Disney is a company synonymous with the art of American animation. From their Golden Age fairy-tale adaptations such as Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Peter Pan to their innovative computer animated hits such as Toy Story and The Incredibles, it seems impossible to think of Disney as anything but a giant in the industry. There was however a time when Disney’s dominant standing was in question. Throughout most of the 80s, a series of unsuccessful feature length films along with the competition of independent animators such as Don Bluth caused Disney to fall on rocky times. In 1989 however, Disney reclaimed their title as the top animation company with their groundbreaking work The Little Mermaid. This would lead into Disney’s Silver Age, cementing the companies place as the dominant force of 90’s American animation. Now, more than a decade later since these films were released, Disney has made plans to re-release their Silver Age classics in theaters, remastered and in 3D. Their second offering of this series is the 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast, the first animated movie in history to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for best picture and the second classic of the Silver Age.
Beauty and The Beast takes its story from a French fairy tale with the same name. A cruel and selfish prince (Robby Benson) is put under a curse by an enchantress. While his servants are turned into living household items, the prince himself is turned into a horrible monster to reflect on his lack of kindness. He is told that the curse will be broken if he is able to find true love by the end of his 21st birthday, an event that is timed with a magic rose. Years later, a bright and fiercely independent girl named Belle (Paige O’Hara), who is an outcast in her home town despite being noticeably beautiful, lives a life of wanting and fantasy as she feels trapped in her surroundings. Her crackpot inventor father Maurice (Rex Everhart) sets off into the woods one day to display a new invention of his at an upcoming fair. However, he gets lost and comes to the cursed castle of The Beast, where he is taken prisoner. Belle goes in search of her father and offers herself to the Beast as a trade for his freedom. Now imprisoned, Belle befriends the servants and begins to piece together the story of the Beast. Meanwhile, The Beast becomes enamored with Belle and the two of them strike up a relationship. However, an egomaniacal man from Belle’s village named Gaston (Richard White) appears to claim Belle as his own trophy wife and uses Belle’s father’s freedom as collateral. Belle, The Beast, and the servants must defend themselves from Gaston and his pack of fear laden villagers.
Looking at Beauty and the Beast historically in the Disney filmography, it is interesting to note how many stereotypes Belle as a “Disney Princess” both breaks and simultaneously creates in her starring role. On the one hand, compared to such princesses as Ariel in the previous feature The Little Mermaid, Belle is arguably the one positive force in the movie. She encourages and later saves her father, dismisses Gaston’s overly masculine advances, and simultaneously overcomes her fear of The Beast while making him a better person. This would set the standard for most other Disney princesses in coming movies, including Aladdin’s Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the character spectrum, Gaston also created a new type of Disney villain and male archetype. Until Beauty and the Beast, Disney villains had always had a physical tell of their evil intention and a position that served their purpose. Gaston however hits all the physical tells of a Disney prince (given, all over-exaggerated and somewhat more intimidating) and in a way shows the classic strength, boldness, and courage that the Disney Princes before him showed. Yet when he did not get Belle with a quick marriage proposal (the favorite ending of many Disney movies) , he turned into one of the more underhanded villains in the company’s history, showing a flip side to what occurs when a man goes after a woman that most Disney movies would not show.
The re-release of Beauty and The Beast leaves the original mostly untouched outside of some touch-ups to the color and the addition of 3D. The 3D itself is somewhat underwhelming, adding little to the visuals outside of boosting some of the landscape shots. This is disappointing for a movie that boasts two of the more iconic dance numbers in animated history. It also has to be said that nothing in the movie is tarnished by the touch-ups and 3D, which can at times greatly hurt a classic film’s feel.
Beauty and the Beast stands as one of Disney’s groundbreaking and historic victories in animation. The characters broke and created archetypes, the music is extremely memorable and a joy to hear, and the animation has a classic Disney feel that is mostly forgotten in this day and age. However, seeing it on the big screen and in theaters does not come off as a necessity, being that the results of the remastering are underwhelming. Fans of the movie who simply want to see it on the big screen for the first time in over a decade will be happy, but anyone who’s looking to get something new out of it could save money and pick up the DVD.