Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Film Review: Beauty & the Beast

"Beauty & the Beast"  *** (out of ****)

I was eight years old when Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" (1991) was released. I don't think I saw it in theatres. My parents didn't usually take me to see animated movies, as I really didn't like them. I preferred live action, but, I do remember the buzz and excitement surrounding this movie at the time.

"Beauty & the Beast" marked a return to form for Disney. The studio had just come off the successful "The
Little Mermaid" (1989), which I did see in a movie theatre, and hit audiences with a one-two punch. You will find many defenders of this movie. Even those who would say it is better than "The Little Mermaid" and compare it to Disney classics such as "Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), the first full length animated movie.

Just about everything in this movie is wonderful. I like all of the characters; Belle (voiced by Paige O' Hara) a bookworm who lives in a small provincial French town. She feels like an outsider. She wants adventure in her life, hence her love of books. She reads about going to far off places and love stories with princes.

There is also Gaston (Richard White) the town hunk I suppose, who finds Belle attractive but can't stop admiring his own looks every time he passes a mirror. At one time, in a song, he sings Belle is almost as beautiful as he is. Then there is his sidekick, Lefou (French for "fool" voices by Jesse Corti), who is amusing as well, and sings an ode to Gaston, citing everything that makes Gaston great, such as his strength and ability to spit far.

Belle's father, Maurice (Rex Everhart) is an inventor, who dreams of becoming famous, if only one of his machines would work and not blow up their home.

The song are great. From Belle's opening number, explaining her desire for more out of life and the town's feeling that she is odd, to the Gaston number, to perhaps the most famous song in the movie, "Be Our Guest". The music is an absolute delight and have lasted the test of time with their catchy melodies.

The only thing that prevents me from giving a higher rating is I wasn't emotionally drawn in to this story. Everyone should be familiar with the plot, it revolves around a spoiled prince who was turned into a beast after an ugly beggar offered him a rose if she could seek shelter. The rose she handed him was magical, and serves as a hour glass. Within ten years the petals on the rose will wilt, and when the final petal falls, he shall remain a beast and his castle shall never be lifted from this curse. The only way to break it is if he learns to love and his love is returned.

Maurice, one day traveling into town, gets lost on a dark and stormy night and seeks shelter in the beast's castle, where he finds a talking clock, Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), a talking candlestick, Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) and a talking tea pot, Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury). But when the Beast (Robby Benson) finds Maurice, he throws him in a prison in the castle's tower. When Belle discovers this, she offers to take her father's place.

The question is can Belle be the woman the Beast has been waiting for? Can she see beyond his looks and learn to love him? Can the Beast love Belle?

The theme here is finding beauty within and never walk into a castle with a talking candlestick. But as is usual in our culture it also re-enforces the stereotype that all women care about is a man's heart. Women are able to see the beauty within whereas a man can only notice beauty on the outside. There is Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and not to mention countless TV shows where fat ugly men marry beautiful, skinny women (King of Queens).

Also the theme of following your heart, not settling for "your place in life". Belle can marry Gaston and lead a boring life with him and have children but she doesn't want that.

But, I wasn't drawn into the romance between the Beast and Belle. My sympathy never went to the Beast. I didn't truly feel sorry for him. I wasn't actively rooting for their romance. My heartstrings weren't being pulled.

Animation can touch me. I am able to become emotionally involved. There is a scene in "Dumbo" when Dumbo visits his mother, who is locked away because she is accused of being a violent animal. Dumbo will never see her again. And even in this scene, doesn't really get to see her. Only her trunk as it slides between the prison bars, and she holds Dumbo, with her trunk as a beautiful song plays in the background. I can't watch that movie ever again because I don't know if I see that scene again if I'll be able to stop myself from crying. There is nothing in "Beauty & the Beast" that is as touching. As moving. It needed that.

Still, the animation is beautiful. There is a scene, when we first meet Belle, as she walks out of her house, the colors on the scene change becoming very vivid. Watching this movie in the age of CGI I have to admit was a bit odd for me. I am so use to seeing Pixar and Dreamworks animation, the hand drawn style seemed odd to me. It took my eyes a while to adjust. But there is true artistry in it.

"Beauty & the Beast" was the first animated movie to be nominated for a best picture Oscar but lost that year to "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991). Disney continued their commercial success track record with "Aladdin" (1992) and "The Lion King" (1994) after this.

There is a lot to enjoy watching "Beauty & the Beast". Children will have a good time and so will some adults. The animation is beautiful, the songs a pleasure, the characters fun, I just wanted more heart.