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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 39: "Beauty and the Beast"

(Originally published on 1/23/23, an oversight that I didn't post it on Letterbox'd on the same week I watched it)


Beauty and the Beast

Run time: 84 min.

Release Date: November 22, 1991.

Where/when I first saw it: Randhurst Cinema, 1991 (opening weekend, probably)

How I watched it today: Blu-ray, Sunday evening

The true successor to “The Little Mermaid,” made with all the same talent and newfound confidence within the studio, not seen since the mid-’60s. While this film pretty much sticks to the formula that worked so well with “Mermaid” (and why not?), the excitement of seeing something fresh and innovative at this time was still clearly felt. Maybe having “Rescuers Down Under” as the buffer between the two films helped it somehow. While many were underwhelmed by that adventure film, if “Beast” had come out that year instead, maybe it wouldn’t have had as deep an impact.

Then again, it’s all still pretty hard to resist. The gorgeous prelude, made up of stills in stained glass, beautifully sets the stage for a story we’ve been told time and time again. The computers are put to great use in enhancing the pace and rhythm of the musical numbers, which are now establishing a kind of tradition right before our eyes. We have the longing to be free (“Part of That World” is now “Belle”), the big show-stopper (“Under the Sea” is now “Be Our Guest”) and the romance in bloom (“Kiss the Girl” is now “Beauty and the Beast”). In spite of this reliance on a tried-and-true playbook, “Beauty and the Beast,” perhaps unsurprisingly given all the returning talent here, manages to feel fresh and exciting all the same.

Until this time, the most widely praised version of this story had been Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film, which utilized groundbreaking effects and became one of the great works of cinematic poetry. Likewise, the Disney artists here have created some of the most memorable visual moments of the studio’s existence. Yes, the ballroom scene is the most obvious and rightly so (pay attention to those candelabras in the background), but the art direction on the whole is also quite stunning. The gargoyles permeating every shot inside the castle have a life of their own without even moving. It’s more than just a collection of cute characters as inanimate objects. The artists here have done their homework.

In the end, I still find myself having a slight preference for “The Little Mermaid.” Maybe it just has the benefit of being the first. The songs here are just as good. Maybe it’s the third act and the Beast’s transformation that doesn’t quite land for me. Still, this remains an exquisitely made film that continues to amaze and delight, from a studio that now seemed unstoppable.


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