“Beauty and the Beast” was so difficult because Howard Ashman was in the final stages of his life due to complications from AIDS. Ashman couldn’t even see the film’s release. His pain was so excruciating that production eventually moved to New York so he wouldn’t have to travel to Los Angeles all the time. If you’re an artist who struggles so much and counts the days you have left, I guess all you can do is throw yourself entirely into what you’re doing, and you can feel that emotion in “La Belle et la Stupid”.
He and Menken were writing specifically for Angela Lansbury, but the actress was very hesitant to play him. She would have been in her fifties at the time, and although the melody is hummed by everyone, the song demands a lot from the singer. In the “Ever a Surprise: A Portrait of Howard Ashman” featurette, Lansbury said:
“I listened to it and thought, ‘Oh, my God. I’m not sure if I can pull this one off. Although I loved the idea… You have to feel like they’re with you, they believe in what you’re going to give them, and what you’re going to give them is what they’re looking for. It’s a combination of all of those things, and Howard definitely gave me that feeling. He trusted me.”
The result is a number that I rarely find without crying. The intimacy of Lansbury’s voice mixed with the sweeping orchestrations and groundbreaking camera movements brings out a primary reaction in me that I can’t control. Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson’s version was the hit at the time, but decades later all we remember is Angela Lansbury.