Beauty and the Beast (1991)

31 Jan


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Beauty and the Beast” may just be the greatest animated movie I’ve seen. It’s certainly the finest I’ve seen, but it deserves a spot on any list of all-time great movies. I really think it’s that good. It’s a wonderfully told, great-looking, joyfully-animated movie that has the same magic as other great Disney animated features such as “Snow White,” “Pinocchio,” and “The Little Mermaid,” but the movie may just be something more.

The “beauty” of the movie’s title is a beautiful young woman named Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara), who lives in a French provincial town where she is the oddball and everybody knows it. The locals can’t believe that a woman of her beauty keeps to herself, cares for her inventor father Maurice (Rex Everhart), is obsessed with books and stories, and wants “more than this provincial life,” as her opening song suggests. The town’s handsomest man—a narcissistic, buffoonish hunter named Gaston (Richard White)—believes he should have the town’s most beautiful girl and sets out to marry Belle, who is repelled by him.

Maurice goes on a journey through the mysterious forest nearby and loses his way, leading him to the dark castle of the Beast. The Beast is a monstrous, uncompassionate, half-man/half-wolf creature who takes Maurice as his prisoner. When Belle finds him, she begs to take his place. We already know the origins of the Beast, explained in opening narration over a series of pictures on stain-glass windows. The Beast was a handsome but horrid prince whose cruelty got him into trouble with a witch, who transformed him into the Beast and everyone living in the castle into household objects—the butler is now a candlestick and the maid is now a teapot, for example. The only way to reverse the spell if the Beast can love and be loved in return before a magic rose, held in the west wing of the castle, wilts away.

Belle and Beast start off unpleasantly. His attitude is hostile towards her and she finds life in the castle very dreary. But with help of the helpful live objects, they learn to accept one another. As their relationship develops further, so does their romance as they realize they start to love each other, despite their differences. But Gaston will not stand for it as he rallies the whole town to come to kill the Beast and take Belle back.

“Beauty and the Beast” provides a pair of memorable, three-dimensional characters to follow, making this romance into a wonderful tale. Belle is not like all the other Disney animated heroines, and hardly like any animated heroine as far as I’m concerned. She’s independent, bright, strong-willed, kind, free-spirited, and is beautiful but doesn’t flaunt it. She doesn’t care about how she looks and doesn’t share Gaston’s logic (or lack of logic) that beautiful people should be together. All the other women in this movie are dim-witted and constantly swooning over men. Belle just keeps her nose in the books and doesn’t bat an eye when confused passersby notice her as the odd one in the neighborhood. When Gaston comes on to her, she turns him down, not taking any of his bull. And when she sees the Beast, she’s admittedly frightened of his appearance, but lets down her defense and sees the Beast for whom he could be, and who she could help make him to be. Belle is a perfect leading character for this story, and the animators do great jobs at creating her facial expressions—happiness, sadness, fear, anger, skepticism, and concern.

Now the Beast—there’s something monstrous and frightening about his giant stature, long brown fur, giant fanged teeth, beast-like walk, and deep roaring voice, but there can also be something worth caring for. The Beast learns he can genuinely love and even makes his own sacrifice to show his true nature and win Belle’s heart.

The supporting characters are memorable—every single one of them. The father Maurice is enjoyable in how curious he is about everything (his reactions to the enchantments of the castle are winning). The household objects that have personalities really take advantage of their screen time. There’s a candlestick named Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) who has a sophisticated manner and a welcoming personality (although I have to ask—why is he the only one in this movie with a French accent?); a clock named Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers) who has a nervous, uptight personality and likes to keep things in control; a kindly teapot named Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury); Mrs. Potts’ young son Chip (Bradley Pierce), now a little teacup; and a footrest that acts as the castle’s dog. All of these characters deliver many wonderful moments, including an exciting musical number called “Be Our Guest” in which they make Belle feel right at home.

Then there’s the villain Gaston—I love this guy. His idea of logic just cracks me up with laughter. He doesn’t know he’s being ridiculous in thinking that since Belle is the most beautiful woman in town, he should marry her. Everyone else in that town thinks the same way, and besides, he’s the town hero. He could be the lead character of another movie—he’s charming, good-looking, and heroic. But here, he doesn’t get his way and the more he resorts to, the more of a beast he becomes, leading to a necessary line delivered by Belle about the Beast—“He’s no monster, Gaston—you are!”

The voiceover work is perfect. Paige O’Hara gives likeability and personality to Belle; Richard White is deliciously despicable as Gaston; Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, and Angela Lansbury are all fantastic; and then there’s the actor voicing the Beast—if you told me Robby Benson, the wimpy, wispy actor from films such as “One on One,” provided the voice for the Beast, I wouldn’t have believed it. In fact, I didn’t even know that it was Robby Benson until I saw the credits. And to be honest, he’s excellent in this movie!

Now that I’ve talked about the memorable characters, I should get to an important topic—the animation. This is some of the best looking animation I’ve seen in a movie. It’s amazing that the animators pay attention to every detail. There’s a great, polished look to the film that helps make it inviting. The settings are drawn perfectly, especially the castle which looks unbelievably amazing. There’s a neat gothic exterior that looks like something out of the best haunted-house movies—it’s just incredible. And I should also point out a central sequence in which Belle and Beast dance in the ballroom—using computer-generated backgrounds with hand-drawn characters, there’s an extraordinary shot that works as a crane shot, moving all over the room as the two dance. It’s moments like this that make this look as real as live-action.

Then there are the songs/musical numbers—music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, both of whom worked on the music for “The Little Mermaid.” These are some of the best, most memorable songs in any Disney movie, and the production numbers are well-drawn, well-timed, and outstanding. There’s the opening number “Belle,” the villain’s theme “Gaston,” the joyous “Be Our Guest,” the observant, lighthearted song “Something There,” and the lovely, slow, noteworthy title ballad “Beauty and the Beast.”

It’s hard to resist loving “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s a perfect mix of characters, romance, music, enchantment, and animation. I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying this movie—kids will love its energy and spirit; adults will get even more from it. It’s a great family film that provides great entertainment.

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