9/10
A Transporting Experience
11 December 2001
Indeed, it's a tale as old as time, with a complex message that is as ageless as it is universal; but beneath all the layers it can be summed up very simply: love one another, and refrain from judging others who `seem' to be `different.' And leave it to Disney to present it in such a way that it can be embraced and understood by young and old alike as they have here, in one of their best animated features ever, `Beauty and the Beast,' directed by Gary Trousdale. When a young Prince fails the test of an enchantress disguised as an old hag, she transforms him into a hideous beast, as he is destined to remain until he opens his heart and learns how to love and be loved in return. And so that he'll know where he stands as time goes by, she gives him an enchanted rose, which will bloom until his twenty-first birthday, and he has only until the last petal falls from the flower to effect the change within himself that will be his salvation.

The beast, however, seems doomed, as he shuts himself away, alone in his castle, taking up a reclusive existence far from everyone and everything. Until, one day, a beautiful young woman named Belle shows up at his doorstep. Belle is searching for her inventor father, Maurice, who disappeared while taking one of his latest inventions to the fair; and his trail leads Belle to the castle of the Beast, where she discovers he is being held prisoner, having run afoul of the Beast by trespassing while lost during the night of his journey. Repulsed by the appearance of the Beast, Belle nevertheless strikes a bargain with him: If he will release her father, she will stay in his place. The Beast agrees, with the stipulation that she must remain with him forever. And as the Beast casts Belle's father from the castle and sends him on his way, Belle's fate seems sealed. The only hope now for either Belle or the Beast lies in the remote possibility that true love may somehow prevail before the last petal of the enchanted rose falls.

With the help of a richly textured screenplay (by Linda Woolverton) that invests the characters with a depth of humanity that is often lacking even in `non' animated films, and an Oscar winning score by Alan Menken, director Trousdale provides some real insights into human nature in this retelling of the familiar story of how true love can change even the darkest and coldest of hearts. There's magic in this film, which holds an enchantment of it's own, and the message is presented ever so subtly and with a sensitivity that draws you in gradually until you are so caught up in the story that you become immersed and totally involved without being consciously aware of it. It's a film that enfolds you and takes you where it will, and you go willingly. A beautifully rendered and realized film that successfully transcends it's genre, it is the first animated feature ever to be recognized and rewarded with an Oscar nomination for Best Movie (quite a feat in itself, as it received the nod over such films as `The Fisher King,' `Fried Green Tomatoes,' `Thelma and Louise' and John Singleton's `Boyz N the Hood' that year).

The talented cast supplying the voices of the characters includes Paige O'Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (The Beast), Richard White (Gaston), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), Bradley Pierce (Chip), Rex Everhart (Maurice), Jesse Corti (LeFou), Hal Smith (Phillipe), Jo Ann Worley (Wardrobe), Brian Cummings (Stove), Alvin Epstein (Bookseller) and Kimmy Robertson (Featherduster). There's a scene in this film that is so entrancing and so emotionally involving that it stands up against the best from any drama ever made: As Angela Lansbury (as Mrs. Potts) sings the Oscar winning title song, Belle begins to perceive the true nature of the man within the Beast; and it's no longer the cold-hearted Prince upon whom the enchantress cast her spell, because he has changed. And as they come together and the Beast takes Belle in his arms, sweeping her in dance across the elegant ballroom floor, it becomes one of those rare cinematic `moments' that are entirely transporting, and it does, indeed, take you away. It's a memorable scene that exemplifies the quality and craftsmanship of this film, as does the scene in which the Beast is at last transformed; that such emotion can be captured and expressed in an animated film is an exemplary accomplishment, and it's all a part of why `Beauty and the Beast' is one of Disney's all time greatest films.

One final note: Stay for the credits to hear Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's title song once again, this time performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. Hypnotically beautiful, this version has a magic all it's own and makes the perfect ending to an enchanting experience. It's all a part of the magic of the movies. I rate this one 9/10.
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