Beauty and the Beast is the epitome of a Disney fairy tale musical, complete with magic mirror, enchanted castle, magical rose, bleak curse, stunning animation, and Oscar-winning music of the highest order. Though preceded by The Little Mermaid, this was the undeniable sign that the Disney Renaissance was well under way and that animated musicals could be taken seriously, even nominated for Best Picture.
First off, the animation is gorgeous, a combination of traditionally animated characters and certain CGI backgrounds that allow for some astoundingly beautiful moments, like the famous ballroom dance beneath the chandelier. While Hunchback and Tarzan had similarly striking visuals, Beauty and the Beast was one of the first Disney films to possess a smoothness of line and motion unseen in strictly hand-drawn features thanks to a new CAPS technology (technically, The Rescuers Down Under was the first).
The beauty of the animation is matched only by the music, which garnered two of Alan Menken’s well-deserved Oscars for Best Score and Best Song. From the very first musical number incorporating Belle, Gaston, and the entire village, my VC could tell that this was not a typical cartoon with tunes, but a new breed of Broadway-quality musical that was sure to be adapted to the stage, which it was. Her favorite song, though, is Gaston’s clever tavern chantey, one of the few villain songs to not be or even sound villainous. Though “Be Our Guest” and the Oscar-winning title song are more well-known, I’ve always preferred the dark, rhythmic “Mob Song” right before the castle siege.
The film is also notable for its moral themes. For once, the heroine is not a rebellious girl eager to disobey silly rules, but a noble daughter sacrificing herself for her father. The lesson of “beauty lies within” is established from the initial prologue, but rather than being a generic villain, Gaston illustrates the opposite, that evil can also lie within even with outward beauty. The romance between Belle and the Beast is not rushed, and even though its growth is depicted through the typical musical montage, the sudden sacrifice preceding it allowed a solid starting point for the Beast’s sudden change of heart and manner.
Beauty and the Beast is the purest example of a fairy tale adaptation I can imagine, created when they could be light-hearted or dark on their own terms without the grim revisionism of nowadays. Disney hit its stride with this musical masterpiece, a film in which music, characters, and animation seem to converge effortlessly into enjoyable entertainment for kids and adults alike.
Best line: (Gaston’s admirers, during his song) “For there’s no one as burly or brawny/ [Gaston] As you see, I’ve got biceps to spare,/ [Lefou] “Not a bit of him scraggly or scrawny,/ [Gaston] That’s right, and every last inch of me’s covered with hair!” and (Gaston) “I use antlers in all of my decorating!”Rank: 60 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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