Friday, November 15, 2013

Disney's Beauty and the Beast

After an excruciating two weeks when Willie went to live with my parents on vet orders of hoping to break her of thinking of me as a mate, she is home, and growing feathers. She is dealing better with the no petting than I had hoped, but she likes the tricks she makes up the best. I have been watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast several times a day as it is currently Willie's favorite, so of course it's ingeniousness and genre benders have been on my mind.

So first off: Am I obsessed with the story of "Beauty and the Beast"? Once more, a resounding yes. The story turns on love and understanding. But best of all, it turns on the decision of the girl. The Beast may ask her to marry him, or act his best, but in the end it is Beauty who is the active agent in this story.

In fact, I have my own novelization of "Beauty and the Beast" waiting in the wings. Ah--you see in my bio that I said I had five fantasy books written, and I now have five fantasy books published. So am I twiddling my thumbs? No. I have the next two books in the Weaver Series written and passed through on editing a few times. All right, that's in part because I am new to writing series and originally thought Will-o-the-Wisps Warp and Wooden Weft were the same book. I still have two more books to go (I tell you, I am already beginning to feel these character's are trapped in No Exit in my skull. I also have another "Tam Lin" adaptation and an urban "Red Riding Hood"

Back to Beauty and the Beast. Where to start? The Little Mermaid marked the return to Disney's traditional animation beauty after going cheap for a while in the sixties and seventies. Lush overlaid cels created a three D universe while the use of many small movement drawings create lush life. Who do I even begin to credit? Directors, animators, those who worked on the story? I'm going with Howard Ashman, executive producer and song writer along with Alan Menken on the lyrics and music.

This was Howard Ashman's child. The movie is dedicated to him having created the character's souls. It is dedicated to him because he died of AIDS before the film was finished.

For now, I will leave that and talk about what made this an exceptional adaptation. The characters, of course.

Belle--Beauty--(, voice)is a Disney character like no other. She comes across as older than most, perhaps twenty. Instead of being a well loved princess she is considered artistic and odd in her provincial town. Reading and helping out her father on his inventions, she doesn't feel as if she fits in, and she wants more out of life. Her expressions are wry. She has the Disney aberration of a main female character in that she is sarcastic. Rather than innocent, she comes across as driven by her own decisions. She makes the decision to trade her father being a prisoner of the Beast for herself. Her father and the Beast do not ask it of her.

She has to be the single interpretation of "Beauty and the Beast" I have seen (and as we have discussed I have seen and read a lot) where Beauty runs away. Faced with a frightening and monstrous Beast, she attempts to run away home, screwing her promise. When she is caught in the woods by wolves, she whacks one upside the head with a branch before becoming overwhelmed. As she makes the decision to run, she also makes the decision to go back to take care of the torn up Beast who saved her. She and the Beast begin to come to terms with each other when she stands up to him.

The Beast (Robby Benson, voice)takes on his own character arc rather than a passive figure that Beauty must come to terms with. He may be handsome for a beast--but that is what he is, not a monster. Through the beginning of the movie, he is often seen as walking on all fours. What makes the Beast ugly is his personality, not face. Having despaired of ever being anything but a monster, he has fallen deep into depression that manifests as sudden lashes of anger and misplaced pride. When Beauty stands up to him, yet is kind and funny with him despite his appearance that he can't get over, he learns to be a good person. That is what changes him from being a Beast.

As much as any character in this film, Ashman brings life to Gaston (Richard White)as much as anything else in this film. At the beginning of the movie, Gaston is almost a figure of fun. He is a handsome but boorish, vain, strutting idiot who only highlights what Belle does not want of life. As the movie progresses, however, Gaston becomes a more and more nefarious character in his attempts to control Belle. He is mirrored against the Beast as the Beast becomes more and more human and Gaston becomes a beast.

In the culmination of the movie, Gaston finds out about the Beast, and is jealous of Belle's attachment to him. Gaston creates a scare in the village, convincing them the Beast is dangerous and must be killed. He whips up a fury of mob fear and violence that has nothing to do with the Beast or even Gaston's true ideas about the Beast.

Aptly called "The Mob Song", (Howard Ashman, Alan Menken) one cannot help but feel Ashman knew something about blind persecution as a gay man living with AIDS in 1991 when he created a song far beyond the scope of a children's movie:

"Praise the Lord and here we go!
We don't like
What we don't understand
In fact it scares us
And this monster is mysterious at least
Bring your guns!
Bring your knives!
Save your children and your wives
We'll save our village and our lives
We'll kill the Beast!"

The lesson is that we want to destroy what we do not understand, and that is wrong. The fact that Ashman and Menken have the mob invoke God, misguidedly believing that He is on their side, provides an eerie echo of many real life occurrences. In this movie the Beast may be a big, furry monster, but the lesson this song teaches us isn't just for children, and yet so many of us never learn it. The strident mob mentality lyrics strip bare fear that turns to hate, and the beliefs that we can justify protecting our own when they were never in danger in the first place. The song fits seamlessly into the the character arcs and overall theme of the movie, and instead of standing out as soap boxing, Gaston's mob stands out as perhaps the most frightening villain Disney has ever created.

Like the song, the movie, like all good children's art, is meant for adults as much as children. When Disney set out to make Snow White, the first feature length animated movie, it was not touted as a children's movie, but a work of art. In Beauty and the Beast Disney rises again to this true glory.

The only things that I find annoying in this twice Oscar winning movie are meant for kids, and kids probably like them. Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury are among the celebrity voices that round out the supporting cast without intrusively pushing to center stage. From the beautifully handled reprises to the send up to classic Hollywood musicals in "Be Our Guest", the movie shines.

As much as Beauty and the Beast brings us one of the most complex, well animated films Disney has ever made, it also marks a death knell. Beauty and the Beast is the first Disney feature that resorted to computer animation in the title song when Beauty and the Beast dance in an elaborate ballroom.

At the time it was hailed as a great success, and a sequence Disney never could have performed without computer animation. In stark contrast to Belle and Beast's fluid dance, the overly shiny and stiff ballroom offers soaring views of the event, but not much else. Maybe they couldn't have gotten the angles they did with normal animation, but then again, maybe they shouldn't have.

To me, the computer animation is clunky and out of place compared to the grace of drawn animation. Here, it is only a mar in what should be a beautiful and tender sequence. By Aladdin, computer animation was relied on for all the major, epic moments that would have been more amazing and not dysjunct against the characters if they had been done by hand.

I know I said I wouldn't pick, but this isn't a pick. This is a punch to the heart for me. What can I say? I am old school. Computer animation has yet to beat out drawn or claymation for me.

This one jarring moment cannot beat out what is a tenderly rendered movie, and one that I am glad is Willie's favorite.

1 comment:

  1. Ha! You nailed this one. One of the best Disney animated films, in my top three. I'd love to see your view of some more of the Disney classics (beyond what is in this post) and epecially like to know what you thought of the Angelina Jolie Maleficant which I like quite a lot...