Monday, November 14, 2016

A Reel 25: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST


“Be our guest…”




This month marks the 25th anniversary of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
Based on the French fairy tale of the same name (and partly on the 1946 French film version), in which a beautiful young woman falls in love with a prince who had been turned into a beast, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was the 30th animated feature film to be produced by Disney…but its origins would go much further back in time. Coming off the success of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS in 1937, Walt Disney was looking to adapt the story to the film, but the story proved to be a challenge. The project would sit on virtual shelf until the late 1980’s when it was revived, and it would become the first Disney animated film to use a script; as most animated films were developed using storyboards.
After some stops and starts (including a complete scrapping and starting over in 1989), first-time feature directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale were hired, and they in turn asked songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who had written the song score for Disney’s successful THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989), to develop the film into a Broadway-style musical. Since the original story had only two main characters, the filmmakers enhanced them, added new characters taking the form of household items to guide the audience through the story, and added a real “villain” to complete the story. The film would use a combination of hand-drawn and computer animation, with new software and techniques allowing for a wider range of colors and much greater depth and movement.
Voice-casting can go a long way in adding life to animated characters. Paige O’ Hara, a broadway actress, was cast as Belle, the main character, and Robby Benson was cast as Beast. Jerry Orbach, of TV’s LAW AND ORDER fame, donned a French accent to play the role of Lumiere, the butler who was turned into a candlestick, and Angela Lansbury provided the voice of Mrs. Potts, the castle cook turned into a teapot. The film’s songs were recorded live with the orchestra and the voice cast, giving it a cast album-like energy.
In November of 1991, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was released and met with critical acclaim. At the box office, it would be the third most successful draw of the year, surpassed only by TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY and ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES…which was still a great feat for an animated movie. It would be the first animated film to be ever to be nominated for Best Picture, and would remain so until 2010 when the category was expanded to 10 films. At the 64th Academy Awards, it would be nominated in six categories (including two for Best Original Song), and would win two; for Best Original Score and Song. Years later, IGN would rank the film as the greatest animated movie of all time, and in 2002 it would be selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
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The impact of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST would go far beyond Oscars and dollars. From 1989 to 1999, Disney was going through what film-historians refer to as the “Disney Renaissance”; in which the famed studio went through a creative resurgence which restored public interest in their films and their products. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was the third film made during this period, and would contribute greatly to Disney’s decade-long success. In that decade, countless kids and families would have shelves of VHS tapes packed with Disney titles, and in this Blogger’s household, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was the film that was picked the most often. This Blogger’s little sister, then five years old, watched the film all the time…and knew every character, song, and moment in the film. It became a family favorite, and this Blogger’s little sister now shares her enthusiasm for the film with her daughter…and it’s certain that is a scene being played out with many families. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a legacy film; one that is passed down from generation to generation, transcending time over and over again.


“Tale as old as time…”




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