Beauty and the Beast 

Disney retrofit - Smart fairy tale gets a new dimension

Beauty and the Beast

 

Starring: Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry Orbach. Rated: G. Running time: 84 minutes.

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The enchanted moat of the Disney dream castle is once again being dredged in search of resalable nuggets. After the remastered Lion King reigned supreme at the box office last fall, Disney took it as license to yet again blow the dust off the back catalog, subjecting 2-D cel animation to a fancy 3-D retrofit meant to grab the attention of tech-savvy tots, and to grab the money out of their parents' wallets.

This 1991 smash is particularly suited for the upgrade process, since it sported CGI backgrounds, allowing the camera to swoop, float and spin around the action in ways that were revolutionary at the time. Though going 3-D is surely a cash grab, it's hard to feel exploited by such smart, sunny and spirited entertainment.

Beauty and the Beast came in the middle of the mouse house's second golden age in the early '90s, a period that saw hit after hit and helped the revive not just the studio and the animation business, but traditional, crowd-pleasing musical theater to boot. No surprise then that the songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman are as catchy and clever as you remember, with elaborate, show-stopping set pieces that help buoy the material between tormented Beast's epic self-pity bouts.

It's still a kick to hear these tunes belted out by old pros like Angela Lansbury and the late, great Jerry Orbach. Best remembered as a gruff flatfoot, Orbach in his day was one of Broadway's most celebrated song-and-dance men. Here you can see the beginning of the modern fairy-book makeover that has become increasingly snarky and glib over the years. In contrast, Belle is a trailblazer for the kind of headstrong, independent heroines that have became standard issue in kids' flicks; she's book-smart, thoughtful and proto-feminist, though she still ends up turning in her peasant dresses for glittery princess gowns.

On the other hand, I'd forgotten about Belle's lamely unfunny inventor father, and the way the de-facto villain, Gaston, shifts from goofily amusing oaf to merciless killer in a flash, though these are minor complaints.

You will believe a teacup can dance, and you'll love every second of it.

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