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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Disneyear: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

As one of the biggest hits of the Disney Renaissance, Beauty and the Beast has quite the reputation. People back then fell in love with this movie when it first came out. Not only did it strike a chord with people all over the world but it was the very first animated film to be nominated an Academy Award for Best Picture! That was almost unheard of at the time and for Disney to accomplish this really set them on a roar. So is it really that good? Well to find out, you're free to be my guest in reading this review.

The movie begins by telling the Beast's back story through stained glass windows. Basically, he was cruel to a sorceress and as punishment for having so much hate in his heart, turns him into a beast. She also hexes a rose that slowly withers away. If the Beast (Robby Benson) can love someone and be loved in return before the last petal falls, then he'll go back to being a human. Enter our heroine, Belle (Paige O'Hara). She's beautiful but never flaunts it. She's rather read books than focus on guys and so everyone in town thinks she's odd but she doesn't really mind. Enter Gaston (Richard White), the town hero. He's in love with Belle because he thinks that if he's the most handsome guy in town, then he should marry the most beautiful woman in town (great logic, isn't it?). She turns him down and he vows to marry her yet. Meanwhile, Belle's father is out of town and finds the enchanted castle where the Beast lives. The Beast claims he's trespassing and claims him prisoner. Belle finds him later and exchanges her life for his and lets her father go. The Beast sees this as the perfect opportunity to fall in love an break the spell. But one problem: he's not very social. You could even call him beastly (forgive the pun!) But through circumstances that happen and the help of his servants Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), and Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), the two actually do start to see good in one another and hit it off pretty well. One night though, the Beast lets Belle go because her father's in danger. She returns home to find that her father is declared insane because it's part of a setup for Gaston to propose to Belle again. She rejects again (thank you!) He gets vengeance by turning the town on the Beast. Beast gets seriously injured during a final battle and Belle at last declares her love for him. Just so happens the last petal falls at that moment but breaks the spell. Everyone returns to human form, Belle and Beast (by the way, did we ever learn his real name?) marry, and all live happily ever after.

After watching it again, I can see why this movie is regarded as a classic. Just about everything in this film is perfection. From beginning to end, it's just Disney at it's storytelling and artistic zenith. The characters: perfect. The romance: perfect. The villain: perfect. The songs: perfect. The animation and artwork: perfect. It goes back to the Disney roots. It knows it's a fairy tale and engulfs itself with it. There are a few twist, like with the couple. They actually have to take their time to actually know each other instead of just meeting and BOOM! It's meant to be. Speaking of which, the film is very clever in never exactly saying how long the two are together. It could be days, weeks, months, even years! It just allows you to come to your own conclusions.

The main characters are just great! Let's start with Belle, who is in my opinion the best female lead in a Disney film ever! She's beautiful but never shows it off. She loves to read, she's smart. People think she's odd, but she couldn't care less. She's kind, but has her limits. She's also looking for something great, grand and bigger than herself, which is very deep for a kid's movie. She's just perfect. She's really more of a role model than someone you'll actually meet in real life, but she's a great one so I really enjoy her. Then there's Beast. This design is awesome! It's pretty much what you think now when you read the story. But that human design... well the animators always said it never mattered what he looked like as a human because we grew to love him as the Beast, so I guess I'll let it slide.

The villain is also the perfect type for this film. Gaston does get some funny lines in this movie at first but because of constant rejections from Belle, he's turned to more desperate measures. He's not evil, per say, just used to getting what he wants all the time. Also, is it just me or does Gaston somehow embody being the manliest man and the prissiest all at once?

The subject of many YouTube poops.
The songs, we all know them. It's Alan Menkin at his best! Who can forget Be Our Guest? Or even the beautiful waltz moment in... Beauty and the Beast? I love them all, but there is one that I never hear talked about that much: When We're Human Again. Never heard of it? Apparently, this was originally cut from the movie when it was first released. But in 2002, Disney rereleased the film in IMAX with this song intact to honor the memory of co-composer Howard Ashman. This tune, unlike a certain other song that was added to a Disney movie in his memory but I'll get to that one when I do, is actually very good. It gives our side characters much more depth in that they actually have plans and ambitions after the spell is broken. It is a catchy song too. I've had it in my head for days after I heard it. If you haven't seen it, I'll include it here with Be Our Guest because I'm sure you want to enjoy that song again!

Do I even need to say what else is good about this film? We all know this story. We all know these characters. We all know these songs. It's just as flawless as a film can get and it only gets better as I get older. It's up there with Fantasia as my favorite Disney movie. If you have the time, I highly recommend watching this film again. 

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