From the moment Beast informed Belle that she could go anywhere in the castle except the West Wing (with no other explanation than “It’s forbidden!”), it was a foregone conclusion that Belle would go to the West Wing and that she would get caught. This is a long-standing trope in film that when something is explicitly forbidden, the character will go anyway and get caught by somebody at some point (case in point: Ariel was forbidden to have anything to do with humans, but she kept a grotto full of human things, and we all know how that turned out; Simba was forbidden to go to the elephant graveyard, Quasimodo couldn’t leave the bell tower, etc.)
I absolutely love the music for this scene. Purely orchestral, it highlights the danger of what Belle is doing (because we have no way of knowing where the Beast is right now), and also the growing curiosity to see what IS in the West Wing. As Belle walks down the hallway, she passes by a lot of broken statues that all resemble different beasts. Actually, that’s by design: practically every “beast” statue you see in the castle comes from a concept drawing when the animators were designing the look of the beast. My personal favorite is a statue of a giant snake (when Belle is looking in horror at all of the ugly statues in the hallway, just before she bursts into tears, look to the right and you’ll see it in an alcove).
Finally, Belle comes to a large door and for a moment there’s a breath of tension, as if the Beast might appear at any second, but Belle’s curiosity wins and she pulls the door open to reveal the forbidden West Wing. It’s in a shambles, but Belle presses forward anyway (as a child, my heart would always stop when she knocked the table over). And it’s here that she discovers two things: a heavily ripped portrait of a handsome man, with very familiar blue eyes (in reality a portrait of what the Beast really looks like), but just as Belle seems to make the connection, she notices something else, it’s the magic rose!!
The shot of Belle walking up to the bell jar is just beautiful, and for a moment, it almost looks like the rose is rotating to “look” at her (and maybe it is, it IS a magic rose after all). Of course, Belle then does the worst possible thing she could do, which is to remove the jar and try to touch the rose itself, and that’s when everything goes wrong in a hurry.
When I was young, I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what Belle almost did. I knew that Beast was angry because she’s gone where she wasn’t supposed to, but something was going over my head. It was only when I was older that I realized that the reason Beast kept the rose in a jar was to protect it from any outside force inadvertently knocking off the petals more quickly and thus shorten the time he has left to break the spell. If Belle had touched the rose, she might have done just that, and that is what really infuriates Beast, who as expected, appears just as Belle is reaching out, and he is beyond angry!
Now, while Belle is in trouble and Beast does have a right to some anger (since she did disobey him), it’s also true that Beast never told Belle why she couldn’t go into the West Wing, so Beast’s roar of “Do you realize what you could have done??” can never be answered because no, Belle doesn’t realize what could have happened because Beast didn’t tell her! All of this is too much for Belle to take and she runs from the castle (literally), swearing “Promise or no promise, I can’t stay here another minute!”
I’m sure there will be a counterpart to this scene in the live-action version of the film (and I can’t wait to see how it plays out!)
*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios
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