BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: SOUNDTRACK
Review by Brad Green:
If Howard Ashman had lived one more year he could have smelled the bouquets. Sadly, the
lyricist died (aged 41, of an AIDS-related illness) shortly before the release of this
Disney classic; and the multitude of laurels that arrived some twelve months later became
metaphorical wreaths for his grave.
Beauty and The Beast won Oscars for best original score and best song; Golden Globes in
the same categories; and both equivalent Grammys. Two more of its songs received Oscar
nominations; the title tune plucking the prize of course. Few soundtracks, however
beautiful, can lay claim to such monstrous success.
Ashman and composer Alan Menken had teamed previously on Disney’s The Little Mermaid,
but parleyed their partnership into a great achievement here. The soundtrack’s
particular strength is its consistency, from Prologue to final credits. Despite being
remembered primarily for the Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion duet of the title track, its
foundation lies squarely in theatrical themes and the traditional vocabulary of musicals.
For mine, it lacks a magical highlight to take it to very the pinnacle of its genre, but
it is near impossible to not be enamoured with Menken’s accessible melodies. There
are almost as many hooks to grab hold of in the incidental cues as in the songs; and
indeed cues like West Wing cleverly incorporate the hook from the title tune itself.
It is easy to follow the story by listening to the soundtrack. An unobtrusive opening
narration gels with Ashman’s lyrics to provide the basic fabric of the fairytale.
Without animated assistance, the excellence of the performances comes to the fore. You
don’t have to actually see a singing candelabra to be amused by Be Our Guest, a spark
of Gallic vaudeville that lights a flame to both Maurice Chevalier and Yves Montand. Along
with Belle – the motif for a heroine who could teach Shallow Hal a thing or two about
spying inner beauty – this was an Oscar-nominated tune, but it doesn’t stand
above fine songs like Something There, or Human Again. The latter being a re-inclusion for
this “Special Edition” release.
Other extras on offer include a demo of Be Our Guest, and an “original early
version” of the closing cue Death Of The Beast. However, for anyone curious about
creative process, the real treat is a raw work tape and demo of the title song. It is rare
for any artist to allow such intimate insight into the embryonic stage of composition.
Menken and Ashman loosely experiment with lyric, melody and piano accompaniment, before a
segue to a full demo that lacks the sheen of the final version; but is closer to the
song’s theatrical roots and in many ways more charming. For anyone who has ever
dabbled in a little songwriting at the piano, there is an intriguing familiarity to the
rough run-throughs; fascinating in the hindsight of how big a hit they were to seed.
On cold analysis, you’d have to be pretty keen on such curios if you already have a
copy of the original because, fine song that it is, Human Again is the only other
addition. Of course, we are ten years down the track so there are many potential
first-time buyers. The key, if you are one, is to remember the old adage about not judging
a book by its cover. Sometimes a handsome prince lurks beneath a beast, and sometimes a
classic musical lurks behind a polished pop song.
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TITLE: Beauty and the Beast (Special Edition soundtrack)
Walt Disney Records
MUSIC BY: Alan Menken
LYRICS BY: Howard Ashman
FEATURED ARTISTS: Celine Dion, Peabo Bryson