Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991, and in the ensuing months it got an Oscar nod for Best Picture, the only Disney film to do so. So, why isn’t it more favorably remembered? The film features memorable performances from Angela Lansbury and Jerry Orbach alike, but it doesn’t have the pizzazz of The Lion King or the humor of Aladdin -- or the cultural resonance of either. Doesn’t mean Beauty and the Beast isn’t the better movie, though.
The plot begins with a narrator explaining the story of how a beast became the beast -- an enchantress disguised as a haggard witch tried to teach him that beauty didn’t matter, but it didn’t take. (Entrance song “Belle”). Belle (Paige O’Hara) is introduced, as well as the town hunk, Gaston (Richard White), and Belle’s father (Rex Everhart), who is about to leave for an inventor’s fair. On the way to the fair, Belle’s father gets lost and is thrown into the dungeon at the Beast’s (Robby Benson) house. (“Belle reprise”). After refusing a marriage proposal from Gaston, Belle travels to the Beast’s castle where she, too, is confined (“Gaston”). Belle quickly makes friends at the Beast’s castle and time passes (“Be Our Guest,” “Something There,” and “Beauty and The Beast”). During the last half hour the action speeds up until the bad guys are put in their places and the heroine and hero find true love.
Sounds simple. It is; yet, it’s not the simplicity of the story that’s a problem -- simple is often better for kids. The problem is that people who like Beauty and the Beast like the film despite its main characters. Belle is a heroine, but she’s not our heroine. She reads books, she’s flighty, she’s a thinker, and quite frankly, she’d prefer to spend time by herself than in the company of others. People don’t like her because she’s less easy to box in -- she’s not strong like Nala, beautiful like Jasmine, full of wonder like Ariel. She’s the fucking weirdo of Disney Princesses.
And then we have the Beast, who softens throughout the movie, but who is largely ugly and uninspiring as a character. Let's face it: Beast is a 20-year-old kid…who is horrible with women. “Say something,” hastens Lumierre when Beast meets Belle. “You’ll meet me for dinner. That’s not a request,” Beast growls, and then locks her up. People don’t want to see an inept and grouchy male any more than they want to see a female character doing something unexpected. They’d rather see Aladdin triumph or Simba triumph or, at least, like Eric in the Little Mermaid, get the girl.
Don’t get me wrong, Beauty and the Beast isn’t hated on and it hasn’t been forgotten -- it’s not culturally irrelevant like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Instead, choosing Beauty and the Beast as your Disney go-to is like choosing tapioca pudding. It’s like picking hockey as your favorite sport (unless you live in Canada). And that’s okay. But I think Beauty and the Beast deserves better. Here’s why.
1. It’ll teach your kids words like primeval, provincial, and paragon. See: "Gaston"
No one hits like Gaston
Matches wits like Gaston
LeFou: In a spitting match nobody spits like Gaston!
Gaston: I'm especially good at expectorating!
2. It’s the only Disney flick that pits literacy against sportsmanship, brawn against brains.
3. Cogsworth and Lumiere are up there with Timon and Pumbaa as the best Disney sidekick duo of all time. Take that, fat dude and stupid guy hired by Cruella de Vil to steal puppies.
4. Clocking in around an hour and a half, Beauty and the Beast may well be the most simplistic animated story released in the last two decades, yet its characters and scenery are so rich, it never feels shallow or lacking. It has the perfect amount of depth for an animated movie.
5. That yellow dress is bangin'. Especially with this remastered version, the color in the film is way more vivid than remembered, and definitely worth a watch.
This disc is a mess. Maneuvering around the disc is completely different than the average DVD or Blu-ray. There is a main disc and a special-features disc, but there may be a caption for a feature on the main disc that may actually be on the second disc. So, if I clicked, Lumierre popped up and directed me to the other disk. It’s completely inconvenient. Also, there is a rose that highlights each of the features as you scroll, but sometimes the rose doesn't highlight, or the space lacks headings, or something -- the end result being that it is unclear what feature you are actually clicking on.
There’s a nice little documentary from the creators of the film explaining the magic behind the making of the movie. Randomly throughout the documentary, screens will pop up that direct viewers to other special features. The disc is set up so if viewers stray from the documentary, when they are finished they can make their way back to the point in the documentary they had strayed from. It’s supposed to be interactive and fun, but there is no plausible way children could make their way through this disc at all. This may be the first time I’ve longed for the days of VCRs and their remedial number of options.
That being said, buying this edition of Beauty and the Beast is absolutely worth it, just to see it’s progressive color scheme. The remastered version is gorgeous, and nearly seamless -- the only time the color looks blatantly odd is during scenes when old hand-drawn shots were placed inside the context of a computer animated-generated backdrop. The disc also features a scene with the track “Human Again,” which was not in the original film but did appear on the 2002 disc release.