Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Let’s begin by agreeing with most people by saying this movie is great. But Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a curiosity too.

It’s a very traditional Hollywood kind of movie that was also the beginning of a wildly imaginative, and technologically new, wave of big screen animation.

It’s success didn’t simply herald a new focus on commercial animation, it also helped fuel an interest in animation generally, which helped open things up for less traditional animation. Not that these others were in any way connected with Disney-style animation but by simply creating a wider interest in the form it generated more possibilities.

(Let’s face it: for good or ill, for the average person animation means the Disney.)

But I’m way off topic now … To return, this kind of film is difficult for me to assess because I’m just not the audience it’s intended for. Without children, without a North American family to create a context for seeing the film, I’m really not the person to judge how successful it is since it’s not really trying to appeal to me.

Still, it does appeal. And this is a wonder since it’s a kind of film I normally have little interest in. For one thing, it’s essentially a musical (animated though it is) and I generally don’t care for them. It is also a muted film in the sense it knows it can’t be too dark and violent or sexy (given it’s audience). This means a lot of the aspects of the fairy tale itself are ignored. It’s a movie that has to be nice.

Normally this means an emasculated movie. But in this instance, that doesn’t happen. The reason, I think, is largely the music. In its historical context (1991) you would think it would be the animation but, remarkable though this is, it’s the music that draws you in and holds because, frankly, all the songs are tenaciously memorable and the lyrics are brilliantly witty.

The story itself jumps from scene to scene almost as a series of non-sequitors. But this is okay because the music captures and carries you along so the great narrative leaps are barely noticed.

The other big thing the movie has going for it is the core of the story (as opposed to the jumpy narrative). It’s very hard to lose when you’re working with a love story, especially one about mismatched characters where both are essentially outsiders. It’s a story people want to hear over and over again because almost everyone identifies with those feelings. (A similar story, Shrek, was also hugely successful.) Of course, this assumes the film is well made and the story is well told.

Disney, to their credit, have put together a fabulous DVD with their Beauty and the Beast Special Edition. It’s what special editions should be. It provides no less than three versions of the film (special edition, original theatrical, and work-in-progress edition) and enough features and games to keep anyone occupied for hours, maybe days.

In the Special Edition version of the film, they’ve incorporated an additional musical number (which turns out to be one of the best songs, “Human Again“), while also restoring the film in a high definition transfer – the quality is spectacular.

Disney is such an odd company. Sometimes you want to shake your fist at them, cry “Money-grubbing corporate s.o.b.’s,” … then they do something like this and you think, “Gee, someone actually gets it.”

This special edition suggests that someone, somewhere in the Disney monolith understands Walt Disney, and understands what a DVD can and should be, and why people buy them. Because the film is good, I would give it four stars but I have to kick it up to a five out of five because this really is a template for what DVDs should be .

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