The Beauty of Belle

The Establishing Shot – Disney’s Beauty and the Beast  

An establishing shot at the beginning of a film is a narrative tool to inform viewers of the general mood of the story, its central character(s) and the overall location. It helps the viewer find their cinematic ‘footing’ without confusion as the story unfolds.  

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast presents an important establishing shot for two reasons. First, it has a strong opening sequence, cleverly constructed to lay out all the important elements of the story. Second, it was the first time an animated feature film paid so much attention to the narrative traditions of non-animated filmmaking.  

The opening sequence of Beauty and the Beast begins with a brief but ominous back-story, the dark undertones only the viewer will know as the story switches to the beautiful fair maiden, innocently singing of her woes. The viewer forgets, if only for a moment, the dark prophesy of the first three minutes and is swept away in the establishing shot that follows.  

Belle walks right out of her sweet little cottage, starts singing and the viewer knows immediately they signed up for a fairytale musical. The camera follows Belle, the young woman, as she wanders through her village. The viewer learns she lives just outside of town. The town has much activity and the shopkeepers and residents are all abuzz in the morning routine. Through Belle’s singing, the viewer learns that this morning routine, this daily repetition, is something Belle longs to leave behind. She wants more. Now the viewer starts to get a sense of the story and where it is headed. The viewer remembers the dark back-story presented before they met Belle. The viewer senses that a beast hidden in an enchanted castle and a clever young girl looking for adventure are destined to meet. That’s all the viewer needs to know. The roller coaster is almost at the top of the rail. Hold on, the film ride is about to begin.  

Equally important in the establishing shot of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the recognition of real-life filmmaking practices. On real-life film sets there is a complex team of prop artists, choreographers, lighting designers, sound technicians and third assistant directors operating in perfect sync. The legacy of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is that this animated feature, created entirely in a computer, looks as though it has that support of a full non-animated crew behind it. It is the first time an animated feature film was created as though it were a non-animated feature. The impressive attention to detail, the song and dance numbers, the rich backgrounds, the dynamic camera movements compete with tracking shots, bring to mind any large budget non-animated feature film of the past 50 years. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast sets the bar high for other animated features to follow. Gone are the days of a very flat-looking Mickey whistling on steamboat.

6 thoughts on “The Beauty of Belle

  1. excellent pic for a video clip definatly my most favorite disney movie. I think it is because belle is not afraid of anything she doesn’t go with the flow or the most handsome guy. Extra bonus she is a disney chracter who demonstrates a passion and ability to read books.

  2. Yah, I do like Belle. How long had it been since there had been a brown haired star?

    I was busy working on my final project today and chatting about this video and its establishing shot with my sister. With her multiple FA degrees, she reminded me that the establishing shots used in the TV show Law and Order is very different. In L&O the show jumps right into the action, or the sentance as Dean might say, without ever providing the viewer with an establishing shot. But not providing an ES fits that context, the jumping into the think of the action is the nature of crime.

  3. I also think you had a great pick for this! Beauty and the Beast is the best Disney movie ever! You also did a really good job of de-constructing the camera shots.

  4. Ah, thanks, that’s kind of you. Beauty and the Beast isn’t my favourite Disney movie, but it does have one of my tied-for-best-ever ego-centric movie lines. Do you remember the scene when Gaston and his followers are in the pub and everyone is signing Gaston’s praises? The ‘men’ are singing that Gaston is the ‘best,’ and the men sing, “No on has as swell clef in his chin like Gaston.” Oh, I love that line! It is entirely absurd. Tied with that line is a line from the new Disney movie, Enchanted. The Prince finally arrives to recue the Princess. She has been busy taking care of a lawyer and his young daughter. Upon leaving with the Princess, the Prince stupidly declares, “Thank you for taking care of my Bride, Peasants.”

    Aaahh… Now, I’ve totally forgotten what we were talking about…How very Lumiere of me!

  5. Ha ha. I love this. I was singing “Tale As Old As Time” today. Dunno why but I couldn’t get it outta my head. I remember playing this song on the recorder when I was in elementary school. Lol.

    I appreciate you mentioning Gaston’s ego trip. I often think of Gaston when I meet egotistical men and wonder where their entourage is?

  6. Ya, but it’s bigger than Gaston’s entourage though. The whole community participates in the song, and celebrates the “Best.” Belle is the outcast because for her, “best” is not found in the “show.” Our community should take a lesson or two from Belle.

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