The Disney That Never Was:
The Beauty and the Beast Animatronic Attraction
The idea for the Beauty and the Beast animatronic attraction dates back to the early 1990s, shortly after the film’s release. The attraction was originally planned for Disneyland Paris’ Fantasyland, and would have been located on the hillside across from Pizzeria Bella Notte. The outside of the attraction would have had two contrasting sides. One side, the entrance to the ride, would have looked like the Beast’s castle while under the curse. It would have been dark and foreboding, surrounded by crooked black trees that looked ready to snatch approaching guests in their sharp, tangled branches. The other side, the exit, would have been cheerful, ornate and fairytale-esque, representing the castle after the curse was lifted.
The Imagineers took their inspiration – and the attraction’s basic layout – from Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Guests would enter a large room themed as the interior of the Beast’s castle. Once inside, they would sit on benches set up along three sides of the room. Spanning the fourth side of the room – and stretching into the center – would be a grand staircase, a large set of French doors, an unlit fireplace and a long dining table.
The pre-show would be done via an animated stained glass window at the top of the staircase. The window would tell the story of the curse, reminding guests that the only way to lift the curse would be if the Beast could love someone and be loved in return.
After the pre-show, a cast member portraying Belle – along with animatronic versions of Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts – would recreate an encapsulated version of Belle’s first night in the castle.
This recreation would have culminated in the show’s most spectacular scene – the Be Our Guest musical number. As the music played and a dazzling light show lit up the room, guests would be surrounded by animatronic action in much the same manner as the Enchanted Tiki Room. Only, instead of tikis, parrots and flowers magically coming to life around you, it would be twirling plates, singing candlesticks and dancing cutlery. Mrs. Potts would have whirled her way around the floor on a trolley, while a spinning chandelier descended from the ceiling and a giant cake rose from the floor.
After this joyous celebration, the lights would dim, lightning would crash and the show’s scary, second act would begin.
In a recent interview with The Season Pass Podcast, Imagineering legend Tony Baxter recalled, “We took…Kill the Beast [a.k.a. The Mob Song], which was Gaston’s song, and we [re-wrote it as] Beware of the Beast. So we had the ‘welcome to the castle thing’ which was Be Our Guest, then [thunder would sound], and all of the sudden the gargoyles descended on the columns and [we started to hear] Beware of the Beast. We kept adding all of these things that…became evil, and it got worse and worse...warning [guests] that [the Beast] was about to appear. It’s building in its intensity – ‘Beware of the Beast! Beware of the Beast!’ – and then, BOOM, he’s there, and it’s a big audio-animatronic, bigger than the character that walks around in the park, just this gigantic character.
“So you had this character who was audio-animatronic but had enough space in his center cavity to have a human in there. So we had [the cast member portraying] the Prince [hidden] in there. And he had a couple of things to do, because [although the Beast] was all automated, we had some interface things that we wanted to do with guests.”
What sorts of things? Yelling. Shouting. BELLOWING. Mostly directed at the guests, commanding them to leave. Think about it – with the music and the lighting and the gargoyles and the sheer enormity and ferocity of the animatronic Beast, this would’ve been quite an intense scene!
Ah, but the Imagineers never allow things to get too out of hand, and they had the perfect plan to calm the Beast. Here’s how Baxter describes the show’s touching third act:
“And then Belle…came up [to the Beast] and said, ‘Shame on you! These people came here because they’re your friends.’ And [Beast] did the whole, ‘Nobody is my friend.’ You know. So they had this dialog, and she says, ‘Let me prove it to you.’ And then she would say something to the audience like, ‘Who here would like to give the Beast a flower?’ and…a child would come up with a long stem rose and give it to the Beast, and at that point, [Belle] would say, ‘See? We really do love you. Everyone loves you.’
“Then [church bells would sound] and a big cloud of smoke would come up in the room and the [animatronic Beast] figure [would disappear into the floor] as the [Prince] stepped out of it. And then [the room] transitioned, and where all of the gargoyles had come down, now all of these beautiful, classical sculptures are descending, and [we hear] ‘Tale as old as time...’ and Mrs. Potts joins in and [Belle and the Prince] start dancing. And then, as it builds to the crescendo, they both go up the stairway – it was two circular stairways that went up to the upper platform that had the stained glass window. [Then, as the song was ending, we would see] the pair of them [appear] in the stained glass window. Guests would walk out [the French doors located] below that, while the next group was filing in.”
That would have been STUNNING, eh?
The good news?
Nothing in Imagineering ever disappears completely. The Little Mermaid ride languished in production purgatory for over twenty years before it was finally built. Space Mountain took almost the same amount of time. Who knows? With Disney opening more and more theme parks around the world, we may see the Beauty and the Beast animatronic attraction yet!