So I was sitting, watching Beauty and the Beast one fine day, and my brain is in overdrive... Very unusual for me while watching Disney movies. Anyway, after awhile, it hits me that the Beast is never named. Yeah, I know he’s just called Beast throughout the duration of the film, but Beast isn’t a name. You’d think Beast would have a name other than Beast. I mean, come on, he used to be a handsome prince (as all strange creatures are in the end)! Perhaps before he was turned into a beast he was just called Handsome Prince and adopted the moniker Beast upon his transformation. Or maybe his parents were just drunk, high or feeling particularly creative. Oh well. Could you imagine being married to someone and referring to him or her as Beast? It’s time to wake up, Beast! Hello, Beast, did you have a good day at work? Or having to call him Handsome Prince (for the ladies) or Beautiful Princess (for the men). That would be a bit of a mouthfull. Perhaps that’s why they invented pet names.
As for Disney, the giant, faceless billion dollar corporation that produced this movie, I’m well aware that they are, like Microsoft, from the devil. But say what you will about Walt Disney selling his soul, they’ve made some freakin’ fine animated features over the years. Beauty and the Beast is an animated feature so good it almost prompts you to forget that Disney has turned into a faceless mega conglomerate and that the people running it are probably more two-dimensional than the characters in some of their films. Of course you then pop Hercules or Tarzan into the VCR or DVD player and the aforementioned fact hits you in the headlike an animated hammer.
All Beast self-esteem problems and Disney devil spawns aside, though, it’s like I already said: Beauty and the Beast is a freakin’ fine animated movie. It ranks right up there with Aladdin as the best animated film released in the past decade. It was so good when it came out, in fact, that it even caused a first at the Idiot Critic Academy... Er, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts. It was the first animated movie to be nominated for best picture. Just goes to show that the Academy, contrary to popular belief, actually was smart once upon a time.
Now the movie. I mentioned that there’s this beast who was once a handsome prince. The movie’s prologue informs us that our handsome prince, once upon a time, was also a wealthy (as all princes are) and, above all, very spoiled prince. One night that all changes as an old beggar comes a-knockin’ on his front door. Handsome Prince answers and tells her to get back to the gutter. I imagine a reaction like that would make most beggars flip the bird at the person they begged to, and our old begger here flips the bird in the ultimate way: She turns into a very beautiful enchantress and turns Handsome Prince into Beast and all his assistants into household items and gives Beast until his 21st birthday to fall in love and have someone love him in return, which will break the spell. But poor Beast is ashamed of his form and locks himself in his castle.
Fast forward a few years. Unbeknownst to Beast, there’s now a fully blossomed and exceptionally hot chick in the village named Belle (French word for beauty, apparently). Belle is the head-turning woman in the village. Men want her, women want to be her, and everywhere she goes, whoever is there looks up from whatever they’re doing to look at her. But Belle has no idea just how hot she is because she’s always too absorbed in her latest book to notice all the attention. Now, Belle may be hot, but her reading habit also makes her the local oddity. After all, women who read begin to learn and think, and learned, thinking women aren’t usually the kind who want to sit around the house making babies for the rest of their lives.
For every hot woman in an animated film, there’s also a handsome man. I say man because, surprise surprise, it ain’t the handsome prince or even the good guy this time. No, no, good readers, it’s the villain. Enter Gaston, the burly man, the manly man, the ultimate man’s man. He’s handsome, every inch of his chest is covered in hair, and antlers adorn his home the way a stalker victim’s pictures adorn the home of her stalker. He shoots straight, hits hard and can chug gallons of beer. And he has bubble-headed women falling over him wherever he goes. So it’s just his luck that the one woman on the planet that he wants in the sack is poor Belle. Which would probably have been just fine with Belle except for two facts:
1-Gaston is rude, egotistical and pigheaded, and
2-wants her to sit at home making babies for the rest of her life.
And he just wouldn’t be a good villain if he knew how to take no for an answer. In fact, he even goes as far as trying to have Belle’s father, whom she cares about very deeply, commited to a nuthouse in his efforts to get her to marry him.
And Belle has good reason to love her father. If it weren’t for him, she never would have met Beast. The whole meeting begins when dear dad goes off into the woods for a reason that escapes me (which indicates that it’s not all that important. What’s important is that he got there.). But he’s out for a bit too long, and his attempt to find a shortcut home finds him at the door of our enchanted castle seeking shelter. In he barges like he owns the place. Beast’s assistants, Cogsworth (a clock), Lumiere (a candellabra) and Mrs. Potts (a kettle) would like nothing more than to make this stranger feel at home, and Beast likes him enough to not only offer him shelter, but a new, permanent home... In the dungeon. I guess you tend to forget how to deal with people after being a recluse for so long, but that’s beside the point. Belle, as a caring daughter would do, notices that dad’s been gone a bit too long and sets out to find him. When she stumbles into the castle and Beast, she offers to take dad’s place as Beast’s prisoner.
Since everyone in the place is thinking that she could be the one who could break the spell, Beast obliges. And although Beast’s original plan is to let her freeze and starve in the dungeon, Cogsworth, Lumiere and Mrs. Potts are all fed up with being household items and they convince him to offer her some actual hospitality. Except for his quick temper, Belle slowly begins to take a liking to Beast. And Beast falls so head-over-heels for her that he eventually lets her go when her father gets sick. And he even gives Belle his magic mirror, which he uses to glimpse the world outside, as a memento.
Unfortunatly, dad runs back home and just has to start telling everyone how his daughter is a hostage in an enchanted castle to a ten-foot tall beast with big fangs and razor-sharp claws. Which would be fine if he was a pothead, but he has the added burden of being an inventor, not a pothead. And, as with all great inventors, he’s considered to be a little over the top. So his lunatic ravings about an enchanted castle and a beast are all Gaston needs to lock him in a loony bin in order to blackmail Belle into marrying him. Good thing Belle has the mirror to prove his innocence, but now she has another problem. Since people hate things that are different, the villagers set out to kill Beast, which sets up the big finale.
Did you know that Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to use computer animation? The ballroom sequence looks just as beautiful as it did way back in 1991. Of course it still looks primitive in these days of Toy Story, Shrek and Monsters Inc., but the animation is still nice anyhow. Disney was always known for great animation in animated features.
Perhaps I should also mention the fact that Beauty and the Beast was made way back in the days when celebrities didn’t need to be billed in animated films. These days, making an animated movie is a veritable check-your-ego-at-the-front-door experience thanks to the star power behind some of these films, but back then people seemed to care more about whether or not the film would be worth paying five smackers for. You know who the top star in Beauty and the Beast is? Robbie Benson. Who’s Robbie Benson? Exactly. He’s the only name I can remember in the voice-over department, and I’m not even sure if I got his name right. But all you need to know is that he does a good job voicing Beast. All the other characters have outstanding voice-over actors too. Belle is her own woman but just a wee spec on the naive side, and indeed sounds it. Gaston sounds like the biggest jerk in the world, just like he is.
And don’t worry about being let down by lousy writing either, ‘cause it ain’t there. Although many of the jokes are time-tested standard fare, they’re still funny. I don’t know why we don’t get sick of these jokes. Perhaps some of us can relate? I mean, who hasn’t had a giant cabinet fall onto his head? And then you walked out of the cabinet only to find out that you were wearing women’s clothes? The final battle between the villagers and tupperware is a lot of fun. I guarantee you’ll never look at your household items the same way again. And yet again, between the written and visual jokes, some characters stop and drop everything to break into song. Imagine real life if it was like that. I’m beating some guy up and stop to sing a song about it. Then he takes the opportunity to hit me. But as Dennis Hoper once said, I digress. There’s an excellent repotoire of songs here, from an amusing little ditty about Gaston’s manliness to the catchy Be Our Guest to the title song, Beauty and the Beast, which is just plain... nice.
Ah, poor Disney. It’s been 11 years since Beauty and the Beast, and they hve yet to release a new animated feature that lives up to it. (I’m talking real animation here, by the way, not that gimmicky computer generated animation.) Hey, they came close one time, very close indeed, when they released Aladdin, but nothing has topped the original Beauty yet. So. Got a hot date and looking for a movie that’s good and romantic without being overly nauseating? This fits the bill nicely. Just watch out if your girl starts asking Do you think she’s prettier than me?
What did you think of this review?