That “tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme” returns to the screen, now in 3-D. But Beauty and the Beast, the greatest animated film ever made and one of the screen’s great musicals, hardly needs this sort of sprucing up.
It’s a timeless French fairy tale about a cruel young man cursed to live as a beast in his enchanted home if he cannot change and be worthy of another’s love. And it features sparkling wit, lovely songs, stunning animation, terrific vocal performances by Paige O’Hara and Robby Benson as the leads, and just enough Disney cute to earn that overused label “masterpiece.”
There’s marvelous new depth of field to the images—flowers or rain or snow in the foreground—in many scenes. Details from the background pop out more—a fishmonger’s customer waggling a fish at him, unacceptable because there’s a cat dangling from the tail. And 3-D does give Gaston’s riotous bar brawl and other fights more of an in-your-face quality. But at other times, the limitations of cel animation are thrown into sharp relief, character movement made jerkier by the conversion.
No matter. It’s still glorious, from story to songs to vocal performances to the message that this nonprincess Disney princess tale from 1991 passes on: Don’t let custom and social restrictions hold you back. Be yourself, girls, especially if you “want much more than this provincial life.” If only Lady Gaga were this eloquent. Twenty years, and the rises of Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Animation and Blue Sky Studios, later, and no child’s cartoon has topped that for message.
This was the high-water mark of the great music and lyrics team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Ashman was dying of AIDS as this film was made, and it has always seemed as if the glorious and poignant title song was his farewell to love and life and imagination. Thanks to these two, Beauty and the Beast can still move you to tears.
The late, great Jerry Orbach had decades of Broadway, film and TV work in front of him, and his Law & Order fame followed Beauty and the Beast. But his vocal turn as the sassy, oversexed French candelabra Lumiere, delivering the showstopper “Be Our Guest,” is what made him immortal. And there’s Richard White, the quintessential Broadway baritone, gloriously over the top, swaggering through the other showstopper, the song that bears his character’s name: “Gaston.”
Even if you’ve had it on video for years, even if your kids outgrew it in the last century, this jewel in the Disney Animation Studio’s crown still works, still grabs, tickles and moves you.
Disney has added an adorable new sight-gag-packed Tangled short cartoon to this rerelease. Tangled Ever After captures Rapunzel’s marriage to Flynn, with the huffy horse and the dizzy chameleon in charge of the wedding rings until comic disaster strikes, a chain-reaction ring toss that rollicks along for six silly minutes.
Beauty and the Beast (G) ★★★☆☆