Drawn That Way
Beauty and the Beast
By Daniel Pellegrino
February 15, 2010
Beauty and the Beast (over $145 million domestic gross) swept into theaters in 1991, cementing the popularity of Disney for the '90s generation. For everything that filmmakers got right in The Little Mermaid a couple years before, they got even more right in Beauty and the Beast. It was the only animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar until this year (in which Up joins the race) and deservedly so. Perhaps it's even more of an achievement as there were only five Best Picture nominees at that time, as opposed to ten this year. Beauty and the Beast truly is a "tale as old as time" and a stunning film to boot.
Most people remember the gorgeous dance sequence from Beauty and the Beast as the animated high of the film. While it's true that the CGI animation is breathtaking, to me there is nothing more stunning than the final fight in the rain. The action is so quick, lesser animators would have been forced to slow down the action or blur some of the background detail. In the hands of the Disney animators, the sequence is sharp. Character detail is vivid and clear. Viewers can almost feel the rain seeping through the screen.
Story-wise, this section of the film is flawless. The Beast is seconds away from death, the ancillary characters are losing their last chance at human existence and most importantly, Belle is losing the one person she truly loves. Stakes are high for every character in the film and the viewer feels the tension building to this dramatic climax.
The climax isn't the only amazing thing in the film. The entire feature feels epic in scope. The story is classic and none of it feels filled in. Many animated films have the "Polar Express Syndrome." What I mean is, the story isn't suited for a full-length feature. The Polar Express is a very short children's book that was stretched into a movie that is over an hour. That means viewers are treated to indulgent sequences in the snow and scenes on the train that don't feel cohesive to the main plot. Beauty and the Beast is the opposite. The story is so epic that nothing feels added on. Almost all of the characters have an arc and the story never veers into Polar Express territory.
The film is a musical so I can't write about the feature without mentioning the amazing score and music. What I like about the music is that it seems to build. The first song, Belle sings about the "provincial life" she enjoys. The lyrics are about the happiness in an average life. Soon, you get the other characters singing to Belle in the castle, asking her to "be our guest." This song and others build to the dramatic "Beauty and the Beast" number, whose lyrics represent the arc of Belle in the most graceful of ways. "Barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly..." The most basic human emotion is succinctly sung by sweet old Angela Lansbury herself as the camera pans over revolutionary (at that time) animated imagery. Again, it's epic.
The film was recently released in IMAX theaters, where a song that was originally written for the film, but not used because of budget constraints, was animated and put into the feature. The song, "Human Again," fits perfectly into the story. For fans, it was fantastic to see our favorite characters back with a standard of animation that wouldn't have been able to be achieved in the early '90s.
The voice cast is uniformly excellent. None of the actors are recognizable in their roles, which I consider a good thing. I'm thinking this might be one of the few films that if I watched with my father, he wouldn't be asking "now who's that?"
This March, Up will compete for the Best Picture Academy Award. Animation enthusiasts will hope for a win, but likely be settling with one of the other nominees. If Avatar takes home the big prize, it might be the closest animation gets to a win. With the creation of the Best Animated Film category, it is unlikely any animated film will be taken seriously in the other Best Film category. While I think the animation category is fantastic, I'm not sure it's really necessary. Animation is simply a different way to tell a story, but it's a film nonetheless. We don't separate comedy and dramas (yet), so why animation?
This year, before the Academy Awards, I challenge you to watch Beauty and the Beast. Many of you probably haven't seen the film in quite some time. Look at it in context of 1991. When I was a kid, I wasn't extremely fond of the movie. As a young boy, I didn't connect to the female lead the way girls my age did. As I grew older and became a film enthusiast, I saw the movie in a different light. I saw remarkable storytelling, memorable characters and beautiful music. Rent it. Buy it. See it.