Thursday, 17 May 2012

Film Review: 18 May

A Disney classic with animated crockery, good humour and a whopping ballroom scene

Written by Kat Brown


kat brown1-BWGiven the phenomenal success of Avengers Assemble (reviewed by Barry Norman next week), executives at Disney could quite easily spend the next few years lolling around in fancy chairs, throwing money into the air rather than making films. Rendering their library of animated classics into 3D hardly seems to require more thought, but it does offer us a chance to see films on the big screen that we might not have seen in 20 years, and younger viewers not at all.

Beauty And The Beast is a delight to have back on screen, even if Belle's doe-eyed quest to save a sulky man from a sulky life in a sulky body isn't quite in the same league as The Lion King. The fairytale of a bookish beauty taken hostage by a hideous beast – a prince under a spell – and her efforts to protect him from her aspiring suitor, Gaston, and the wrath of confused villagers, it is boosted by a plethora of animated crockery, romance and good humour. There is also another great Disney villain in the preening Gaston, a giant chin in small tights.

Modern animated features have evolved ever further from line drawings and fairytales, and much of this is owed to the earlier, whopping success of Beauty And The Beast, the first cartoon to be nominated for a Best Film Oscar. Someone told me at the time that the (still wildly impressive) ballroom scene was made with computers and my mind boggled.

Pixar, who designed the technology, and Disney paved the way for what is now the norm in animated features, both in terms of critical plaudits and technology. Whether it needs to be seen in 3D is another thing entirely, but at least it gives Disney cause for more of a splash around its re-release.

It's not all bells and whistles: Alan Menken and Howard Ashman work no less glorious magic on the songs. From Belle's opening 'Bonjour!' – if only they'd incorporated more French, the British might be better at languages – to the brilliant wordplay of Gaston and Be Our Guest, and Angela Lansbury's glowing rendition of the lovely title number, the songs manage to be rowdy, cheering and just lovely.

Belle (spoken and sung by Paige O'Hara) is one of the better Disney role models for young girls (books and education, good; people controlling your life, bad) and sung with such verve and freshness that you could happily let her burble on for longer.

The only let down is Belle's romantic interest. The Beast, who arguably did more to improve the image of long hair on men than the 1970s and 1980s combined, loses all appeal in just a few moments. When the spell governing his form is broken and the Beast regains his human form, we usher out the gruff fighter, and bid hello to a milksop who kisses Belle with all the passion of a reluctant lifeguard on a mouth-to-mouth training day. Not one of Disney's finer moments, perhaps, but given that the preceding 80 minutes is stuffed full of them, we can forgive them that.

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