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Skeptical. Iíll admit it, Iím beyond dubious when I hear about plans to take 2D movies and hitch them to the 3D bandwagon. How could a film made decades ago, that was never planned by its director or cinematographer to be thrust into the laps of its audience, make a seamless transition? Disneyís second foray into computer-generated animation was 1991Ďs Beauty and the Beast. The combination of their classic hand-drawn techniques with pixilated flourishes added a depth and movement not seen in previous features. Never before have those differences been as significant or as breathtaking as in this re-release; the translation into the 3D medium brings out the amazing step forward this film was in the evolution of Disney animation.

A telling of the French fairy tale (with a healthy dose of Jean Cocteauís superlative 1946 live action masterpiece thrown in), Disneyís Beauty and the Beast is the story of a prideful prince brought low by a vengeful witch who curses him to look and live like a hideous animal. Like an hourglass, the falling petals of a wilting magical rose tick away his chance at achieving humanity; Beastís only hope of redemption is to find true love. Thanks to his fur-covered mug and ferocious temper, thereís not exactly a queue of ladies lining up for this prince and it seems heís fated to live in a skin not his own for the rest of his days. Away from these evil enchantments, a young girl dreams of life beyond the small town of her birth. Belle cares only for her books and learning, and for her scatterbrained inventor father, Maurice. Her academic and adventurous yearnings isolate her from her neighbours, who donít understand why she simply wonít settle down with Gaston, the prize of the village. Belle sees Gaston for what he is; a fatheaded blowhard who doesnít give a fig for what Belle wants, sheís only the master huntsmanís latest quarry. Every day in the village is the same, until Belleís father is waylaid on a journey to another town which finds him lost in the woods and fleeing for his life from hungry wolves. The old man finds himself outside a set of castle gates, which magically open and allow him to hide from the elements. Unfortunately, no one told the landlord about this new boarder and Belleís father is imprisoned by the Beast. When their horse arrives home without Maurice, Belle runs to the castle in pursuit. In the face of the snarling monster, Belle bravely trades her life for her fatherís to remain a prisoner in the luxurious castle where all the furniture and accommodations are enchanted. Sheís waited upon by Beastís servantís; a tightly-wound butler in the form of a clock called Cogsworth, a jolly teapot cook called Mrs. Potts, and a dashing candlestick valet called LumiŤre. LumiŤre is determined to get his master to woo the frightened, feisty Belle into falling for the prince in disguise before all the rose petals have wilted. Can Beast tame his fierce nature and charm Belle? Will Belle see through his monstrous exterior to the kind heart underneath in time?

Watching Beauty and the Beast so long after seeing it for the first time eons ago canít help but make one realise how much this film and its stunning soundtrack (by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, who previously gave life to the world of The Little Mermaid) is indelibly embedded in the consciousness. It was a blessing of sorts to know so much of the screenplay and what would happen next, so I could truly soak in the details and differences made by the 3D transition. The conversion succeeds beautifully in immersing the viewer into the animation. Moments that one might suspect would translate well into 3D do so beyond expectations: Belleís ride on a ladder across the racks of the bookshop with her arm outstretched, the sweep of Belleís yellow gown as she and Beast waltz in the ballroom and the chandeliers dizzyingly high overheard, the harrowing scenes of the climatic showdown between Beast and Gaston on the castle turrets could give one vertigo. Of course, the showstopping musical production number, Be Our Guest, is hardly in need of improvement, but the Busby Berkeley-style choreography is somehow even more joyous and charming with the cutlery flying at your head. Even the voluptuous Greek chorus trio of Tex-Avery-inspired barmaids jiggle more emphatically in stereoscopic vision. The effect only adds to the film and subtracts nothing, which allayed my big fear: Why would one gild a lily, or in this case a rose like Beauty and the Beast? This reissue only shows off that rose against a new and more involving backdrop.

The only drawback may have been for the small children in the audience who seemed to have a much harder time watching the movie than the kids I remember from back when. I donít know whether the 3D component made it worse or are kids just easier to scare these days? During the initial chase of Belleís father by the wolves and his entry into Beastís castle, one small fry wailed his lungs out for a good ten minutes. Similar sniffles could be heard when Beast yelled at Belle for going into the wing she was specifically forbidden to enter, then again when the townspeople decide to raid the castle and save Belle. Perhaps it wasnít only the 3D aspect, but seeing the film on a proper movie-sized screen, as opposed to watching it at home on DVD was all too much? Then again whatís a childhood without being traumatised at least once by a Disney cartoon? Theyíll live.

Itís hard to imagine anyone not having seen the film before, but it would be remiss of me to omit Beauty and the Beastís qualities outside of this 3D transfer. I will contend to my dying breath that there really is a difference between hand-drawn animation and even the best CGI that goes beyond what the eye can comprehend. The character designs, colours and backgrounds all bear the handmade magic, depth and texture that simply cannot be programmed. Artistically, Beauty and the Beast is at the top of the Disney canon. The movieís supporting characters are some of the best in any Disney film, which is remarkable as they are all furniture. LumiŤre is still the love-crazy standout and Be Our Guest is a little poignant when one realises the amazing Jerry Orbach, who gave LumiŤre such vivid life is no longer with us. Thinking of the voice acting, itís still startling after all this time to recall that the soft-spoken 70ís teen idol Robby Benson clearly shared his vocal cords with a demon to create the inimitable roar and perpetual growl of the transfigured Beast. Itís one of the best voice portrayals ever recorded. The script and songs are often slyly hilarious in a way closer to the anarchy and subversion of Warner Brothers cartoons, like LumiŤreís sure relation to that other animated amorous Frenchman (-skunk?), Pepe le Pew, the audacious lyrics to ďGastonĒ celebrating the lunkheaded manís boorishness, body hair and spitting ability, and a castle invader being swallowed by Belleís armoire and ejected in full drag. Still relevant is the filmís gentle message to girls about staying true to themselves even when it seems no one understands them. The recommendation for men to try a little tenderness in matters of the heart canít be heard enough. The romance between Belle and Beast is so true and sweetly crafted, grown-ups canít help but feel a frisson of misgiving when the human girl begins to have feelings that are ďa bit alarmingĒ for her monstrous, furry captor. When Belle learns that the townspeople are persecuting her father, Beastís selflessness in letting her go back home, knowing the magical rose has nearly wilted and his time to reclaim his humanity is almost up is heartbreaking and heroic. Itís a perfect film.

I suspect the sweeping computer-generated panoramas and depth of field already in place in the original issue was a big help in deciding what to accentuate in this reengineering. The 3D-ification of Beauty and the Beast feels more like a natural step forward and not at all a gimmicky, clumsy or foisted-upon conversion. Nothing is taken away and this 3D reissue makes the filmís brilliance even easier to appreciate; the movie is more beautiful and timeless than it ever was.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva
January 13th, 2012
 

 

 

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