Beauty and the Beast 3D


Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Voices of Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Michael Pierce G cert, general release, 84 min

HERE’S a suggestion. Might 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, now reissued in unnecessary, irritating 3D, be the best film from Disney’s period of resurgence in the 1990s?

The Lion King and Aladdin both made more money. But, for all their charms, they seem, when set beside their predecessor, more like the work of a media machine. The characters are a tad too brash. The tunes grate somewhat.

Beauty and the Beast plays like a proper, rigorously integrated musical. The gorgeous songs flow from the action and the action flows from the songs. Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, who had worked together on The Little Shop of Horrors, weren’t afraid to take diversions into Sondheim Valley. Whole swathes of plot are explained through rhyme.

Perhaps that’s precisely why the film – though very popular – didn’t draw the audiences that would later swarm to The Lion King. Its Broadway aesthetics are just that little bit less appealing to kids.

Beauty and the Beast is, of course, a creature of its time. Slowly catching up with feminism, Disney finally got round to giving us a heroine who had more to her personality than unrestrained perkiness.

This version of Belle is clearly the smartest, most imaginative person in town. She reads voraciously and shows no interest in the local hunk. When captured by the lumbering Beast, she’s prepared to look past his hairy visage and appreciate the troubled man within. (Is it churlish to note that the creature is more of a cuddly bear than a genuinely repulsive ogre?)

The characterisations still work nicely. The chattering household objects – a teapot, a candelabra, a clock – remain very amusing, and the oafish hunter Gaston is a masterpiece of vanity.

Less successful is the integration of traditional animation with (by our advanced standards) rudimentary digital imagery. If there’s any good news concerning the transfer to stupid 3D, it is that the darkening of the image blurs the seams between those two media. Will it ever go away?