Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (Movie Review)

     

       I can honestly care less about reviewing a direct to video Disney sequel, however, in this case, I want to make an exception. It is the Christmas season, and back in January I did start the year with a review of the 1991 Disney classic “Beauty and the beast”, so it only seems fitting that I close the year with a review of its 1997 sequel titled “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas”. As you’d expect, this film follows suite with a long line of direct to video Disney sequels, which are commonly hated and pore follow ups to their predecessors. This film in many ways is no exception, it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but it’s at least better than most of the forgettable Disney sequels, and has some worthwhile things to offer. Plus, as far as I know, it’s the only Disney sequel that’s actually themed around a holiday.       



     I have to confess, having this movie themed around Christmas may seem random and out of place when compared to the original but I honestly think it helps in this movies favor. All other direct to video Disney sequels are just empty follow-ups to classic movies (with some small exceptions), but this movie has some small chance to exist as its own thing with a subtle splash of Christmas magic. The film plays less like a sequel and more like a prequel or in-between sequel, as the plot takes place somewhere in between the events of the first movie. The story goes like this, its Christmas time at the castle and everyone is cheery, that is with the exception of the Beast who naturally can’t get into the spirit of the holiday. Now it’s up to Belle and friends to get the Beast to see the real meaning and beauty of the holiday. Meanwhile, an evil villain try’s to twist and cloud the beasts mind with misery and envy, all in hopes of preventing our two lead hero’s from falling in love. It’s about as generic as Disney plots go, and it sadly leaves the characters with little to do. Belle is still a great leading heroine but in this film she feels more like a stereotype that will obviously do the right thing, rather than a character with personality and charisma. Things only get worse with Beast, who’s clearly just a stereotypical Mr. Scrooge that will act bitter and grouchy, then learn something meaningful in the end.          
  
      Most of the primary supporting characters from the original are back and while they have little to do in the plot, there still just as charming as ever. Lumiere and Cogsworth (the candle and clock) are still fun to watch and Angela Lansbury respectively reprises her role as Mrs. Potts, which is very welcome. Belle’s father Maurice is given a small background cameo, but then again what else would you expect him to do. The only big cast change is the character Chip, now voiced by Haley Joel Osment, who’s often described as the greatest child actor of his generation. You may wonder why he’d waist his talents on a film like this but on the contrary, he made a career out of doing voice work in Disney sequels. I’m not sure how many he did voice work in, but it was a tone of them. Then there’s some new characters that actually hold their own in the film. There’s a Christmas angle (by that I mean ornament) voiced by famous Broadway star Bernadette Peters and she has her own unique charm. There’s also an amusing little whistle character named Fife voiced by Paul Rubens, that’s the same talent famous for playing Pee Wee Herman.  


      But the best character, or perhaps I should say, the most entertaining character is the villain Forte, voiced by Tim Curry. Do I need to say any more than that, it’s Tim Curry, and he livens up everything. You could have the most passive, one dimensional character in the world and he’ll still make the performance a lot of fun to watch. The animation on him is great and the characters design is especially cool. He’s basically a giant pipe organ with a scary face that reminds me of the face in the magic mirror from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. It’s a good thing he’s fun to watch because his motivations are the stupidest I’ve ever heard, he doesn’t want Beast and Belle to fall in love because that will break the enchantment and Forte refuses to become human again. I guise he enjoys spending eternity as a piano that’s chained to a wall and can’t even leave a single room. Seriously, why wouldn't he want to become human again? His villain song titled “Don’t Fall in Love” is perhaps the most boring and stereotypical villain song I’ve ever heard. Terrible lyrics, dull melody, and adds nothing to the story. Thankfully, Tim Curry still redeems the character by acting so deliciously over the top, especially during the climax, he goes all out with wicked laughter and destructive magic spells. In comparison to the villain Gaston from the first “Beauty and the Beast”, this guy is a million times cartoonier. You could argue that Gaston was sillier but at least he had charisma and even a subtle metaphor at the center, Forte on the other hand is just a hammy villain.


      The musical score in this film is quiet nice to listen to and the individual songs themselves range from surprisingly good to unsurprisingly bland and generic. The movie begins with “Deck the Halls”, performed by a Chorus and that dose a good job putting you in the proper Christmas mind set. There’s a song called “Stories”, which doesn’t really have anything to do with the holiday but it has a nice melody, its up-beat and the scene boasts some really nice animation. The weakest song is called “A Cut Above the Rest”, which is a buddy song for Lumiere and Cogsworth. It could have been passable, but the song itself comes out of no-where and it happens just before the climax. It’s so sudden and abrupt that you can’t help but get annoyed with it. The big musical number of the film is “As Long As There's Christmas”, which I have mixed feelings about. The version that plays during the movie is descent enough, it’s lively and active, even though the lyrics can be a little silly at times. The final version of this song performed by Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack is really good, in fact this version of the song can easily stand on its own as a genuinely great Christmas song that I’d enjoy listening to every year.        


      I know it isn’t fair to compare the animation of a direct to video picture to that of a theatrical motion picture, considering the one film has a much bigger budget then the other. However, there’s one glaring problem that needs to be addressed, especially in comparison to the first movie. If you read my review of that film, I stated that despite being a story that’s seat almost entirely in a castle, it never once felt confined or claustrophobic. Everything was brought up on a grand scale, the backgrounds were beautifully detailed and the surroundings all felt magical and lively. Unfortunately for this movie, it has very empty backgrounds, tight spaces and little to no color. In fact most of the interiors are dark, gloomy and the characters are mostly trapped in shadows. When you mix that with the films slightly harsh tone and constant scenes that feature characters moping, it just makes this film feel empty and joyless. Oh and when I say this film can be harsh, it can actually be really harsh. There’s a scene when Belle falls in a frozen lake, almost drowns and freezes to death, immediately followed by a scene in which Beast locks Belle in a dark and gloomy dungeon while loudly stating that she’ll rote in there for the rest of her miserable life. I just don’t get this movie, didn’t anyone on the righting staff look at this and think it might be a little too harsh.


      The movie tries to redeem itself by addressing virtues like “hope” and “forgiveness”, which to the films credit are done fairly well. Unfortunately the story is just so passive and uneventful that viewers could probably care less. In the first movie, every scene was important and helped build on the story, but the scenes in this film come off as filler. There's also a more detailed flashback of the spell that the enchantress unleashes on the castle, which is cool to see but it doesn't tell us anything that we didn't already know.


      There just isn’t enough depth to this plot to justify its existence, but there is just enough enjoyment that the film can pass as derivative. I will say that of all these really bad direct to video Disney sequels, this one isn’t entirely bad. It does have its good morals, some of the music is pleasant, the villain is a lot of fun and there’s a hand full of genuine holiday charms. This isn’t a good movie by any means, and it doesn’t even touch on the brilliance of its predecessor but at the very least, it’s slightly better than just another bad, direct to video sequel.



           I give “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas” 2 ½ stars out of 5.

              

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