The Beast’s Love of Architecture

Watching Disney films after a long while feels like catching up with a really good old friend. You always pick up right where you left off, as though it was only yesterday that you last met. Nathaniel’s choice for this week’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot fills me with joy, as it gave me the occasion to catch up with a film I boundlessly loved as a kid, but hadn’t seen in about eight years: Beauty and the Beast. Disney’s masterpiece is packed with some of the greatest music that the studio ever produced and with such a memorable array of characters, from the two protagonists all the way down to the smaller occupants of the castle. Beauty and the Beast is a staple of my childhood. I watched the film on a daily basis   along with 101 Dalmatians, without exaggeration. So many images from the film have been etched in my mind, and it was both a shock and a delight to confront the level of specificity with which I remembered these frames after all these years.

As a civil engineer by trade, buildings are, and have always been, a significant part of my life. The signs of this interest in structures    as with cinephilia    were evident from those early days, and the images I remembered most vividly are those of the beast’s castle. On the film’s part, there’s no shortage of direct or indirect references to architecture. No other Disney film, if my memory serves, relies so heavily on the atmosphere it creates solely through architecture.

The first instance of signifying the castle in the plot is the early juxtaposition of the dark and light sides in the shot above from the opening scene. Before we even get a glimpse of the prince as the beast, we already expect a drastic change of appearance based on our prior knowledge of his residence’s transformation. That shot is just the first of many in which the film-makers both deliver plot details and create an emotional response through the film’s architecture.

Later, when Maurice, Belle’s father, enters Beast’s castle for the first time, the film-makers get so much mileage from the castle’s heightened gothic towers and the haunting figures in the interior to show Maurice’s solitude and helplessness in the foreign environment, as they do when Belle walks into the forbidden west wing a few minutes later.

Or look at how masterfully they use the architecture of the lustrous library to emphasize Beast’s effort in stealing Belle’s heart; or the famous dance scene to the enchanting tune of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, with the (imagined) camera’s pan across the ballroom. The majestic stairs, the impeccably decorated dining room, and the ballroom with its golden-hued walls and illustrious chandelier are no less exquisite than Belle’s gown.

Yet, the architecture becomes even more pronounced when it is directly referenced in dialogue, though humorously and rather inaccurately. Without coming off as sophisticated or incongruous in a children’s film, they play the scene so casually that it makes for one of the film’s funniest and most heartwarming moments. In the scene, as Cogsworth and Lumière give Belle a tour of the castle, Cogsworth points out:

As you can see, the pseudo-facade was stripped away to reveal a minimalist Rococo design. Note the unusual inverted vaulted ceilings. This is yet another example of the neo-Classic Baroque period. And as I always say, if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.

Finally, my favourite shot in the film – at which I remember cheering as a child every time it played – comes in the finale, during Beast’s transformation into Prince Charming. Pointedly, the transformation is not limited to Beast and his servants, but their residence is prominently featured as well. Here, as the golden raindrops fall on the castle, the dark Gothic grotesques change shape into innocent saints.

Quite charming!

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8 comments

  1. I also love Beast's castle. As for the architectural joke I always thought it was a word play between baroque and broke, hence the line “if it's not baroque/broke, don't fix it. A very entertaining read.

  2. A) The ballroom scene looks so digital but so good, b) I love how Lumiere/the watch guy was talking out of his ass while touring Belle, the styles he was mentioning were at least a century later than the actual style of the palace and c) I was equally addicted to 101.

  3. yeah
    in his description of the house, other than the vaulted ceilings which are actually shown in the beastly version of the castle, not much else makes sense.
    but as i said, he's just so funny.
    the baroque joke is so silly, its my favourite part of the film.

  4. As somone who hopes to become an architect myself, I always had a similar connection to this film. To the comments, I'm not sure Cogsworth was actually wrong. The story is clearly set in medieval times, but the castle seems to be an anachronistic baroque melange of gothic and classicizing features. For example, the gothic silhouette is paired with classical details like balustrades, arcades, urns, columns, marble floors, and ceiling painting, and the ornate wall panelling and furnishing verge on the decadence of Rococo interiors. I've also read somewhere that much of the castle was inspired by Chambord.

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