Thursday, March 16, 2017

Movie Review: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

Beauty and the Beast (1991) is a classic Disney animated feature that tells the story of a beautiful girl in a small town in France who gets entangled with a prince and his servants who had been previously transformed into a ferocious beast and a variety of household objects. The film is distinguished for being the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and remains a staple of the Disney princess cannon. The film is directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise and stars Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, and Angela Lansbury.

Beauty and the Beast was assuredly a childhood staple of mine. Coming out the year I was born, I don’t remember a world without this animated classic, a status it has certainly earned over the course of many years. The film is gorgeously animated and magnetic throughout, transporting you to an interesting world with a brilliantly fast paced narrative. The film very much stays within its bounds, however, and fails to find emotional threads to move you like many of the great animated films of years gone by.

I think what is most obviously effective in the film is the animation and the music. The film is a gorgeous piece of 2D animation and is one of the early animated films to incorporate computer animated effects in particular scenes. Some 26 years later every frame of the animation in this film retains its stunning beauty. It is colorful and always has something to draw the eye and manages to incorporate certain visual stylings that transport you to the specific time and place depicted.

On top of the quality animation, the music in this film is incredible. In musicals it is essential that the songs be captivating and catchy so that the audience gets on board with the absurdity of the execution of these elements in a narrative film as well as getting them on board with the tempo the film wants to run at. Beauty and the Beast nails this in every way. From the revealing opening number “Belle,” to the fun “Gaston,” to the moving “Beauty and the Beast” this soundtrack is one of the most compelling in the Disney canon (and I could name even more from this film to bolster this case). It has a perfect combination of tempo and temperament to fully engage the audience and intrigue them and keep them singing the songs for years to come.

In addition to the main strengths of the film, it also has fairly compelling characters in a narrative that functions mostly effectively. As the movie says, this is a “tale as old as time” and it really stays within those tropes but populates its world with interesting figures that pop off the screen. And not just the likes of Belle, Gaston, and the Beast, but also the side characters like Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and Chip as well. There is someone in here for everyone and that makes it an inherently re-watchable film that is easy to engage with.

The problems with Beauty in the Beast are limited but arise largely out of its failure to really go anywhere with its premise. It is a very classic story but it fails to break through any of those conventions to make the film more interesting or relatable. It executes well, but it doesn’t make an effort to reach out to the audience beyond what is already there and thus only does reach out in limited respects. Further, with a very short sub-ninety-minute runtime, Beauty and the Beast also doesn’t have any time to breathe. It moves along quickly but the ideas and situations presented are really pushed through rather than being dealt with deliberately. This left me wanting more out of this film that worked for me as a child but much less so as an adult.

Overall, Beauty and the Beast is an animation staple and rightly so. It is a delightful film that keeps the audience throughout and remains a favorite that I could pop in at any time and just enjoy myself. It’s not perfect, but it is certainly very strong.

Ryan’s Score: 8/10

Also check out Lisa's review of this from Family Movie Night back in January!

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