Recently, actor Rob Pattinson released the theme song for the upcoming Disney/Pixar epic, Beauty and the Beast. The song is titled “Belle”, and it perfectly sets the tone for the film’s enchanting message of tolerance and acceptance.
If you’ve never heard of or listened to the Disney Princess franchise, then here’s a bit of a backstory:
In 1991, Disney released their first major animated feature film, which featured the adventures of Aurora and her royal sisters, Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. One of the films many memorable songs is titled “Princesses Charming”, and it was originally performed by American singer Hilary Duff.
However, “Belle” wasn’t originally intended to be used in any form of media. In fact, the song was written and recorded for the Disney Research lab. The studio had hoped that the song would help children express feelings more easily, and reduce the need for adult supervision. Because of this, it is rarely played in the conventional sense. Instead, “Belle” is often used in film scores and television drama series to portray a sense of mystery, danger, and enchantment. Let’s take a closer listen:
The Evolution Of A Classic
The first thing you’ll notice about “Belle” is that it’s not your typical Disney Princess theme. For one thing, there are no costumes or make-up transformations like there are in the other songs from the franchise. Instead, “Belle” is a stripped down, acoustic pop ballad which perfectly suits its original purpose. In fact, when the movie Cinderella was rebranded as a “modern classic”, “Belle” was one of the songs Disney chose to keep.
Where Do I Listen?
If you’ve never listened to or heard of the Disney Princesses, then the answer is probably nowhere. However, that doesn’t mean that you should be completely oblivious to the songs or themes; they’ve been ingrained in pop culture for decades. It just means that you have to seek them out yourself. Thankfully, modern technology has made it easy for us to find the songs we love, wherever we want. Here’s a list of platforms you can find “Belle” on:
- Apple Music
- Merchant Circle
If you thought the acoustic vibe of “Belle” was just a one-off, then think again. The movie’s main protagonist, Aurora, actually shares the same melodic sensibilities as her namesake. While “Belle” was once considered a “safe” choice for children, it quickly became evident that adults also found the song soothing, especially when played at slow speeds. It is also the first indication that something magical is going to happen in Beauty and the Beast. To wit:
All Things Strange
In keeping with the “strange” vibe of the film, “Belle” has a strange, dreamy quality about it that is representative of the enchanted forest in which it is set. This can be attributed to songwriter Howard Ashman’s hermetic vocabulary, which was inspired by Walt Whitman’s pioneering work, Leaves Of Grass. In one interview, Ashman stated:
“Belle” is an aural kaleidoscope. It is a sound painting. It is a study of rhythm, and how you can build a melody out of chaos.”
This quality isn’t unique to “Belle”; it also applies to many of Ashman’s other songs, such as “Little Women”, “Look What Happened (The Raindrops Shot Me Down)”, and “Little Girls”. With lyrics by Richard M. Sherman, Ashman’s quirky vocabulary and vivid imagery allow for easy assimilation by young audiences. This is why “Belle” was always chosen to open movie screenings of Cinderella, and why it was one of the few songs to make it into the film, even after extensive reshoots.
The Beauty Of Simplicity
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” as they say. In the case of “Belle”, the simplicity of the title character is revealed through a minimalist plot, which follows the travails of a young woman named Belle, who lives with her mother, father, and brothers. One day, Belle’s father announces that he and her mother are divorcing, and that Belle will be moving into the house with her mother. Belle is initially distraught, but eventually reconciles with the idea, and welcomes the family into her home. Naturally, there is some growing pains, as she has to get used to having more people living under the same roof, but that’s just life. After all, she tells us in the most beautifully simple of words:
“It’s what makes us human; the ability to love and to be loved. That is what gives life its beauty.”
This is a sentiment echoed by the film’s co-director, Bill Condon. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he said:
“What I love about the script is that it doesn’t really focus on the events of the movie. It focuses on the characters and their emotions. We try not to reveal too much about what is happening; it feels much more satisfying to let the viewers figure that out for themselves. So much of modern life feels like a blur, a series of events that feel disconnected. This movie allows you to step back and feel that visceral connection again.”
The Theme Song For A Modern Classic
While we’re on the topic of Beauty and the Beast, it’s important to point out that the studio didn’t just choose this film to rebrand as a “modern classic”. It was one of the many projects which helped propel the franchise into the mainstream. In an interview with Billboard, co-director Lauren Zalaznik said:
“There is actually a darker side to this story, as this was never the happily-ever-after that the public was led to believe in. Things didn’t work out so well for some characters, especially Gaston. But it’s important to remember that there was always a lot more going on underneath the surface. We tried to show that, and hope that, with the help of the songs, viewers can find that in themselves.”
Gaston’s Theme & The Evolution Of “Beauty”]
Speaking of Gaston, he deserves his own paragraph. The character was initially created for the 1974 Broadway premiere of Cinderella, and he has since become synonymous with cheesy, good looks. Thanks to a series of popular films, such as Beauty and the Beast, Terminator, and Star Wars, the character’s popularity has soared, and he has even been referred to as “Hollywood’s Bad Boy”.
Unfortunately for Gaston, the craze for the character hasn’t helped him stay relevant in pop culture. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of the character is that he has absolutely no personality. While the Broadway producers who created him intended for him to be a one-dimensional boor, the character developed a life of his own, thanks to frequent media appearances, popular films, and an animated television show. This is probably why “Belle” is the only song that the character has, which is also one of the reasons why he is rarely used in today’s scores and television shows. While he does make an appearance in the upcoming Pixar movie, The Incredibles 2, he is far from the main character; the role is played by Edie Miral, and she doesn’t even sing. Here’s a clip:
As you can see, Gaston doesn’t share the same melodic sensibilities as his namesake. There are even some who believe that he is an adaptation of a Dutch composer, Hans Zimmer. However, the real reason why nobody likes Gaston is because of how he sounds. While it’s a challenge to capture a character’s essence in a catchy tune, Ashman and Sherman succeeded where others failed, due to the unique quality of the voice they were able to pull off: