Cinematic Heaven: Beauty & The Beast

Beauty & The Beast | Gary Truesdell & Kirk Wise, 1991

When I rewatch a movie that I grew up with, no matter what the quality is, I know that I’m unlikely to have a change of heart about it because of nostalgia, as proven by my recent review of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and my review of Pokemon: The First Movie. Beauty & The Beast was one of the few Disney movies that I had not watched during my childhood, so when I watched it a couple of years ago for the first time, it was possible that I would not find it as endearing as others have. However, from the moment the first music cue kicked in, and the story behind the beast was told, I knew that I was in for something special. And so, Beauty & The Beast became one of my favorite movies of all time.

The movie tells the classic tale of proving that true beauty can be found on the inside. After seeing the story of how a prince got turned into the beast (set to hauntingly beautiful music by Alan Menke), we get to know Belle (Paige O’Hara). She is the daughter of an inventor named Maurice (Rex Everhart). She is the talk of the town because she likes to read (gasp!) and because she is not interested in Gaston (Richard White), who is the town’s token narcissist.

One day, Maurice heads to an invetor’s fair, but gets lost and ends up being attacked by wolves. While trying to run away, he reaches a mysterious castle. He goes in because he needs a place to stay the night, and meets the enchanted residents of the castle, among them Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), and Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury). They welcome him, but is not aware of the other resident, the angry prince that got turned into a beast (Robby Benson). He’s not pleased, so he takes maurice as his prisoner.

The next day, Maurice’s horse arrives home and Belle goes out to look for her dad, once she does, she sacrifices her liberty by saying that she will be the beast’s prisoner in exchange for her father’s freedom. But the beast accepted only because he is hoping that she will be the one that falls in love with him and so the curse that turned him will break. Meanwhile, Gaston is plotting to make Belle his no matter what.

What makes the movie so great, is not so much the story as it has been told many times by the time this was released, Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête being the definitive version of the story. But rather, how it tells the story is what made it an instant classic, and the first animated movie to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. First off, there is the music. Like I said, from the first music cue of Alan Menke’s haunting melody that accompanies the beast’s backstory, I was hypnotized. And from then on, the songs, from “Belle” to the fantastic “Beauty and the Beast” keep the story going with its catchy tunes and perfectly written lyrics. I dare you to watch this and resist humming “Be Our Guest” all day. As far as the performances, everyone fits their character perfectly, and add to the greatness of the music.

Then there is the animation. Beauty & the Beast is almost 20 years old, and it still has some of the best animation ever captured on film. The character design is fantastic, the landscapes are breathtaking, the use of the animation and CGI is brilliant, and the colors really pop. This is even more visible in the recent Blu-ray release of the movie. You cans see the brushstrokes in the background, the outline of the characters, everything! Short of a theatrical viewing of a restored print, the BD is the absolute way to see this masterpiece.

Beauty & the Beast is one of Disney’s true masterpieces and one of the most perfect examples on the magic of animation.  It goes beyond being one of the best animated movies, musicals, or animated musicals, to be one of the greatest movies, period.

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