BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, of course, is Disney's telling of the story of Belle (Paige O'Hara), a beautiful, bookish girl. Belle bravely agrees to live in the enchanted castle of the cursed Beast (Robby Benson) if the Beast will set her imprisoned father free.
The Beast's servants (Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, and David Ogden Stiers), who were cursed to live as a teapot, candlestick, and clock, hope Belle will come to love the Beast and thus set them all free from their spell. Just when it seems their hopes will come true, boorish Gaston (Richard White), who wants Belle for himself, arrives at the castle with evil intent.
It's a simple story ("tale as old as time..."), beautifully told and expertly paced, with a brilliant, Oscar-winning score by Allan Menken and Howard Ashman. The script, voices, and animation all represent Disney in peak form. To borrow a phrase from another classic Disney musical, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is "practically perfect in every way."
I vividly remember when we took our oldest daughter, who had just turned three, to see BEAUTY AND THE BEAST the year it opened. After the first song, "Belle," my husband and I turned and looked at each other with some amazement. It had the excitement of a big Broadway choral number, with powerful voices to match. (I had the rare chance to share our happy memories and how much I love this sequence with producer Don Hahn when I attended a screening of WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY a couple of years ago.) Two decades later, this number still thrills me.
Perhaps it's a stretch, but the "Belle" sequence has always reminded me just a bit of the opening "Isn't It Romantic?" sequence in LOVE ME TONIGHT (1932), as various characters in a European town take part in the song and set the story moving on its way. In fact, as I think on it more, LOVE ME TONIGHT also happens to have its moments of enchantment, with the aunts working to cast a spell on Princess Jeanette (Jeanette MacDonald). And Gaston's shadow projected on a wall in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST reminds me of Maurice Chevalier's shadow on the wall in the earlier film. Perhaps this is all coincidental, but it does serve to illustrate one way that BEAUTY AND THE BEAST fits into a long tradition of excellent movie musicals.
I believe Belle is one of Disney's best animated characters, both in terms of her personality and the animation itself. Belle is no shy princess, but a girl who isn't afraid to say "no" and who doesn't hesitate to put herself on the line for those she loves. The myriad expressions which cross her face are truly remarkable; it's easy to see just what she's thinking. And her habit of pushing a strand of hair back out of her face is quite lifelike.
I remember how surprised -- even shocked -- I was when I heard that Robby Benson had been cast as the Beast. For me, he was the baby-voiced George Gibbs of OUR TOWN (1977) and other '70s productions. I was quite amazed and pleasantly surprised the first time I heard his deep voice as the Beast. Lansbury, Orbach, and Stiers are also terrific and have their moments to shine, including in the songs "Be Our Guest" and the title track. The film marked Lansbury's return to Disney 20 years after starring in BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971).
If there is a flaw to be found anywhere in this film, it's perhaps the reference to the castle having been enchanted for ten years, which doesn't seem to compute with the young age of Chip (Bradley Pierce) and may not fit with the curse on the Beast. Was he just 11 when he was cursed?
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was nominated for Best Picture. Looking back, I personally find it rather appalling that a film as nasty as SILENCE OF THE LAMBS won instead. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is uplifting, exquisitely made art which represents the very best of movie-making and which will continue to be enjoyed by viewers of all ages for generations to come.
I like my 3D in small doses, and I must say I was particularly impressed with this film's 3D presentation. It's so well done that it appears as though the film was originally designed that way, which strikes me as quite a feat. The opening sequence explaining the curse almost looks like a pop-up book unfolding as the camera moves in closer to the castle. I highly recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to see the movie in this format.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, from a screenplay by Linda Woolverton. It runs 84 minutes.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was preceded by the six-minute short TANGLED EVER AFTER (2012), a very amusing sequel to TANGLED (2010). Zachary Levi and Mandy Moore reprise the voices of Flynn Rider and Rapunzel.
I recommend the 2-disc BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Platinum Edition DVD released in 2002. Another two-disc edition was released last fall.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST can also be purchased on Amazon Instant Video. It was released on VHS in 1992.
Related posts: Tonight's Theater: Beauty and the Beast; Tonight's Movie: Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009); Tonight's Movie: Beauty and the Beast (1976).
I'm looking forward to another special Disney film experience soon, as we have tickets to see LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955) next weekend at the Disney-operated El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.