by D.W. Lundberg

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: Beauty And The Beast (1991; based on La Belle et la Bête by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont)

The Plot: A young prince, turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress's spell, finds redemption through the love of a beautiful girl.

The Songs: "Belle," "Gaston," "Be Our Guest," "Something There," "Human Again" (Special Edition), "Beauty And The Beast," "The Mob Song," "Beauty And The Beast (End Title)"

A Little History: Fresh off the success of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937), Walt Disney considered adapting La Belle et la Bête into feature-length format, but couldn't settle on a proper treatment. During the 1950s, a second attempt to turn the fairy tale into a feature film also failed to see the light of day. Then in 1989, Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg decided to resurrect the project in the style of a Broadway musical, à la The Little Mermaid. Katzenberg and CEO Michael Eisner hired Linda Woolverton to write the script, and brought Mermaid co-composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman on board for song and score duties. First-time directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale then worked closely with Woolverton, Menken, Ashman and producer Don Hahn to whip their Beauty into fighting shape. The screenplay borrows several elements from Jean Cocteau's 1946 version of the story, including inanimate objects which spring to life from enchantment, and a preening villain who vies for Beauty's affections; it was Ashman's idea, however, to give each of the castle's residents a distinct personality. The songs were recorded live, with the cast and orchestra performing together, to capture the feel of a full-scale Broadway production. (One song, "Human Again," was dropped due to time constraints but was later reinstated for the 2002 Special Edition.) Beauty And The Beast is Disney's second animated feature to make extensive use of the CAPS system; computer-generated backgrounds were combined with traditional animation to mimic swooping camera movement, most notably during the centerpiece ballroom sequence. Disney premiered a "Work-In-Progress" edition of the movie at the New York Film Festival in September 1991, one-third of which consisted of storyboards, pencil tests and computer animation tests. Even in this unfinished form, the film drew a standing ovation from audience members. It opened in U.S. theaters on November 22, and became the third highest-grossing movie of the year, behind Terminator 2 and Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. It is dedicated to Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS complications eight months before the film's release. Also won Oscars for Best Score (Alan Menken) and Best Song ("Beauty And The Beast," music by Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman).

How It Broke New Ground: The first Animated Classic to feature fully-rendered CGI backgrounds in conjunction with traditionally-animated characters. Also the first of Disney's Classics developed from an actual screenplay (rather than a series of storyboards), the first animated movie to cross the $100 million mark in U.S. theaters (final tally: $145,863,363), and the first to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. (It lost to Jonathan Demme's The Silence Of The Lambs).

How It Holds Up Today: "The most beautiful love story ever told," the ads proclaimed, and with that kind of shameless self-promotion, Disney was hard-pressed to deliver on its promises. (This was, after all, the studio's much-heralded return to the musical format, after reverting to formula for The Rescuers Down Under.) Yet an entire generation of fans weaned themselves on this particular version of the story, and no wonder - it's Disney's brightest, freshest, most effervescent concoction in over three decades. Everyone really hit their stride with this one: The plot (credited to ten people!) is so tightly structured it's a model of efficiency, the character design (James Baxter's oblivious-to-her-own-beauty Belle, Glen Keane's loutish-but-lovable Beast, Andreas Deja's dashing/ despicable Gaston) is at once iconic and thematically rich, and the songs... holy crap, the songs! Has there ever been a lusher, more Broadway- savvy song score in the history of animation? Belle, too, is the strongest of all Disney heroines - she's smart, she knows what she wants and goes after it, and she's not a pushover like many a Princess before her. Like the movie itself, she's everything everyone else should aspire to.

Grade: A


Hang on, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & CompanyThe Little Mermaid, and The Rescuers Down Under. Please comment!

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