Walt Disney’s 1991 instant classic, Beauty and the Beast, is not only the finest animated movie ever made, but deserves a prominent position on any list of all-time greats. Although not the highest grossing Disney production, nor the best-remembered by most kids (those honors go to The Lion King), Beauty and the Beast nevertheless earned the most enthusiastic notices ever by the critics and was recognized with a Best Picture Oscar nomination (considering the weak competition, it deserved to win the award). The studio knew early in development that it had a winner. In an unprecedented move, Disney screened a 70% complete work print to a packed auditorium at the 1991 New York Film Festival months before the movie was finished. The astounding reception helped to build a sense of anticipation that was unrivaled since the days of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
“Irresistible” is an apt description of this film, because every frame is imbued with a magic that is rare for any motion picture, animated or otherwise. In the past, I have been known to criticize Disney from time-to-time, but not on this occasion. Beauty and the Beast is a triumph of artistry – a rare movie where all of the elements gel perfectly. It has set the standard for today’s animated motion picture, improving upon The Little Mermaid and establishing a level that no subsequent animated film has equaled.
The tale told by Beauty and the Beast is an old one, dating back centuries prior to the version penned by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, upon which screenwriter Linda Woolverton based this script. Understandably, the people at Disney have added their own spin by changing certain plot details, modernizing Belle’s character (she’s a feminist), and adding a gallery of talking objects. In the Beast’s ensorcelled castle, everything has a voice: candlesticks, clocks, pots, cups, wardrobes, and feather dusters. The film makers obviously took their inspiration for this from Jean Cocteau’s classic 1946 adaptation, where, although the objects in the castle did not sing or frolic, there was a pervasive sense of enchantment. Watch that film, then watch this one — the stylistic similarities, especially in the look and feel of the castle, are impossible to miss.
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