Saturday, February 11, 2017

Stubs - Beauty and The Beast

Beauty and The Beast (1991) Starring the voices of Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury. Directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise. Screenplay by Linda Wolverton. Based on the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Produced by Don Hahn. Music by Alan Menken. Run Time: 83 minutes. U.S. Color, Animated, Musical, Fantasy

Beauty and the Beast came out following the success of The Little Mermaid (1989), but it was originally considered to be a follow-up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Disney made attempts to develop the story into a movie in the 1930’s and 1950’s before giving up on the idea. What didn’t help matters was a film version by French director, Jean Cocteau, La Belle et la Bête (1946).

The idea would get resurrected in 1987 during the production of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). For the first time, a Disney film was developed first as a screenplay rather than through the story-boarding process which had been utilized for all Disney animated films up to that point. As is true in many films, the original script was scrapped and the process started all over again. There was a change in directors and production, which had been originally planned for London, was moved to Glendale, California.

Produced on a compressed timeline, two years instead of the usual four, Beauty and the Beast was only the second feature after The Rescuers Down Under (1990) to employ a computer animation process called CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), a digital system of software and hardware developed for Disney by Pixar (yes, that Pixar).

The film is also known for its use of computer animation in a particular scene, the success of which would encourage studio executives to invest in the new technology. We’ll discuss that again when we get to the scene in question.

The story we're told at the beginning of the film tells a story related to the one we're about to see.

We’re told in an opening narration that a young, handsome prince is cursed when he refuses lodging for an enchantress, disguised as an old beggar. The rose she had offered in payment is now part of the curse. As a result of his actions, the prince is transformed into a beast. The rose will bloom until his 21st birthday and he has until the last of the rose’s petals has fallen to learn love and be loved in return in order to break the spell. If he fails, he will remain a beast forever. (Is it just me or does this sound a lot like the deal Ariel makes with Ursula in The Little Mermaid, which also involved transformations and oddly specific deadlines?) The Beast is also left with a magic mirror that allows him the capability of viewing the world outside his castle (this will become important later). In addition to the prince’s punishment, his servants, for no fault of their own, are turned into household items and his castle into a dark fortress.

Gaston (Richard White) has his sights on marrying Belle (Paige O'Hara).

Years later, but not too many if the prince was already lord of the manor and not quite 21, a beautiful young woman named Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara) lives in a nearby French village with her father Maurice (Rex Everheart), an inventor. Belle is a bookworm, who borrows, rather than buys, her books from the village bookstore. She longs for a life beyond the provincial village. Her beauty attracts the attention of the other villagers, who don’t think she fits in. But Belle is pretty and is pursued by the, as arrogant as he is muscle-bound, Gaston (Richard White). Despite the women who swoon over him, Gaston has his sights on marrying Belle. But despite Gaston’s resume and the envy of other men, Belle is uninterested.

Belle's father, Maurice (Rex Everheart), is an inventor.

Maurice gets a wood-chopping machine to work and heads off with his Clydesdale-sized horse Phillipe to a fair to showcase his new invention. But along the way, Maurice gets lost and takes a shortcut through the dark forest, despite Phillipe’s protests. Abandoned by his horse, chased by a pack of wolves, Maurice stumbles upon a dark castle and takes refuge inside. The household servants Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), a candelabra; Cogsworrh (David Ogden Stiers), a clock; Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), a teapot; and her son Chip (Bradley Michael Pierce), a chipped teacup, welcome him in.

Some of the Beast's household servants include Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers),
 Mrs. Potts (Angele Lansbury) and her son, Chip (Bradley Michael Pierce).

But when the ferocious Beast (Robby Benson) finds out, he imprisons Maurice, throwing him into a dungeon cell. Phillipe, who had actually never been to the castle, leads Belle to it. She confronts the Beast and offers to take her father′s place, who doesn’t look well. Over her father’s protests, the Beast accepts her offer. The Beast moves her from the dungeon into a bedroom and gives her the run of the castle. The only stipulation is that she stays out of the West Wing.

The Beast (Robby Benson) imprisons Maurice for trespassing on his property.

Gaston sulks in the local tavern over his failed proposal while Lefou (Jesse Corti), Gaston’s minion, tries to cheer him up. Maurice arrives, seeking help to rescue her from the Beast. No one takes him seriously, so he sets out alone. 

Lefou (Jesse Corti) is Gaston's sidekick/minion and comic relief.

Belle angers the Beast when she refuses to dine with him that night. But Lumière disobeys his order not to let her eat. While Cogsworth and Lumière give Belle a tour of the castle, she wanders into the forbidden West Wing. There she finds the enchanted rose and the Beast angrily chases her away. Belle then attempts to flee the castle with Phillipe, but they are attacked by a pack of wolves, the same ones who no doubt attacked her father. The Beast comes to her aid and is injured when he fights off the wolves.

Lumiere and Cogsworth take Belle on a tour of the castle.

Back at the castle, Belle nurses his wounds, and he begins to develop feelings for her. She thanks him for saving her life and he impresses her by giving her the castle's vast library. The more time they spend together, the closer Belle and the Beast become. Back in the village, Gaston pays Monsieur d'Arque, the warden of the town's insane asylum, to have Maurice committed if Belle does not accept Gaston's marriage proposal.

The ballroom sequence mixes CGI (the chandelier) with hand-drawn dancing characters.

Belle and the Beast share a romantic evening together, dancing in the great Ballroom together, a sequence notable for its use of computer animation of the ballroom and chandelier. The hand-drawn dancing characters are then composited against it using CAPS. The household goods encourage the Beast to tell Belle how he feels about her, but the moment is never right. Instead, Belle tells the Beast she misses her father, and he lets her use the magic mirror to see him. What Belle sees is her father dying in the woods after a botched attempt to rescue her. The Beast allows her to leave so she can save him. He even gives her the mirror to remember him by.

Belle finds her father and takes him home where she nurses him back to health. Gaston tries once more to marry Belle and when she turns him down, Monsieur d'Arque arrives to put Maurice in the insane asylum because of his insistence on the existence of a Beast. But Belle proves Maurice's sanity by showing the gathered crowd the Beast with the magic mirror. Realizing that Belle has feelings for the Beast, Gaston warns the townspeople that the Beast is a child-eating monster that must be killed, and leads them to the castle. (You have to give the townspeople credit for being able to turn on a dime.)

Gaston convinces the village that the Beast is a child-eating monster.

Gaston locks Belle and her father in their basement to prevent them from warning the Beast. But Chip, who had hidden in Belle's baggage, releases them using Maurice's wood-chopping machine.

The Beast's household goods/servants defeat the townspeople in a pitched battle. Meanwhile, Gaston sneaks away to confront the Beast, who is initially too depressed to fight back. But when he sees Belle returning to the castle, he regains his will and fights back. The Beast wins a heated battle on the castle's rooftops and spares Gaston, who pleads for his life. The Beast frees him on the condition that he leaves. The Beast is about to be reunited with Belle when Gaston stabs him from behind. But in the attack, Gaston loses his balance and falls to his presumed death.

Belle has until the last rose petal falls to confess her love of the Beast.

While the Beast lies dying, Belle professes her love for him just as the rose's last petal falls off. With the spell broken, the Beast comes back to life and transforms back into his handsome prince form. His servants likewise change back into their old forms. The film ends with Belle and the prince, now married, dancing in the ballroom with her father and the servants happily looking on.

The Beast is transformed into a handsome prince by Belle's love.

Beauty and the Beast tells a very familiar story, but in a new and different way. Visually, the film looks very good, especially considering it is mostly hand drawn, something you don’t see that much of anymore. But when computer animation is used, it is quite obvious. And while the use of songs is nothing new in animated films and is still used in modern CGI features, there are almost too many songs, about half of the film’s run time is spent in song.

After watching the film, one wonders if which idea came first: the idea to make an animated stage musical or the idea to make a stage musical from an animated film. It wasn’t too terribly long after the film that the stage musical opened on Broadway and Broadway musicals, despite what we saw on Smash, are oftentimes years in the making.

Further, the film employs some very talented Broadway performers in supporting roles. including Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury. While Orbach might be best remembered as Detective Lennie Briscoe on 274 episodes of TV’s Law & Order or as Jennifer Grey’s father in Dirty Dancing (1987), he was an accomplished Broadway performer, starring in a 1965 revival of Guys and Dolls and the original stage production of Promises, Promises in 1969 (a musical based on the film The Apartment). For the latter, he won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Jerry Orbach was a seasoned Broadway professional with a Tony to prove it.

Angela Lansbury, if anything, was more successful than Orbach. She had her own long-running series, Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996), but prior to that, she was nominated three times as Best Supporting Actress for her roles in Gaslight (1944), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). She also won four Tony Awards for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, Mame (1966), Dear World (1969), Gypsy (1973) and Sweeney Todd (1979). She was also nominated for Best Actress in a Play for her role in Deuce (2007) and won a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role in Blithe Spirit (2009).

Angela Lansbury plays Mrs. Potts.

The leads, on the other hand, were either unknowns or surprise choices. Paige O’Hara made her Broadway debut in 1983 and her film debut with Beauty and the Beast. Since then she’s mostly reprised her role as Belle in direct-to-videos, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997) and Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World (1998). Additionally, she released a series of paintings entitled Belles by Belle.

Paige O'Hara plays Beauty and Robby Benson plays the Beast.

While not an unknown, Robby Benson seemed to be an odd choice for the lead in a musical. Benson was mostly known for his work in TV Movies in the 1970’s prior to his starring role in Beauty and the Beast. Like most voice actors who get caught up in the Disney universe, he’s reprised the Beast role in subsequent related direct-to-video titles: Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Belle's Magical World, Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse (2001); TV series: House of Mouse; and Video Games: Kingdom Hearts (2002), Kingdom Hearts II (2005), Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix (2007) and Kinect Disneyland Adventures (2011).

The film at the time of its release received very positive reviews and earned about $425 million worldwide from an initial budget of $25 million. Three years later, a musical based on the movie, with seven additional songs, debuted in Houston, Texas. Later that year, the musical would have its Broadway opening, playing 5,461 performances until 2007. Just as Beauty and the Beast would pave the way for such animated musical features like Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994) and Tarzan (1999), the success of the Beauty and the Beast stage musical would lead to other such movie to stage adaptations, including: The Lion King (1997), Tarzan (2006), The Little Mermaid (2008) and Aladdin: The New Musical came to Broadway in 2014. A live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson of Harry Potter fame, will be opening in March 2017.

But back to the animated film, which is the point of this review. I would definitely recommend Beauty and the Beast, especially if you have small children. This is a really good example of family entertainment. Unlike many films and TV series aimed at children, the movie doesn’t play down to them. While not my favorite Disney animated feature, this is a very well made and, for the most, part enjoyable film.

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