Entries Comments

Beauty and the Beast Arguably The Last “True” Disney Animated Classic

Beauty and the Beast
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Written by Linda Woolverton from the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Disney, 1991 (3D re-release, 2012)

So let me explain this, since titles don’t give you much of a chance to clarify: Disney has made a lot of animated classics since Beauty and the BeastAladdin, The Lion King, nearly all the Pixar library, these are all beloved movies from Disney and Beauty and the Beast doesn’t hold a monopoly in modern animation.  But what Beauty and the Beast represents is one of the last Disney movies that you could put alongside a Snow White or Cinderella and almost not tell the difference.  The animation style makes Beauty and the Beast seem like a classic from the glory days of Disney, which is ironic since Disney was getting deeper into their Computer Animation Production System for this movie after they used it with the previous year’s The Rescuers Down Under .

It’s definitely the last one not to rely on celebrity voices.  The next year’s Aladdin and Robin Williams’ manic performance as Genie saw to that, even though all the main characters around Genie were lesser-known actors.  So Beauty and the Beast also has the lack of distinguishable voices meddling into the characters, even though there are some distinguished actors playing smaller roles.  And it’s not to say celebrity voices are bad, it just means I’m not watching the movie wondering who the voice is the whole time, which gets distracting.

So it is with that I say, Beauty and the Beast is the last of the true Disney animated classics.  In 4 years Pixar would unleash Toy Story, and a couple of years after that, traditional hand-drawn animation began to suffer setbacks at the box office.  It led to the ludicrous claim that people didn’t want to see movies that were hand-drawn anymore.  No, no, dear friends…they just didn’t want to see the movies.  People didn’t care how it was animated, they just didn’t like what the movies were selling.

Beauty and the Beast is the story of Belle (Paige O’Hara), who lives in a small village with her father Maurice (Rex Everhart), an inventor.  The town’s Handsomest Man Ever is Gaston (Richard White), who plans on making Belle his wife because she’s so pretty.  Belle doesn’t like Gaston at all, sees him for the vain, evil person that he is.  One day, Belle’s father goes to show off an invention, takes a wrong turn, and ends up in the castle of the “Beast” of the title.

Beast once was a handsome prince, with an attitude much like Gaston’s.  His refusal to allow a Bedouin into his castle for the night backfired, as the Bedouin turned out to be a gorgeous sorcerer who cursed him for his lack of hospitality.  The rule is, he must fall in love with someone, and that someone fall in love with him, before a rose’s petals fall off before his 21st birthday.  Beast imprisons Maurice, but when Belle finds out, she offers herself forever to be imprisoned instead.  The deal is done, and Maurice goes about trying to find a way to save his daughter.

The stage is then set for Beast and Belle to get to know each other, and like all romantic comedies, they don’t like each other at all.  Beast has no chance, but guided by his friends who have also been cursed: candle Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), clock Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), and teapot Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), Beast realizes that this is an opportunity.  He needs to learn to be a gentleman.  Maybe there’s no real way, but he has to try.

Meanwhile, Gaston tries to figure out how to get in good with Maurice, perhaps finding a way into Belle’s heart, but no one believes Maurice that there’s a beast living in a castle nearby.  Of course, once they find out that this is true, they act like humans do.  “We’re going to kill this thing we didn’t even know existed five minutes ago.”

The music is pretty great.  “Be Our Guest” has become Disney’s motto, it’s such a classic song that it’s hard to believe it’s not from the forties or fifties.  I love the darkness to the old Disney classics–we see fighting and stabbing and primal anger in Beauty and the Beast.  It’s something we don’t see anymore because studios are too scared to put anything remotely frightening in children’s entertainment anymore.  Which is odd, since The Lion King, the last Disney animated movie that I remember having a truly dark edge to it, is their all-time box office champ.

By the way, the 3D is pretty cool (but still not really needed), especially with the famous ballroom dance scene that elevated animation into something more technically skillful as far as its “camera” was concerned.  Aided by the CAPS system, the camera swirls around the ballroom, around a chandelier, while Belle and Beast waltz.  The CAPS system made it so that backgrounds and characters could move independently and create a realistic-looking 3D space, whereas before, this had to be painstakingly mapped out when drawing by hand.

Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture in 1991, facing off against winner Silence of the Lambs, JFK, Bugsy, and The Prince of Tides.  It was nominated for three different original songs, including the winner, the title song sung by Angela Lansbury.  It also won for Best Score from Alan Menken, who did the music for lyricist Howard Ashman, who would not live to see the film released.

Write a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.