While rappers are credited with the invention of ”sampling,” or using snatches of others’ recordings, Disney animators have long been in the habit of cribbing bits of business from their own earlier films: Just check out the identical-twin bears Balloo in The Jungle Book (1967) and Little John in Robin Hood (1973). Beauty and the Beast carries the practice still further, with echoes in scene after scene of moments from earlier Disney classics. The movements of the clock-faced Cogsworth and candlestick Lumiere mimic Alice in Wonderland’s talking doorknob. A bar scene with Gaston copies the cat-and-fox tavern scene in Pinocchio, right down to the dopey sidekick spilling his beer. Nods to Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are also peppered through Beauty and the Beast.
Says producer Don Hahn, ”Absolutely, we do study and pay homage to these things, and then we try to take them a step further and put a spin on them.”
The chief new spin in Beast is to extend imitation to live-action movies. Busby Berkeley choreographic excess is used to ironic effect in the ”Be Our Guest” production number. Yet there’s no irony intended when the Beast dances a barefoot King and I-style ballroom waltz with Belle, or when torch-carrying villagers right out of Frankenstein storm the Beast’s castle.
”There’s something about animation that just lends itself to winking at a lot of other art forms,” says Beast editor John Carnochan, who ”shamelessly” admits that he helped fine-tune Belle’s hilltop song into a Julie Andrews ”Sound of Music shot” after watching the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic at a local theater. ”That opening scene’s cut so gorgeously,” Carnochan says. ”It gave just the feeling I was trying to capture.”