#56

Beauty and the Beast
(United States, 1991)


Comments:
I didn't see Beauty and the Beast until after it had become the first animated motion picture to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Frankly, I dislike most animation (call it a personality quirk), and, at least until I became a critic, I went out of my way to avoid animated movies. (Before Beauty, I had successfully dodged everything except Snow White, Pinnochio, and The Black Cauldron.) Although Beauty and the Beast didn't completely reform my opinion of big screen cartoons, the 1991 feature upgraded it significantly. I was amazed and astounded at how good the movie was. Two days later, I was back in the same theater, re-watching Beauty and the Beast. I have since seen the film about a dozen times in various locales and formats (including IMAX), have made a few trips to New York City to see the Broadway musical, and have used this film as a springboard to watch nearly every animated Disney picture available on home video (and a few non-Disney titles as well). Traditional animation buffs may scoff at the use of computers, but why not use technology when it can improve? Anime fans may counter that Beauty and the Beast is inferior to some of what has come out of Japan. I don't agree (and I have seen a fair number of anime titles, even though I haven't reviewed them), but everyone's entitled to an opinion. Mine is that Beauty and the Beast is the best animated picture to come out of any studio, American or otherwise.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Belle (voice of Paige O'Hara) is the most beautiful girl in a provincial town in France. Unfortunately for those who might want her as a wife, including the dim, narcissistic Gaston (Richard White), she's also one of the village's oddest denizens. She keeps to herself, helping her inventor father, Maurice (Rex Everhart), with his contraptions, and, in her spare time, devouring books. She has read just about everything available in the town, and eagerly awaits the arrival of anything new. Every time she ventures outdoors, she draws stares and snickers, but, despite her strangeness, Gaston is determined to marry her. Then, one fateful day, her father disappears in the forest. Belle goes searching for him and stumbles upon a dark and scary castle. Venturing inside, she discovers a gallery of magical creatures regular household objects that speak and move. There's Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), a candlestick with impeccable manners and an voice that recalls Maurice Chevalier; Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), a clock with a high impression of himself and his role in the castle; Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), a grandmotherly tea pot; and many others. Then there's the Beast (Robby Benson), the terrifying creature who rules over this domain and holds Maurice captive. Once a handsome prince, he has been cursed to remain a beast until he finds someone who truly loves him in spite of his appearance. Now, he is filled with equal parts hope and dread at Belle's arrival -- hope that she might be "the one" to break the spell, and dread that she might be repulsed by his ugliness. Nevertheless, he agrees to release her father if she accedes to being his permanent guest. She makes the bargain, Maurice is set free, and she is trapped. In time, however, Belle discovers that life in the castle is not as dreadful as it initially seems.

Capsule:
As a romance, Beauty and the Beast is a delightful confection, creating a pair of memorable, three-dimensional characters and giving us reason to root for their union. The real allure of the movie, however, is twofold: the amazingly-detailed animation and a half-dozen spectacular song-and-dance numbers. Of all Disney's "new wave" animated features, this is the most polished-looking. Combining diverse elements, Beauty and the Beast attains a nearly-perfect mix of romance, music, invention, and animation. While many animated features claim to appeal equally to adults and children, Beauty and the Beast is one of the rare ones that actually achieves that lofty goal. It's a family feature that someone over the age of 18 can venture into without an accompanying child. If Disney could once again come close to this level of mastery, movie-going audiences across the world would be forever grateful.

Full Review:
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IMDb Entry:
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