The best of Disney
11 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers

Before approaching Beauty and the Beast it is worth mentioning that this is a movie which Disney himself had always intended to make before his death. The finished product I should imagine would fail to disappoint even he himself the most intimidating of perfectionists.

What separates this particular Disney offering from the usual litany of animated boy meets girl stories previously is the particularly deft and mature characterisation. We have always come to expect charming and technically leading animation from Disney, but the characters themselves are what sets this movie apart as a jewel in the studio's crown.

Belle is a truly contemporary and cerebral heroine, beset by a life that offers little to her aspiring imagination and intelligence. The small village in which she lives with her father seems to be a place in which she does not fit. She is looked upon as a crank because her passion is reading. Her father is viewed as insane because of his quirky inventions.

Beast is by far the most deep and complex Disney character to date. He is not a perfect prince, far from it- but rather a fallen man, and the product of his own misfortune. Filled with bitterness and cynicism, he exists in a damned world of his own creation and must endure the limbo that surrounds him as a result of his selfish choices in life. Pride has led to his great fall and hope has deserted him.

From the outside the viewer feels the plight of both of the lead characters and it is a joy to watch both characters come together, not in the usual Disney formula of a magic kiss, but a real relationship with real pitfalls and real emotional challenges.

We witness lonely bookworm Belle finding that books can not be judged by their cover, finding a true friend for the first time in her life, and ultimately true love. Beast's gradual redemption ensues and he discovers the error of his ways, and abandons his defences and even his sense of self in order to truly love Belle.

The music delights and the animation charms with a surrounding plethora of delightful supporting characters which appeal to both children and adults alike. Villain and all round sexist boor Gaston adds some comic relief and grotesque cave-man charm in his desire for Belle whom he views as another beautiful hunting trophy for the wall of his lodge.

The musical aspect of the movie is astoundingly well written and performed. Each song lends something unique to the movie as a whole without detracting or seeming unintuitive to the storyline.

One of the most charming things about this movie is that its French origins have not been eliminated by Disney, but incorporated into a colourful backdrop for a story that will stand the test of time.

This movie has so many personal high points for me that I wish I could mention them all. It contains one of the greatest pieces of animation I have ever seen in the Beast's transformation at the end of the film. Beast emerges from his seeming demise magically and changes to his staggeringly beautiful human form almost resembling Michaelangelo's David emerging from the marble. This ending is a fitting climax to a great work of both animation and storytelling.

In conclusion this is an unmissable slice of classic animation, served up so beautifully that future generations will keep coming back for more. Beauty and the Beast was well deserving of it's Best Picture nomination, for here at last is a Disney story which will stand the test of time and melt the heart of even the most cynical beast.

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