Beauty and the Beast (1991) (G)
"Beauty and the Beast" is not an original movie. Disney captured this fairy tale/legend that has been remade lots of times and each time with less success than the 1991 animated turn. To the knowing cinephile, The Disney version of the story is not even the most well-regarded, Jean Cocteau's 1946 version is. Yet in comparing the two, though Cocteau's live action movie is splendid at parts, Jean Marais (Cocteau's muse) is kind of stiff as the beast. The makeup on Marais makes him look very nonthreatening, and his voice can be kind of shrill and goofy. Not to say that Cocteau's won't always be the critic's pick for the "best" version of the movie; but Disney here proves something that is hard to refute: the best isn't always the most memorable.
I would argue that Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" is the definitive rendition of the story and one that will never be topped, not even by their live action remake coming out in the near future. What Disney realized is that the grand scope of the enchanted story could not be captured by live action filming in the 90s and thus, animation saves the day. There has never been a stronger case for this medium than "Beauty and the Beast" which dazzles with sweeping shots that would make any live action director green with jealousy, as well as powerful voice acting performances that almost outdo any other Disney film to date.
The story, to borrow a line from the iconic song, is as old as time. A girl's eccentric father gets lost in the woods and stumbles into a magical castle which is under the spell of an enchantress who wants the spoiled prince responsible for the transformation to realize that beauty isn't about outward appearance. The father becomes a prisoner of the prince turned prince and the girl rushes out to find him, trading places with him and becoming the beast's prisoner.
Belle (Paige O'Hara) is bookworm, proto-feminist protagonist who has become the precursor for such characters as Elsa. She is being courted by the town douchebag, Gaston (Richard White) who feels entitled to Belle since he is handsome and she is pretty. Gaston is the foil to the moral of the story not so cleverly inserted to make viewers cringe at the ridiculousness of his actions and his villainy.
From a logistical perspective, animating "Beauty and the Beast" makes much more sense than attempting to place an actor in prosthetic makeup in order to tiptoe the boundary between believable, charming, and scary. The movie's set designs are Gothic, creepy, and always lavish. One could look at the backgrounds of this movie for hours.
The musical numbers, courtesy of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is probably Disney's most recognizable. Though "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" are both arguably in contention, I cannot think of another Disney song where every number has escaped its source material.
Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise would go on to direct lesser lauded Disney films "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and the incredibly underrated "Atlantis: The Lost Empire"; but would never recapture the respect and admiration of the public and critics again like they did with this film. "Beauty and the Beast" was the first animated movie to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards, and remained the only one for well over a decade and if that doesn't speak for the film itself, I don't know what will.
Borrowing a broadway epic feel slyly for numbers like "Be Our Guest", "Beauty and the Beast" is nothing short of magical. Thematically, one might find it confused and most likely problematic; but owing its allegiance to the source material, the liberties that Disney took with the story make it flashy, entertaining, and relatable, even underneath all the magic, singing candlesticks, and Stockholm Syndrome.
Posted by Micah Jones