In 1989, the studios of Walt Disney Pictures returned to its roots, beginning a new and highly successful series of animated motion pictures. The Little Mermaid featured a simple yet charming romance, witty dialogue (with jokes for adults as well as children), and splendid animation, all staples of classic Disney cartoons. The Little Mermaid added a much fuller array of musical numbers to this classic mix, creating more of an animated musical theater. Its music, in fact, won Grammy Awards for the composer and lyricist (the classic pairing in American musical theater); they were Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Disney immediately proceeded with a second installment, achieving if possible even greater success with the 1991 Beauty and the Beast. For the fairytale retelling, the studio returned to the same winning combination of Menken and Ashman.
Menken's score for the film sparkles with energy and wit; it ranges from full-chorus production numbers to romantic ballads, and further includes several dramatic instrumental numbers. The animation for Beauty and the Beast often taps into classic Hollywood imagery: the heroine Scarlett O'Hara-like illuminated against the sunset, for instance. The music, both in general scoring and in concept, similarly taps the lode of the classic Broadway musical. Two of the main characters are introduced in rousing solo and ensemble numbers ("Belle" and the comic drinking song "Gaston"). Larger production numbers arrive twice later in the show: Belle's first dinner at the Beast's castle inspires the Maurice Chevalier-esque footman Lumiére (sung by Law and Order's Jerry Orbach) to lead the scintillating "Be Our Guest," and there is a "Mob Song" as forces go to storm the castle later on. Meanwhile, romance is by no means neglected. Belle and the Beast develop their relationship in the light duet (actually twin soliloquies) of "Something There," and in their most romantic encounter, they dance to the theme song "Beauty and the Beast" (sung first by Angela Landsbury's Mrs. Potts). Among the more dramatic incidental music are instrumental compositions for Belle's first venture into the mystical "West Wing," the "Battle on the Tower," and the Beast's concluding "Transformation." After the expected happy ending to the fairytale, the movie's closing credits feature a soulful reprise of "Beauty and the Beast" by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson.