(G) 5 stars
Disney"s Beauty and the Beast is rightly regarded as one of the greatest animated films of all time, if not one of the greatest films ever, period. Watching the tale of a bookish young woman and a monstrously cursed prince for the first time in nine years, I was astounded at just how lovely the hand-drawn animation was. Except for a couple of scenes, the movie looks like it was drawn no differently than Pinocchio, four decades earlier.
Newly restored on the massive IMAX screen, every last detail is visible. I caught on to things I"d never seen before, such as the fact that Belle is the only person in the town who wears blue (symbolizing her outsider status). Despite the low-tech, the animation detail is astonishing, especially the facial expressions. Witness the ambiguity on Belle"s face when she realizes she"s falling in love, or the first time she sees the Beast"s real face, or the way villain Gaston shifts from big doofus to evil lunatic with a hardening of the eyes.
The structure and pacing are nearly airtight, particularly when compared to the garish messes Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas, which seemed assembled without rhyme or reason.
The entire enterprise is surprisingly mature and restrained. "Finding beauty within" is a common theme throughout all Disney films, but here it"s tinged with a subtle yet incredibly deep streak of bitterness. All the uncool kids from school are giving the beautiful people a good kicking; this time straight-laced Disney was willing to go with as subversive a theme as "Handsome men are bad."
Unbeknownst to any of his co-workers at the time, lyricist Howard Ashman was dying of AIDS and in enormous pain as he worked on this project and Aladdin, and that might have contributed to the sharp edge of some of the lyrics and story.
The music is some of the best ever done in a Disney film. More than any other Disney film, the music is married to context and greatly depends on the visual cues to work (don"t believe me? Then you never saw a show choir stumble their way through "Be Our Guest" - even if you get the notes pitch-perfect, it just doesn"t work without a dancing candlestick.). And let"s not forget the vocal work. David Ogden Stiers has done many Disney films, but this is his best role of all, and Paige O"Hara and Robbie Benson bring together the main characters with enormous heart.
Beauty and the Beast runs at the IMAX Theatre in White River State Park through Aug. 30.