The ugly truth about Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
With the immense box office success of The Lion King‘s 3D conversion last year, it was only a matter of time before similar films followed suit. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is highly regarded as an animated classic, so who is to argue with a 3D theatrical re-release then? Well, this reviewer volunteers (may as well add “as tribute” since this unpopular opinion just might spell my end). Over twenty years after its initial release, there seems little reason for the film to be occupying cinema space again.
While the hand-drawn animation has an uneven charm, there isn’t much that holds up visually when compared with modern animation. In terms of outright stunning imagery, Beauty and the Beast hits its peak right out of the gate with a gorgeously rendered series of stained-glass windows that illustrate the story’s prologue. It’s here that the added 3D works subtle charms. It goes on to add nice touches of depth to establishing shots, but once characters are moving about, the smoothness of the animation is ruined by the conversion-induced motion blur. Where CG animated features such as Disney’s own Tangled or Dreamworks’ Puss in Boots look great in 3D, the format is simply not suited for traditional animation.
As for the content of the film itself, despite Beauty and the Beast becoming the first animated feature nominated for a best picture Academy Award, there are glaring issues with the story’s plot and presentation. Clocking in at 84 minutes, the film crams a lot of development into a very brief amount of time. Of course, the central argument here would be that this is a children’s story, so the finer points of plot development aren’t necessary. Yet there’s no denying how baffling elements of the plot are. One of the biggest issues is the timeline of the curse and Belle’s (voiced by Paige O’Hara) arrival. Specifically mentioned to be set ten years since the onset of the curse and with time on the verge of running out before the Beast’s (Robby Benson) 21st birthday, this means he was 11 when the spell was cast. That hardly seems sensible. Other illogical instances follow, with the angry mob somehow knowing exactly where the Beast lives and Chip, the enchanted teacup bereft of arms or magical powers managing to drive Belle’s father’s invention in order to save the day, despite being, well, a teacup.
Indeed, this is all well and good for a children’s’ film, but one of the best pictures of 1991? Surely, not. Another issue is how the relationship between Belle and the Beast is presented. He is downright awful to her initially, yet in the relative blink of an eye, this female “heroine” falls for the brute the moment he attempts to soften his approach up. If more time had been dedicated to illustrate the Beast’s true nature or if this change is seen to be a sustained one over a period of time, it wouldn’t seem as denigrating to the protagonist. While the Beast is compared favourably to the vain, selfish Gaston (Richard White), it sets a bad example, nonetheless. In a world where, too often, women leave themselves at the mercy of violent, disrespectful men, the love Belle acquires for the Beast falls far from the bounds of romance. This may even be Beauty and the Beast reflecting the very nature of women who are attracted to men who mistreat them, however, given the young, predominately female audience this film has enjoyed since its release, the message being sent to impressionable, developing minds is certainly a dubious one. Dressing it up as a romantic love story only serves to make matters worse.
From a simple entertainment standpoint, Beauty and the Beast doesn’t hold up well, either. The comedy is forced and too reliant on slapstick moments that are entirely unfunny. How many times must Gaston smack his lackey Lefou (Jesse Corti) around? It’s neither funny the first time nor the sixth time. With the 3D re-relase, Disney has attached a fantastic short entitled Tangled Ever After, which tells the story of the wacky antics of Pascal and Maximus during Rapunzel and Flynn’s wedding. The brilliantly delivered physical comedy of the short underscores how badly the film that follows it fails. Meanwhile, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs in Beauty and the Beast are greatly loved, but for lyrical content and catchiness, this is another area where it is easily eclipsed by The Lion King.
Lacking any nostalgic warm-fuzzies, it’s difficult to see exactly why Beauty and the Beast is held in such high esteem. Deeply flawed from a plot perspective with a questionable message being sent, there is, however, that classic Disney feel, which may account for the love audiences have for it. It’s just too bad that such feelings are showered on this uneven, nonsensical-even-by-fairytale-standards work. 4/10