Tale as Old as Time, by Jack Fleischer
Beauty and the Beast is a critic proof movie. When it premiered more than 20 years ago it was the biggest ever hit for Disney, and it ranked as one of the biggest hit films of 1991 behind only T2 and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Stack this with the fact that it has six Oscar nods, two wins, and you have one legendary film. NOW IT’S IN 3D! Yes, the animated tale of Belle and The Beast is back in theaters, and I only mention all the accolades because while waiting to screen this film, a woman walked up to a stack of popcorn was turned away. That’s when she loudly scoffed, “No popcorn! Not even for a reviewer!” I’m here to say that regardless of your jaded nature, the relentless 3D onslaught, or a reviewer who couldn’t get her popped corn, this is still a pretty kick-ass flick.
For those who don’t know, this is the story of a young woman, “Belle” (voice of Paige O’Hara), and her run in with “The Beast” (Robby Benson). She the local lovely who worships her wacky inventor father, but due to daddy’s inability to ask directions she is trapped by “the Beast.” He’s hirsute, a recovering narcissist, a tad agoraphobic, and just generally feels trapped in the body of Ron Perlman thanks to a magical tart he once gave the brush-off. Luckily a chorus of characters cast from the pages of Crate and Barrel, help lead the pair to (spoilers) a life lived “happily ever after.”
At the time the animation was legendary, not only because it was lushly hand drawn, but because it married this with cutting edge computer animation. It was a film that really did bring out the best in a burgeoning technology, which has in the years since almost completely replaced the hand drawn art. Used sparingly, the computer animation of 20 years ago, turned a simple box step in the ballroom into an iconic display of brutish mouse house animation domination.
They were beautiful then, but are they still amazing in 3D?
I’m no fan of 3D, and I wouldn’t say that this is a film that was necessarily calling out for the tridimensional treatment. There were scenes, especially in the introduction that seemed to fault from too much depth and detail. I’m talking of some crowd scenes that today would almost surely be rendered with insane detail thanks to the automation available to computers. There are some scenes where the 3D bulges didn’t necessarily jive with the natural shading of the piece. While the imperfections were apparent, it does point you back towards the original in a positive way by showing the original brilliance of the art.
While there is something unsettling about trying to capture a facet of the film that was never part of the original, this is not a 3D failure. On the plus side, they didn’t go overboard exaggerating depth, and the images seem to fall in a believable spectrum native to the original 2D art. On top of this, one only needs to read the Amazon.com reviews of the blu-ray “Diamond Edition” to know that when the film was originally remastered there were some pretty hearty color issues. The brights were too bright, and many were displeased. It seems that some of the color issues have been addressed with this release.
If you are young enough to have never have seen this on the big screen I’d say that it’s worth it just for that. Forget the popcorn (I think Lumiere was doing something naughty in there with the duster), and enjoy the classic animation and amazing lyrics by the late, great Howard Ashman. This is pure Disney at its peak, regardless of innovations.