27 May 2010

Review: "Beauty and the Beast"

Like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast has a special place in my heart, though not for the same reasons. When I was in grade eight my school put on a production of Beauty and the Beast and I played the role of Maurice, Belle's father. Beauty and the Beast is an adaptation of a fairy tale first published by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740, though Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's abridged version in 1756 is the most well known. Disney's 1991 adaptation is the third release in the so-called Disney Renaissance, after 1990's under-performing The Rescuers Down Under. For nearly two decades it had the distinction of being the only animated film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, where it eventually lost to juggernaut The Silence of the Lambs (the last film to win the Big Five). Beauty and the Beast follows in the tradition of The Little Mermaid with its use of a traditional Broadway score. The music of the film is incredible and beautifully frames many of the film's best scenes. Belle, like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, is a more modern Disney princess in the way that she is educated and worldly. She is introduced as a strong and brave young woman. Beauty and the Beast is unlike any film that Disney has ever introduced. It incorporates a beautiful story, fluid animation and a seamless score to create a film that appeals to all ages with moral that is applicable to all generations.

As the film begins we learn that the Beast was once a young prince who was visited by an old beggar. The old beggar offers him a rose for one night's shelter. The prince refuses and she turns him into a beast. The spell also turns all his servants into furniture and household items. The woman, an enchantress disguised as a beggar, tells him that the rose will bloom until his twenty-first birthday and he must love and be loved in return before all the petals fall or he will remain a beast forever. In the present, Belle is a beautiful young woman who lives at home with her father Maurice, an inventor of crazy gadgets. Belle is a voracious reader who yearns to discover the world. She ignores the unwanted attention from Gaston, the local hero who believes that Belle will be his wife. One day Maurice leaves to attend a fair and ends up at the Beast's castle. He is shocked when he is introduced to Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, Chip and Cogsworth. Maurice's horse returns home without him and a worried Belle makes her way to the castle, where Maurice has become the Beast's prisoner. The Beast allows Belle to take her father's place as his prisoner. The Beast allows Belle to remain free in his castle and the two begin to form a relationship with the help of his servants. Gaston's efforts to marry Belle eventually threaten the lives of Belle, her father and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful fairy tale with such vivid animation that it becomes easy to forget that it is an animated film. The music numbers are definitely the highlights of the film and there is an exceptional ballroom sequence that is traditionally marked as the film's best scene, with good reason. This film, in my opinion, is a turning point for animated films. The success of Beauty and the Beast allowed for major artists to record songs for animated films. Angela Lansbury may not be a huge celebrity, but the film can also be seen as a turning point for major actors to lend their voices to animation. I am also intrigued by the film's poster, which is not the original theatrical release poster. The poster, like the one I chose for The Little Mermaid (which was used in 1997 for the film's re-release) give the film a maturity that attracts older audiences. I may not love Beauty and the Beast as much as The Little Mermaid but its legacy is unlike any other Disney film. The film's animation is so remarkable that Roger Ebert remarked that it looked more real than live action features. I do not think there could be a stronger reason to go watch Beauty and the Beast again.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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