Turn Back the Clock
Beauty and the Beast
Distributed By: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When I heard that Disney was about to release a new digitally restored version of Beauty and the Beast on DVD for a limited time, I simply had to have it. As a kid, my parents had brought me to see many a Disney film. From Snow White to Fantasia to Bambi, I loved them all. As an adult, I continued the tradition of heading to the theater with the kids to check out the latest film by Disney. I really can’t remember who I brought to the theater with me when I first attended the theatrical release of Beauty and the Beast in 1991. What I can remember was how enchanted I was with this movie and how I couldn’t wait for it to come out on VHS so I could have my very own copy I could watch again and again.
The fairytale known as Beauty and the Beast is centuries old and told in many styles, formats and languages. The tale of a poor young woman who amazingly falls in love with a beast and unintentionally frees a prince from enchantment certainly isn’t new and has been done many times over. However, Disney’s interpretation of this fairytale is certainly unique and entertaining in a way that I had never seen before.
First, they changed the tale slightly making Belle a headstrong and intelligent young women with a very certain idea of how she wants to live her life. Next, they changed the way the Beast comes across her father and the incident that causes Belle to become the Beast’s prisoner. In this version, the Beast is not the only enchanted being. In fact, his whole castle has been enchanted to look dark and dreary and unforgiving and his servants have been changed into various household items such as candelabra, clocks, tea kettles, etc.
Most importantly, this production of Beauty and the Beast was to be what I would describe as an animated Broadway musical. There aren’t just songs sung by a character or two as in previous Disney animated films. In Beauty and the Beast, one person may start the singing, but that song ultimately becomes a production participated in by an ensemble of cast members and extras. This style of performance in this animated film is why Beauty and the Beast translated so well into theater, becoming a Broadway musical in its own right in 1994.
And the music - oh, who could forget the music! It doesn’t matter how much time has passed since I last saw the movie, I can still remember all of the songs as is evident as soon as the film started when I watched my new DVD version and I started singing along with Belle as she strolled through the village. The main title song, Beauty and the Beast, as performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, hit the top of the song charts. The musical score and original songs by Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman were nominated for and won numerous awards. Catchy and fun, these songs were impossible to forget once heard.
To pull off an animated Broadway musical, it helps that you have a cast who knows just how to perform in such things. Thus, Paige O’Hara was brought in to perform the role of Belle. Her voice was amazingly enchanting and the perfect one to offset the gruff Beast as portrayed by Robbie Benson. Richard White was brought in to portray the handsome and overbearing brute, Gaston. Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury and David Ogden Stiers portrayed the servants Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth respectively. Each performer interacted perfectly with one another and their singing and timing were just perfect.
The animation for the movie was so well done as to make this fantasy wholly believable. So rich with color and containing such lifelike qualities, one becomes instantly enchanted and forgets that they are watching animated characters in a fantasy film. Adding to that true to life feeling is the screenplay written by Linda Woolverton which enhances the visual experience by making the characters individuals you can relate to. I felt an instant kinship with Belle (we share the same headstrong manner and love for books) and an immediate dislike for the pigheaded Gaston.
Every time I watch this movie, it is with complete wonderment and happiness. I laugh at all the same moments, sing along with all of the songs…I can probably even recite the lines in whole scenes. Sometimes, there is so much going on in a scene that I actually spot something I never noticed before. This movie never gets old for me. In fact, the new DVD release of the film actually includes a new song and dance number, Human Again, and a couple of new scenes, making the film even more enjoyable for me.
The 2-Disc digitally enhanced DVD version of Beauty and the Beast is chock full of extras. The first disc contains the movie which you can watch in various ways: with audio commentary, in sing along mode, new version or classic. The second DVD includes never-before-seen storyboards containing an alternate opening and a deleted scene. There is a new music video in which Jordin Sparks sings a newer, more up-tempo rendition of Beauty and the Beast. Beyond Beauty is a documentary that explains the entire process of the making of this film. I learned quite a bit from that documentary. For instance, I never knew that this was the first Disney animated film to have a screenplay created before the animation.
Broadway Beginnings is another documentary featured on Disc 2 that explains how Beauty and the Beast became a Broadway musical. It features commentary from the various stars of the musical. In Composing a Classic, Alan Menkin explains just what went into the composition of the musical score and original songs in Beauty and the Beast. You can also check out extras from the classic DVD version of the film including the original music video of Beauty and the Beast by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, games and more.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is an animated film that has become an ageless classic. The storyline and plot are something that can never go out of style. Even more important, it is a story filled with enchantment and fantasy that is perfect for children, but one filled with romance that is just as perfect for the adults out there. I just watched the film and I can’t wait to see it again. Beauty and the Beast is a must have for any Disney fan!