Beauty and the Beast: Disney Winning Animation Tale

The simultaneous release of two animated features, Beauty and the Beast and An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, reflects Hollywood’s current trend of entertainment that’s meant to be seen by all members of the family.

However, seeing the two films back to back, highlights Beauty and the Beast not only as the more notable achievement but also as one that can be equally enjoyed by children and adults. In quality, production values, and emotional involvement, there is no competition between the two movies. I am usually hesitant to describe a film as a gem, but in the case of Beauty and the Beast, the adjective seems justified.

Adapted from the classic fairy tale, Disney’s take of the story is innovative. Linda Woolverton’s script turns Beauty, now called Belle (Paige O’Hara) into a charming heroine. A bookworm frustrated by small-town life, she yearns for romance. Courted by a hideous-looking but ultimately well-mannered Beast, Belle must learn to see beyond appearances in order to break the spell of the enchanted Prince before he is destroyed by Gaston, her jealous and arrogant suitor.

The film’s skillful balance of romance, violence (especially in a vivid battle with wolves in the forest), comic relief, and style is most impressive. In the great tradition of such Disney classics as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, this feature introduces a host of memorable animated characters and original songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (Oscar winners for The Little Mermaid).

The melodic score includes several hilarious songs, such as “Gaston.” “Be Our Guest,” a tribute to Hollywood musicals, enlivened by Jerry Orbach’s Maurice Chevalier-like routine as a living candlestick, is the show-stopping number.

Beauty is transformed into an independent and intelligent woman whose love for the Beast derives from her insight into his soul. The movie’s universal moral is, of course, the primacy of character over physical looks, of substance over appearance. But even this element is refreshingly treated, by presenting a handsome villain, which deviates from the conventions of such fables.

The voice track includes memorable work from stage and TV actress Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts, though the unexpected joy comes from Robby Benson’s deep-pitched characterization of the Beast.

Disney’s version bears little resemblance to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 haunting rendition of the fable, starring Jean Marais as the Beast. But the new movie may well be one of the best pictures Disney has produced during the entire decade. It’s on the level of 101 Dalmatians, and superior to The Little Mermaid.

Some of the film’s campiness and subtlety are no kids stuff, but, like all good works, the movie operates on multiple levels and can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages for different reasons.