casting director did Robbie Benson a huge solid and ran up and gave the directors his tape. After listening to his cassette they thought he nailed it. He had the mixture of vulnerability, gruffness, youth and was first to bring humor to the character.
- The film’s directors had just finished Cranium Command for EPCOT at Disney World before they got the call to possibly direct Beauty and the Beast. The ride’s movie was their first foray in directing, and they couldn’t believe Disney was so impressed with it.
Art director Brian McEntee credits a lot of the final versions of the characters to animator Chris Sanders. His sketches for Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, Cogsworth, and the Beast helped animators hone in on the final looks they used.
- The idea for the golden dress also came from Chris Sanders. He said he pictured it as such because Cinderella is dressed in white, Sleeping Beauty in pink and blue and he thought it would be distinctive to make it gold. Marketing wanted it to be pink or lavender. Luckily they listened to Sanders.
- The first version of “Be Our Guest” was originally performed to Maurice in the film’s first act. Even the lyrics originally reflected that. In the middle of the original version the Beast originally jumps onto the table in anger and drags Maurice to the dungeons. That would have been intense, but the animators realized that the number better suited a way to get Belle into the film much more quickly
- We also saw a video with a candid look at composer Howard Ashman working with Paige O’Hara talking about his choices for the film’s music. In the clips Angela Landsbury reflected on working with Ashman, “He had characters perform their numbers. That’s what we do in the theater.” He pushed for almost an entirely Broadway cast because he believed that people needed to have both strong acting and singing chops. To him songs have to happen when you have tried to communicate something in every way possible and you can’t you so the only way left is to have to express it in song.