1991 – Beauty and the Beast

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Beauty and the Beast – 1991

This film has the distinction of being the only fully animated film to ever be nominated for the Best Picture Award.  It certainly has its merits and is a good film.  It is one of those films that I have seen many times, but this time I watched it using a more critical eye.  In modern animated features, there is a lot of visible detail that can be seen because of computer generated animation.  But this was made right around the time when that kind of thing was still in its infancy, and most animation was still hand-drawn.  As a result, though most of the animation was very good, there were certain things that still looked… cartoonish.  But I’ll get to that in a bit.

Most people know the plot of the fairy tale, so I won’t go into that too much, but I will mention the great cast of voice actors that gave life to the animated characters.  Paige O’Hara took the lead as Belle, the girl with a heart of gold that longs for adventure.  She played opposite Robbie Benson playing the Beast, otherwise known as Prince Adam.  The egotistical Gaston is voiced by Richard White, and his buffoonish, sycophant sidekick LeFue, is voiced by Jessi Corti.  Belle’s father Maurice is voiced by Rex Everhart.  And then, the Beast’s three main servants, Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts, are played by three well-known actors, Jerry Orbach, David Ogdon Stiers, and Angela Lansbury.

But despite its good qualities, there were most certainly inconsistencies in the animation that ranged from small innocuous things to glaring whoppers.  For example, we first see 5 steps that lead to the front door of Bell’s house, but are shown 15 steps in another shot.  Also, they drew Gaston as having clean boots in one shot, but as he props his feet up on the table, his boots are dripping with mud.   The one that got me was when Maurice is being thrown out of the tavern we clearly see an open doorway with saloon-style swinging doors, but then we are shown a massive wooden door covering the entrance in the next shot.  Did they think we wouldn’t notice?

Well, no, I don’t think most people would.  I only did because I was specifically looking for those kinds of things.  For the most part, it is simply easy to get swept up in the fantasy of the classic story.  And for all their faults, Disney knows how to put on a good show.  Not only was the story well crafted, but it is wonderful entertainment that is appropriate for the entire family, and in this day and age, that is saying something.  And thankfully, they didn’t rely on potty-humor despite the film’s obvious juvenile target audience.

So I realize it sounds like I am being very critical of the film, but there were plenty of good things that have to be mentioned as well.  For example, the voice actors were well cast, and the music was amazing.  In fact, Beauty and the Beast won the Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score, and for Best Music, Original Song.  The songs were fun to listen to and easy to remember.  Great songs like Belle, Gaston, and Be Our Guest were highly entertaining with fantastic and energetic visuals.  But it was the movie’s title song that really seemed to steal the show.  Beauty and the Beast, sung by Lansbury, was beautiful and touching.  In fact, the entire scene stood out in a number of ways.  The lyrics of most of the rest of the songs in the film had very little subtlety or depth.  But this number was sweet and romantic.  It seemed to transcend the confines of the simple fairy tale and touch on greater themes.

And this scene was the film’s centerpiece in terms of animation as well.  Most of the movie was hand-drawn, done the same way Disney animators had always done.  But they took a chance with this scene, using a computer generated background through which Belle and Beast could dance.  And it is obvious when you watch it.  Suddenly the background had detail and a depth that were not in the rest of the film.  There was also a greater sense of realism, though it was clearly animated.  It really was an amazing sequence, and something that audiences had never before seen in a Disney animated film.  Unfortunately, it also had the side effect of making some of the hand-drawn animation seem primitive and cartoonish by comparison.

But I also have to address one of the biggest plot holes of the whole plot, one which the Disney script writers seemed to completely ignore.  Prince Adam has been the Beast for years, but it is established that the curse must be broken by the time he is 21 years old.  So he must have been cursed when he was around 13 or 14 years old, at most.  And we never see his parents, either in the prologue or the epilogue.  We do not see them as transformed objects either.  So we can only assume that the 13 year old boy was master of the castle without any parental guidance.  Of course he was spoiled.  And then, the enchantress who transformed him into the Beast proceeds to punish the all the inhabitants of the castle for the spoiled Prince’s mistake.  But I guess it served them right.  In the absence of the boy’s parents, they should have showed a firmer hand while teaching the Prince manners when dealing with scary old witches, despite what other Disney fairy tales like Snow White teach us about them.

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