Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Disney's Beauty and the Beast (1991 movie review)

      As a child, some of my favorite Disney movies that I’d watch all the time were “Aladdin”, “Pocahontas”, "The Lion King" and “Hercules” and to this day I still love watching them because they take me back to a cherished time of my life that will never come again. Then on the opposite side of that coin you have the 1991 Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast”, a film that I rarely ever watched as a kid. It just wasn’t something that interested me back then, however after re-watching it as an adult, I’ve finally discovered just how great the movie really is. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it's one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. But unlike most of the other Disney movies I love, I don’t just watch “Beauty and the Beast” because it takes me back to my child hood, I watch it because it’s a genuinely great movie in its own right. Everyone fell in love with this film when it first came out in 1991 and even though it’s over 20 years old it’s still regarded as one of the greatest animated movies of all time. This was the 30th animated motion picture from the studio and It was the first animated movie in history to be nominated for best picture, which was completely unheard of at the time. This is no small accomplishment, only two other animated movies (“Toy Story 3” and “Up”) have gotten the best picture nomination which is all the proof you need that this film was more than just another great animated Disney movie, it’s something truly special.

    It may surprise some of you that many of the fairytales that animated Disney movies are based on weren’t exactly the most kid friendly. “Pinocchio” for example seems like a pleasant and fluffy children’s adventure but the actual story that the animated movie is based off of can be downright sick. Same with “The Fox and the Hound”, the Disney movie may have had its sad moments but it was still a very cute and likable family film, while the original book was a complete joy killer. Let’s not forget about “The Little Mermaid”, after seeing how bright and cheerful that film is, you’d never expect the original Hans Christian Andersen story to be so tragic in the end. “Beauty and the Beast”, really isn’t that much of an exception, the original fairy tale was a relatively dark and cold story about how this fearsome monster held a beautiful woman captive in a castle and would try to force her hand in marriage every night over dinner. The Disney version is a story of redemption, about how a heartless prince was cursed for his cruelty, but would later discover a soul deep within himself, through the kind actions of a woman who fell in love with him. It’s such a great story that has been told throughout the ages and can be traced back to countless other works of literature including “The Phantom of the Opera”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and even “King Kong”. 

     While we never really learn what the beast was a prince of or who he was before being transformed, we do get a back-story which is brilliantly presented to us through stain glass windows, it’s one of my favorite Disney openings of all time. The way we gradually see the beast’s character change from a monster in appearance and temper to a hero at heart is one of the most engaging stories you could give a character and it’s done flawlessly. I especially love the beasts design, almost like a mix between a Werewolf and a yeti.

    On the opposite side of the Beasts story of redemption is our lead heroin Belle, who is hands down one of the greatest female characters to ever come from an animated Disney movie. Belle is stronger, smarter and more independent than any of the clichéd Disney princesses that had come before her, she’s kind and loving but she has her limits and can be firm and tough when the situation requires it. The things that make her good are really good and help her stand out over other princess stereotypes. Every Disney Princess has had their own wants, desires, and what sets Belle apart from them is a need to discover something greater then herself, something impact-full, something she can't even comprehend. That's kind of a deep and inspiring character trait, and it all pays off because what she was looking for came from the last place she expected. Her relationship with Beast is genuinely touching and you honestly believe that these two are gradually falling in love with each other throughout the cores of the film. It’s not like they fall in love automatically, in fact they don’t even like each other at first but the story is so nicely constructed and the characters are so great that it makes for one of the most genuine relationships that a Disney movie has to offer. 

    Her father Maurice is also a nice guy with a good heart but he doesn’t have that much common sense. One minor announce is that we see Belle and her father share a genuine relation but there’s no mention of the mother. This is actually a small announce that applies to every Disney woman from the 90’s renaissance. Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” has relationship problems with her dad and there’s never any mention of her mother, Jasmine from “Aladdin” has a father but there’s no sign of her mother, Pocahontas has a nice relation with her father but again there’s little to no mention of her mother, what’s up with that?

    The supporting characters are also some of Disney’s finest, unlike the supporting characters in later animated Disney movies that would be so wild, in your face and constantly trying to make you laugh, the characters in this film convey so much genuine charm and likability. Lumiere and Cogsworth were great side characters that never felt to over the top or too silly, there just great characters with very lively personalities. I especially love how the two offset each other, Lumiere being the cheerful guy that tries to make things better while Cogsworth just doesn’t want anything to get worse, it makes for a fun little butte team. It’s especially hard not to like Angela Lansbury as the warm and loving Mrs. Potts and her son Chip is also very sweet. It’s just a great collection of characters that I look forward to seeing on repeated viewings.

    The background music is great and the songs themselves are some of the best ever and it's really no surprise that this movie would be adapted into real Broadway Musicale. These songs don't just sound great, they also help movie the story forward like any classic stage production. Belle’s Song” in the opening of the film is a perfect example, rather than just having characters get up and sing a song with one consistent theme, this song introduces us to our lead heroin, what kind of person she is, how this town views her and what the villain aims for. This is what you call "telling a story in musical form", and at the same time, it’s a very fun song, with lots of energy and a lively environment. The song “There may be something there that wasn’t there before”, is a very sweet and simplistic song but it also shows how this relation is gradually developing over the cores of the film. Of cores the movie has its strait forward songs like “Be our Guest”, which is still one of the big highlights of the film. Not only is this song really colorful, energized and unforgettable but it also shows just how grateful these supporting characters are just for getting the chance to serve someone again. My personal favorite song is called “Human Again”, which was a new song added to the special addition of the film. It’s so grand, beautiful and up-beat, with an especially lively environment and a melody that will be stuck in your head for hours after your done listening to it. Naturally the most famous song of all is the “Beauty and the Best song”,  which is arguably one of the greatest songs to come from Disney, with it's soothing melody and unforgettable ballroom scene. There’s also many great renditions of this song, there’s the recent version performed by Jordan Sparks and I especially love the duet version performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. 

    Our lead villain is a man named Gaston and I’ll admit, while he’s not one of my absolute favorite Disney villains, he’s still a perfect villain for this film. He’s more of a realistic villain that doesn’t do wicked things or concoct vileness plans, he's just a small town jerk that wants nothing more then best prizes he can get for himself. But the thing that makes him so great is that he’s just so enjoyably full of himself. There’s a real charm that comes from this guy, how he sings about himself, how he assumes that everything will automatically go his way, he’s just a lot of fun to hate. My favorite moment of his is when he gets a wedding fully prepared with a cake, speaker, guests, everything and he hasn't even proposed yet, he just assumes that a woman would just except a proposal from him and get married right on the spot, that is hilariously selfish. I also like how contrast he is to the Best, where as Gaston looks like the typical lead hero that would normally save the day and the beast at first looks like a monster that should be defeated. 

      Gaston’s also got a side kick named LeFou who’s basically a week and useless oaf, but Gaston keeps him around because he’ll always look better in comparison to him as opposed to another big guy. Gaston also get’s quite a few villain songs, which is cool because most Disney villains are just stuck with one. There’s the “Gaston Song” which just further shows off what an enjoyably, self-absorbed jerk he is and then there’s “The Mob Song” where he rallies the towns people to kill the beast. This song has such an exciting beat and it always got me really energized for the climax.

   The setting of this film is perhaps the most confined I've ever seen in an animated movie, because it all takes place in this single castle. However, the setting never comes off as claustrophobic. The castle is just so lively and magical, as well as really big and just about every open area is brought up on a grand scale. I especially love just how detailed this castle is with all these big statues, gargoyles and tapestries. You could really lose yourself just looking at all the artistry on display here. But the animation in this film goes beyond just being detailed and colorful, it also brings something new to this craft that had never been seen before in an animated movie. When Belle and Beast have their big dance together we have sweeping camera movements in this big 3D, computer generated environment, with traditional hand drawn characters at the center of it. It’s just an amazing looking movie on all grounds and a true spectacle to have viewed back in 1991.

  The film also builds to a relatively strong climax, at first it’s fun Disney flare with the supporting characters taking out the goons, but then things get more intense as the Beast gets into an awesome showdown with Gaston on the rooftop of the castle. With all the statues and levels to cover, it makes for such a cool location for a final showdown. Also, it’s hard to explain why but of all the Disney dual's between a hero and a villain, nothing ever felt quiet as awesome as this.

      Adapting timeless tales to the big screen has always been the legacy of film and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” remains a very important part of that legacy. It’s a classic story about discovering the ugliness of one's life and finding the true beauty hidden deep within. Of how beauty was able to unlock the heart of a beast while still feeling so fresh and new at the same time. Now I’d honestly be lying if I said that this was my absolute favorite to come from the studio but I certainly regard it as one of Disney’s best. It’s a benchmark in the history of animated movies, where they weren’t just cartoons to entertain kids, now they were finally being celebrated as a real art for kids and adults alike. “Beauty and the Beast” further proves that a great film can come from anywhere and that an animated Disney movie can go beyond just a fun experience, it can be a truly great film in its own right. 

                                        I give “Beauty and the Beast” 4½ stars out of 5.
                                                                         The End

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