This year marks the 25th anniversary of Disney’s timeless classic Beauty and the Beast. The animated movie first screened as a work-in-progress at the New York Film Festival in September of 1991 before captivating audiences and earning over $200 million at the box office. It captured the hearts of critics too, and won numerous awards, including two Oscars in 1992. Additionally, the film carved its name in history at the Academy Awards by becoming the first full-length animated feature film to win a Best Picture nomination.
To celebrate this milestone, Tribute‘s Matthew Pariselli spoke to Robby Benson, who voiced the Beast in the tale as old as time. They chatted about everything Beauty and the Beast, Robby’s lack of pop culture knowledge, who he thinks could portray the Beast (if this actor made a few adjustments), and the one character he’d love to play in the future.
While you were working on Beauty and the Beast 25 years ago, what expectations did you have? Did you think it would become the classic it is today?
I don’t think that way. I think every project we work on, we should throw every ounce of energy and creative juices into that project. What happened with this particular project was it read and it sounded like a Broadway show. It was just so superior. And then as we worked on it, and we saw the level of everyone’s work and energy, we started to understand that there was a very good chance that this could be a good movie, maybe even a great movie. As far as wondering if it would make money, that kind of success is so different. I never think about that and never have and never will.
I watched a recent interview where you said you were typecast as the Beast, that you’re impatient and you have a temper. Did your similarities to the Beast allow you to feel more connected to him?
Absolutely, very much so. But only because Disney allowed me to play it that way, to go at the role that way. You’re incredibly fortunate as an actor when you have an idea and you get to work with a director or producer who will listen to you, and do so with an open mind. That’s so rare, and we had that. That sense of collaboration, we had that throughout the entire film.
How do you feel that your similarities to the Beast played a part in the performance you delivered?
There’s something kind of pathetic about him, he always wants to do the right thing and he always does it the wrong way, so he’s always frustrated. He’s trying to catch up with the world and it takes a very strong woman to whip the Beast into shape [laughs].
The live-action version of the film is set to hit theaters in March 2017, and Dan Stevens will step into the role of the Beast. What do you make of that casting call?
You know, I have no sense of pop culture [laughs]. I don’t know how to explain it, I’m just not involved in any of those things. I don’t want to be rude… I do know that Don Hahn produced it, so I’m sure it’s going to be a very, very good movie and have the kind of quality that Don Hahn expects.
If you could choose an actor to portray the Beast in the live-action film, who would you cast?
If you could take the racism and the bigotry out of Mel Gibson, I think he would suit the role of the Beast very well.
What are your thoughts on turning your iconic film into a live-action movie 25 years later?
Well, I think that our business can be extremely creative, not just on the page for a film but in how a movie is distributed and the life of a movie. Disney has found a way to keep movies alive so that each generation gets a chance to experience them. It’s almost like a new Wizard of Oz every few years, that’s how good the work is that’s coming from them. So I think it’s a cool thing, it’s a beautiful story.
Do you think the story has sustaining power? How will it resonate with a new audience?
I have to say ‘yes,’ based on the people I know who are working on it. But I’m as ignorant as can be when it comes to stars, so…
What’s one of your fondest memories from voicing the Beast?
I would say it’s a very cool thing when your children are excited because daddy is the Beast. It’s also really cool when your wife is excited because you’re the Beast.
Actors who portray them aside, who is your favorite character from Beauty and the Beast?
I love Gaston, and I think it’s groundbreaking what they did with Belle. Making her smart and strong and thoughtful and not falling for the really good looking guy… She’s a very brave character, very courageous, very noble, and I think that’s a really wonderful thing for young women.
At the 25th anniversary screening of the film in New York, several original cast members were present. Do you manage to see each other very often?
Our paths cross, not only as people who work in the business, but we’re all friends. A lot of times, we see each other because of these junkets. The film comes out of the vault every few years, so it’s wonderful to see them.
I read that Angela Lansbury got up and sang at the anniversary. What was that like?
It was absolutely breathtaking. All hype aside, it was remarkable. Absolutely remarkable. I look at it as a professor of 28 years now, and it was a master class in how to tell a story through song. Just a brilliant performance.
Last question: what role would you like to play in the future and why?
I would love to play Fagin in a remake of a production of Oliver. I really would. Oliver has been a part of my life since I was eight years old, and I just love Mr. Revill who did it, and Mr. Moody who did it. It’s just a great part and I would love to play it.
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