Beauty and the Beast is a masterpiece of animation and remains the only animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (it lost to The Silence of the Lambs). It was released earlier this year on IMAX screens across the country and now it gets the full, 2-disc DVD treatment.
Everyone knows the story: a spoiled, selfish Prince (Robby Benson) is turned into a hideous Beast and can only be turned back when he learns to love someone and earns her love in return. That someone is Belle (Paige O’Hara), the most beautiful and misunderstood girl in her small, French village. One night her father travels out into the forest on his way to an inventor’s fair, only to lose his way and find himself a prisoner of the Beast. Willing to do anything to save her father, Belle offers herself as a substitute. Since she will be staying with them for the rest of her life, the Prince’s servants—all turned into household items—believe that maybe she could be the girl to break the spell. But Belle has another suitor: the arrogant town hunk named Gaston (Richard White), and Gaston is willing to do anything to make Belle his wife; including put Belle’s father in the sanitarium or even kill the Beast.
Beauty and the Beast is a classic for so many reasons. First, it has a timeless love story that everyone can relate to. Who hasn’t felt ugly like the Beast, or longed for something more like Belle. Second, the screen is filled with marvelous supporting characters; made even more enchanting because they are, well, enchanted household items. There is Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), a candlestick; Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), a teapot; Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), a clock; and the memorable Chip (Bradley Pierce), a chipped teapot.
Finally, and probably most importantly, the movie is filled with wonderful musical numbers; the kinds of songs you leave the theater whistling and singing. It has been four years since Disney made a musical (Mulan) and Beauty and the Beast is a good example of why they should revert back. The movie was the first to receive three Oscar nominations for best song and it took home the award for “Be Our Guest.” Perhaps the best thing about the songs is that they serve the story rather than just existing for song’s sake. For instance, the opening song Belle sings while wandering through the town gives us a complete idea of who she is and what everyone thinks of her. The song “Gaston” tells us all we need to know about him (and some we don’t) as well as let us in on his latest plan to make Belle his wife.
For the special edition, another musical number was added. The song is called “Human Again” and it features all the enchanted household items dancing and singing about how great it will be when they return to their human forms. The song was written for the original film but never used and it found a home in the Broadway production. The number is humorous and entertaining and despite taking place just before the ballroom sequence, it doesn’t slow the film’s momentum.
The DVD gets the full treatment. It is the second movie to be issued in Disney’s “Platinum Edition” series, the first being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It contains plenty of behind-the-scenes info, the original Celine Dion/ Peabo Bryson music video and lots of fun and games. My favorite is Mrs. Potts’ Personality Profile Game, based on the attraction at Disney’s California Adventures theme park, which asks you a series of questions and then tells you which Beauty and the Beast character you are most like. As expected, I am Cogsworth.
Atlantis was entertaining and The Emperor’s New Groove was cleverly funny, but Beauty and the Beast reminds us just what Disney is capable of. Who knows, maybe some Disney animators will pick up this DVD and learn from it. Be thrilled, enchanted and thoroughly entertained once again by the tale that’s as old as time. I give it an A.