BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

1991; directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise; adapted by Linda Woolverton, Kelly Asbury, Brenda Chapman, Tom Ellery, Kevin Harkey, Robert Lence, Burny Mattinson, Brian Pimental, Joe Ranft, Chris Sanders and Bruce Woodside; 85 mins

In anticipation (for want of a better word) of Disney’s Emma Watson co-starring Beauty and the Beast, I caught up with the 1991 animated version, which I couldn’t remember whether I’d seen or not. Having now seen it, I think I did but it would’ve been 20 years ago or more. Is it the rediscovered masterpiece that people are saying it is? No, But it’s pretty damn good!

Belle is a young woman living in rural France, tired of the provincial life, considered an oddball by the local villagers, particularly because of her disinterest in marriage. Almost everyone thinks she should be marrying local blowhard, Gaston. Most of all, Gaston thinks she should be marrying Gaston.

One evening, Belle’s eccentric inventor father, Maurice, gets lost in the woods and finds himself trespassing on a dark and dingy castle ruled over by the Beast, who catches and imprisons him, never to leave! Belle finds out and offers herself as a sacrifice so her father can go free. The Beast agrees and their mutual animosity morphs into a love story…

Interestingly, for all the star wattage being thrust at the remake, this is one of the last Disney movies to not rely on celebrity. The biggest names here, really, are Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts and Jerry Orbach as Lumiere. Disney was still the big brand that sold the movie and still is, although five bloody plugs for Disney on the DVD before the film even starts smacks of desperation!

Credit should absolutely go to the voice work of Robby Benson as The Beast. Even as an adult, I found the anger in his voice a little scary. Also, the steps of transformation in the voice compliment the animation really nicely, particularly in the scene where The Beast is instructed by his servants on how best to ask Belle to dinner.

Problems: Lefou isn’t funny. He’s just annoying. Though his role is important, he could’ve been better written. That isn’t a snobbish dig against comedy sidekicks, by the way! On this blog, we love ’em! The CGI animation looks a bit dated now, although the ballroom scene is still utterly enchanting and the some of the songs and musical routines kind of remind you why we all got fed up with that cliche. That being said, no other reservations at all with the animation which has that wonderful, tactile feel of hand-drawn pencil lines and brush strokes!

On the whole, though, it does still stand up as entertaining, engaging and intelligent storytelling that, much like Eyes Without a Face, has a positive message about body image and being yourself regardless. In an old-fashioned sense, it’s also Hollywood screenwriting at it’s best because it places the story first and the themes are interwoven with the ABC narrative rather than foregrounding a whole load of THEMES for audiences to stroke their chins at and then bunging some set-pieces in to distract us. It’s a very satisfyingly full movie experience that belies it’s short run time.

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