Movie #31 in the Disney Animated Marathon is yet another film that had to have its turn skipped over, but alas I can finally go and be a guest!
Screenplay By: Linda Woolverton
Directed By: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
You know that movie watching experience where you say to yourself, “This was a great movie, but there was just one thing…” That sums up Beauty And The Beast and Bill Thompson in a nutshell, because it is a great movie, but there was just this one thing that just so happens to be a pretty big thing. I loved the majority of Beauty And The Beast, looking back on it I am hard pressed to think of many weak moments or instances of inferior film making. But I also know that I can’t put behind me the fact that Beauty And The Beast comes up short in a somewhat important category.
Before I get into that one thing, what did I like about Beauty And The Beast? It’s more like what didn’t I like, but wait, I told you to wait for that, so never mind. Anyways, the animation is gorgeous, showing a natural progression from films like The Rescuers Down Under and The Little Mermaid to future fare such as The Lion King and Mulan. The ballroom sequence is indeed a thing of beauty, as are the shadows and dark corners that can be found throughout Beauty And The Beast. The facial animation of the characters, most notably Belle, is where the animation team shines the most. Even in some of Disney’s finest efforts they tend to go with less than expressive faces, but that is not the case in Beauty And The Beast where the face of each character is finely detailed with whatever emotion they are dealing with at the time.
The songs found in Beauty And The Beast are a joy, even if they do contribute to that one things I shall be getting to eventually. Any time Gaston sings I found myself with a giant smile splayed across my stupid face, there’s a clear reason his character has stuck with me all these years. As far as being catchy and drawing the audience in goes, you won’t find much better musical fare than in Beauty And The Beast.
The one area where the songs do stumble a bit is in the story they convey. Beauty And The Beast is a simple story, a fairy tale the likes of which Disney is famous for. The film is set up as a musical with the songs establishing the characters, the world, the fun nature of the film and the narrative drive of the film. That’s three check marks and one big red X for all those keeping track at home. If there is one thing that stops Beauty And The Beast from attaining the musical heights of something like The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, another Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise effort, it is that the songs fail to give any life to a very weak narrative.
The story of Beauty And The Beast is simple and very straightforward, and that is fine and dandy. But where the songs establish the characters, the world and the fun nature of the film they never do much to help explain some of the giant leaps the film takes in its narrative. I didn’t need a million lyrics explaining why the townspeople all of a sudden want to lynch the Beast, but I needed a bit more than the film gave me. To go back to a film I consider a superior animated musical, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, that is a film that drives its narrative hard with its music. Not only does it take care of the three check marks, but the music in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame gives the audience something to work with as to why its characters are taking the actions they are. Beauty And The Beast never really does that, it has its characters sing for a bit and then simply expects the audience to accept why they did this or that. If you could do as such then that is great, but I couldn’t and I found myself questioning why the narrative was where it was at on more than a few occasions.
Beauty And The Beast isn’t the perfect animated classic that it has been made out to be, nor does it come close to touching The Hunchback Of Notre Dame as being Disney’s best animated musical. But, that doesn’t stop Beauty And The Beast from reaching great heights in its run time. A movie doesn’t have to be perfect, heck most aren’t, but Beauty And The Beast has a lot of whimsy and is a good old fashioned fairy tale that is a lot of fun to watch with plenty of excellent animated craftsmanship as well. It doesn’t feature the strongest narrative you will ever find, but despite missing that one thing, Beauty And The Beast still manages to take its place as a great film.