Monday, January 27, 2014

A Look Back at Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Beauty and the Beast: Side Characters

Let’s talk about the enchanted servants for a moment.

Because they’re not really enchanted objects, they’re not objects that were given life, they’re people who’ve been cursed, and that lost and hidden humanity is an undercurrent running through the whole film.

Obviously even though they’re now made of wood, metal, porcelain, and other such things, they can still walk and talk and they have retained their personalities; can think for themselves, can still express human emotions, and most unfortunately, can still feel pain.

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Pictured: Discomfort

((By the way if you get a chance I would highly encourage you to go frame-by-frame on this scene, it does not disappoint.))

These “background characters” are just as important to the story as Belle and Beast themselves, as they reinforce the scope of the curse. It wasn’t just the Prince who lost everything that day, his servants lost everything; their hopes, their dreams, their lives, and – as the stage version so horrifyingly tells us – their humanity as well, as they are slowly turning into actual objects the more time goes by. Puts kind of a darker spin on the fact that the majority of the enchanted ‘objects’ we see in the castle don’t have faces, doesn’t it?

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Before I found that out I was willing to assume that the curse also brought random objects to life in the castle instead of just cursing the servants but now…

Which makes Belle’s appearance in the castle so momentous for them. Finally they have even a tiny glimmer of hope.

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And not a moment too soon, as they are in the final year of this ten-year curse, at which point the spell will become permanent and they will all just have to wait around until they lose their humanity entirely and fully become inanimate objects. According to the stage version and Word of God, this was happening to the Beast too; slowly losing his human identity and becoming an actual animal. And he was aware it was happening.

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Not that he’s already completely incapable of human emotion.

Which is why scenes like this one, short as they are, are some of my favorite.

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Look at the dejection in their body language there. Belle is their one last chance, their only hope of ever being human again, and they’re about to lose even that because their Master won’t stop throwing tantrums. But they stick with him anyway, and try to guide him as much as they can, treating the whole situation like a bomb that could go off at any moment.

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You can pretty much see the beads of sweat rolling down all their faces. I guess that would be wax in Lumiere’s case.

So shots like this, short as they are, are highly significant:

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“Oh no, wait, please! Please wait!”

I love David Ogden Stiers and the desperation in that simple little plea is heartbreaking. It’s worse than if he had shouted after her. They are powerless to stop her and they know it. They have less control over the curse than even their Master and yet they are just trying so very hard.

All of this is important because throughout the movie the servants are always hovering on the outskirts of the action, just… waiting, on pins and needles, to see what happens next. Even in scenes where they really don’t need to be there. They all have so much riding on these two falling in love.

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You could cut the tension in this room with a knife.

When the Beast starts to straighten up and Belle starts to warm up to him, the change in the servants is palpable. Look at this dopey little smile on Cogsworth’s face:

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It’s a far cry from the grumpy stick-in-the-mud pessimist he was at the start of the film.

And all of this makes “Human Again” such a fantastic inclusion on the Special Edition of the DVD. This song should have been left in the original release. As tumblr user dragonkeeper19600 mentioned, it just reinforces how many people are depending on Belle to break the spell and how little time they have left. It’s also a significant shift in mood for the servants – there’s a new sense of hope and expectation throughout the castle. Also we learn what each of them wants to do with their restored humanity, what all of their dreams are.

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Cogsworth’s is the cutest.

Also this is just a really smooth piece of animation. My instructors always told us the best way to avoid a lot of bland, generic gestures is to give your characters something to do with their hands. Cogsworth and Lumiere are always interacting with something throughout this shot and it makes for some very fluid action.

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And they’re still there. Still hanging around, just… waiting, watching, hoping, now more than ever. Also is it just me or does Cogsworth look just the teensiest bit unhinged here? It’s understandable… This is the last night they have, their one last shot.

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“I knew you had it in you!”

Yes, it’s a far cry from where they all were at the beginning of the story, and the change is most noticeable in Cogsworth, who started out the stuffiest and most pessimistic. He is at the height of his excitement here, bouncing into the Master’s room unannounced and completely unafraid, all giddy and smug. We’ve come a long way from this:

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Which makes it so poignant that he is the first to learn that the Beast let Belle go. From a story point it makes sense that the Head of Household be given this information and then take it to the other servants, but from a character perspective it’s especially heartbreaking. Lumiere was the one with the Beast as he prepared for his romantic evening with Belle, offering advice with confidence and charm. Cogsworth is the one whose hopes were raised the most, and his are the first to be dashed.

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Pictured: Distress

Poor Cogsworth then has to be the bearer of bad news. Look at his body language here. In the previous scene he was loose and free with his movements, more casual than he’d been throughout the film. Now he’s motions are tight and restrained.

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He holds himself very close to his default “I’m just an ordinary mantelpiece clock” position.

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Right, that’s the one.

The servants pretty much give up at this point, all except Chip, and Cogsworth goes back to full-on pessimist again.

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Although interestingly enough, Lumiere seems even more upset than Cogsworth at this point.

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For the first time he’s angry and bitter. He’s tried to stay positive only to have his one chance at being human again ripped away from him at the last second. And yet, both of them are super-quick to have their hopes raised mere moments later when the footstool starts barking out the window.

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Hope is hard to kill.

The castle is attacked but the Beast just can’t be bothered to care. The servants have enough self-preservation instinct left that they fight back and yes, this is the moment where Cogsworth finally snaps.

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He is clearly enjoying himself and we love watching it.

When the battle dies down Cogsworth, Lumiere, and Mrs. Potts seek out their Master and… I gotta say, it is really truly sweet that they have remained loyal to him all these years after what he did and the curse he brought on the castle. Even earlier in the film they were patient and gentle and tried to guide him in wooing Belle. We don’t know what the situation is with the Prince’s parents but it’s pretty safe to assume, whatever it was, that his servants played a pretty big part in raising him from an early age.

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Look at the horror on their faces. Their Prince is dying and all they can do is watch.

And then the rose wilts and all their hopes and dreams of becoming human again are shattered.

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This is a great example of the power of subtle, quiet acting. They don’t fall to the ground and start bawling, but the restraint in this shot makes their heartache unbearable.

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They’re resigned, they’re exhausted. They’re cursed for eternity and, if we’re going from the stage version, all they have to look forward to now is a gradual descent into losing their humanity and fully becoming household objects.

The audience doesn’t know what to feel at this point, either. Have they really come so close, only to fall short at the last second? The last petal falls and we are left breathless in our seats, hoping for a miracle. After all, didn’t Belle just confess her love?

The transformation starts taking place but the rose has already wilted. The servants have no idea what to expect here.

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The fear is there for all three as they huddle together, but there’s something else… Hope. Always hope. Right up until the very end.

The beauty here (heh) is that this scene could very easily just have belonged to Belle and the Beast. The servants could have shown up afterwards just to show that everyone had returned to normal, but no, they are highlighted throughout the scene. Their emotional journey is just as important as the two leads and adds flavor and depth to an already meaningful, beautiful climax.

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And this is the first time we’ve seen the Prince treat his servants like friends. He’s like a little kid, in a good way this time. Can’t you just feel the love radiating off of everyone in this shot?

So yes. Belle and the Beast are good characters but the servants are the glue that holds this whole movie together. They are given just the right amount of screen time to develop their characters while supporting their leads. Also for comic relief sidekicks they’re given a surprising amount of both dignity and authority. Their Prince may be in charge but they keep the castle running smoothly, they’re the ones to welcome Maurice and Belle and get the plot rolling, they’re the ones who fight off the invading villagers, and yes, they’re the ones the Prince turns to for advice, even when he’s being a pouty teenager.

I love these characters.

Also I forgot what a beautiful movie this is. Every single frame is like a work of art in itself.