Movie News & Reviews

'Beauty and the Beast': A masterpiece is converted to 3-D

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Walt Disney PicturesÕ magical animated classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST returns to the ÿÛ
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Walt Disney PicturesÕ magical animated classic BEAUTY AND THE BEAST returns to the ÿÛ

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.

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, 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."

In many scenes, there's marvelous new depth of field to the images — flowers, rain or snow in the foreground. 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 gives Gaston's riotous bar brawl and other fights more of an in-your-face quality. But at other times, the limitations of cell 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 non-princess 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 rise of Pixar, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Animation and Blue Sky Studios later, 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 always has 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 still can move you to tears.

The late, great Jerry Orbach had decades of Broadway, film and TV work behind him, and his Law & Order fame followed Beauty and the Beast. But his vocal turn as the sassy oversexed French candelabra Lumiere, delivering the show stopper 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 show-stopper, 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 Disney Feature Animation's crown still works, still grabs, tickles and moves you.

Disney has added an adorable new sight-gag-packed Tangled short cartoon to this re-release. Tangled Ever After captures Rapunzel's marriage to Flynn, with the huffy horse and dizzy chameleon in charge of the wedding rings until comic disaster strikes, a chain reaction ring-toss that rollicks along for six silly minutes.

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