Friday, January 13, 2012

I Give It Five Hurrahs and Twelve Hip-Hips! Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast in 3-D”

Disney’s Thirtieth Animated Feature – 1991 (Original Release) 2012 (3-D Release)
As a woman, a feminist, and as the mother of a little girl, I must say I’ve always loved Beauty and the Beast. Belle (the Beauty) is a heroine girls can relate to. She’s lovely and smart, but so intellectually curious she feels she doesn’t fit into her small-town life. She wants to see the greater world and yearns to meet someone who will understand her and love her just as she is.

The plot reverses the classic fairy tale/Disney “prince saves the princess” formula, as it’s the formidable Beast who is the prisoner and needs saving. He’s the victim of a magic spell, trapped in his half man/half animal form. He must wait for someone with the ability (and the will) to save him.

Beauty and the Beast boasts one of the wittiest musical scores of any musical ever, animated or not. The musical team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, fresh off their success with The Little Mermaid, wrote a wry, knowing, tuneful collection here, from the sublime love theme “Beauty and the Beast,” to “Be Our Guest,” to the biographical “Gaston.” And the character of Gaston is the perfect romantic rival to the Beast; a wonderfully egomaniacal and insensitive dufus who woos Belle by belittling her love of books, and can’t stop himself from grabbing admiring glances in mirrors. As the song says, “No one’s slick as Gaston. No one’s quick as Gaston. No one’s neck’s as incredibly thick as Gaston.”

Lyricist Howard Ashman died following complications from AIDS at the age of 40 in New York City after completing work on Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. And it was his trio of musicals—including The Little Mermaid—that amounted to a second “golden era” of Disney animated features.

The cast is a surprising mix. Robby Benson as the Beast—who knew? He’s gruff. He’s tender. He’s a dreamboat of a … uh, Beast. A top-notch supporting cast features the late, great Jerry Orbach as candlestick Lumiere. He introduces the song “Be Our Guest” with style, just as he introduced “September Song” a generation earlier as El Gallo in the original cast of The Fantasticks. David Ogden Stiers does a witty job as the tightly wound clock/major domo, Cogsworth; and the divine Angela Lansbury as housekeeper Mrs. Potts gives just the right balance of sentiment and humor to the love theme, “Beauty and the Beast.”

But how does this feature fare in 3-D? Does this film need any help finding a new audience? Will Disney harm this film with “improvements”? The 3-D animation is very effective in spots, less so at other moments. It hardly spoils anything, but there are scenes where characters seem like 2-D cutouts in a 3-D world. And a few moments, spaces seem distorted owing to the immense depth that 3-D creates. It didn’t help matters to sit though a string of 3-D previews of new films created specifically to take advantage of 3-D technology.

There’s an awful lot of “saving” done in this film. Belle saves her father, first by switching places with him at the castle of the Beast; then by saving him from freezing to death in the forest. The Beast saves Belle from a wolf attack. Belle saves the Beast by grabbing his shirt, stopping him from falling off a castle ledge into a ravine. And one of my favorites, Lumiere saves the Feather Duster when angry townsfolk attack the castle. But much more importantly, Belle saves the Beast from a lifetime of loneliness and despair … by loving him. It’s the same way we’re all saved from the grip of solitude. If we’re lucky.

1959's Sleeping Beauty (above) 
I love just about everything in this film. I even love the way the final dance between Belle and the transformed Beast/Prince pays homage to the final dance from 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. Notice the matching floor patterns and the placement of the figures in the lower left of each frame; Sleeping Beauty’s King and Beauty and the Beast’s Cogsworth even have their hands clasped behind their backs in identical gestures.

So be my guest: buy the dvd, the t-shirt, and the lunchbox. This one’s a keeper. You won’t mind when your kids watch it over and over. Few films—for kids or grown-ups—succeed like Beauty and the Beast.


  1. Great review! It is a whole new world this one where our kids live, where they don't have to imagine things in 3D or even 4D, the movies are becoming as real as their daily lives!

  2. Agreed! The collection of 3-D previews for upcoming kids' films were amazing.

  3. I guess I'm going to have to take the grandchildren to see this one. I still love these movies and the artwork too and have a collection of the old films, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White. I still love the stories.

    1. It really is a winner. You should leave a comment under the "Templeton Twins" story; we're giving away an autographed copy and it's an excellent book!