Romantic Masterpiece: Disney's Greatest Film
10 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Beauty and the Beast (1991): Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Rex Everhart, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Jesse Corti, Bradley Pierce, Jo Anne Worley, Mary Kay Bergman, Kath Soucie Kimmy Robertson, Brian Cummings, Tony Jay, Alvin Epstein, Frank Welker, Scott Barnes, Bruce Adler, Jack Angel, Vanna Bonta....

Disney entered the 1990's with "Beauty and the Beast", by far their most unabashedly romantic film and for many viewers, their all-time greatest achievement. There is so much to admire and love about this terrific film which was adored by the critics and hailed as an instant classic at the time of its release in 1991. It was so loved that it became the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. The 18th century French fairy-tale is given a twist to cater to a more modern audience A selfish and heartless prince (Robby Benson) falls victim to an enchantress' curse and is transformed into a beast. His castle is bewitched and even his domestics are turned into household objects such as candelabras, clocks, feather dusters, teacups and kitchen utensils. Only the love of a woman can redeem the prince and only when she sees past the monster and into his humanity can he become human again. Enter Belle (Paige 0'Hara)the beautiful single daughter of an old and eccentric inventor Maurice (Rex Everhart) who lives in a small town in rural France. Belle stands out from the other townsfolk in her fondness for books, her individuality and her intellect. Bored of provincial life, she longs for "adventure in the great wide somewhere". She's pursued by Gaston (Richard White) a hunky but vain, self-absorbed and wicked hunter who wants to marry Belle and make her his "trophy wife". When Maurice sets off to sell his new invention to a fair, he becomes lost in the woods and stumbles into the Beast's castle. Before long he becomes his prisoner. Belle comes to the rescue but in order to save her father she must replace him as the Beast's prisoner. What ensues is a "tale as old as time". Despite his monstrousness, Belle learns to see past all that and in time tames the Beast herself. Their relationship is based on respect for one another as human beings, exemplified when Beast saves Belle's life and she in turn saves his. But it's not long before the villagers discover the Beast's existence and Gaston leads a murderous mob to attack the castle. The late Broadway singer Jerry Orbach provides comic relief as Lumiere, an amorous French candelabra and David Ogden Stiers portrays the stuffy British clock Cogsworth. Broadway icon and British actress Angela Lansbury portrays the kindly voice of reason, Mrs. Potts and young Bradley Pierce portrays her son Chip. Jesse Corti plays Lefou, Gaston's awkward and goofy sidekick. These minor characters, purely there for comic relief and cuteness, not only entertains younger audiences but they are so wonderfully portrayed by the actor's voices that even adults can enjoy them. It is through voices that can act as well as sing (Paige O'Hara, Richard White, Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury are all Broadway singers) in harmony with a solid plot and superior animation that this film truly shines. Beauty and the Beast still ranks as Disney's all-time greatest after 16 years. In fact, Disney does not make films like this anymore, owing to the excess use of computer graphics which can often dominate the story itself. Shortly after the success of the film, a Broadway musical was made, one that is still enjoyed to this date. And this film contains many wonderful song numbers: "Belle" - a gossip song as the villagers follow Belle on her way to the bookstore, "Gaston" sung by Gaston and his drinking buddies in his honor, "Be Our Guest" as the enchanted castle's staff entertains Belle for dinner, "Something There" a duet sung by the leads as they begin to fall in love and the title song "Beauty and the Beast" sung by Mrs. Potts as the newfound friends waltz beneath an opulent chandelier. This romantic song was popularized when a young Celine Dion, not yet a major star, sang a duet with Peabo Bryson for the soundtrack. With its theme of beauty found within, a woman's courage and virtue rewarded, the movie is also a sort of women's empowerment film for girls. Belle, the first Disney princess of the 90's, is strong, resourceful and dares to be different. Far from being a damsel in distress, it is she who rescues the Beast from doom and fights the villain Gaston by firmly renouncing him as a lover. Brilliant music and songs by Alan Menken and a splendid cinematography that used stunning computer-graphic art for such scenes as the ballroom waltz, this film was ahead of its time and marked the beginning of the great Disney films of the 90's - Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame and others, all which used special effects made of computer graphic art. For this film, animators drew inspiration from Romantic 19th century art(Fragonard and Bouche) and from Loire Valley castles. Animators also drew from Cocteau's 1946 live-action version. The look of this film, the attention to detail, is a real winner and it's a pity that Disney does not return to pure animation. For me, this is the zenith of Disney animation and a representation of classic Disney at its best in the 1990's. This is a wonderful film for both young and old and looks as great as it ever did, thanks to restorations as seen on the new DVD version, where you can enjoy seeing how the film was made and scenes that were never part of the original theatrical release. Enjoy this romantic classic today with a date or with the whole family.
10 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.

Recently Viewed