‘Beauty and the Beast 3-D’ still enchanting as ever
In 1991, Disney accomplished a feat once thought impossible: One of its animated features, “Beauty and the Beast,” nabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, a first-of-its-kind nomination that wasn’t repeated until 2009 with Pixar’s “Up.” And though “Beauty and the Beast” lost out to Orion Pictures’ “Silence of the Lambs,” the nomination showcased what would be a turnaround for Disney and animated films in general.
Now, thanks to the hit-and-miss technology of 3-D animation, Disney has re-released its old classic for a new generation, this time using its patent-pending 3-D conversion technique — called “Voluplane,” in a reference to the camera used to create depth in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937 — to create a world as magical as it was 21 years ago.
To those who have seen the movie before — either in a cineplex or on a well-used VHS tape — not much has changed here. (It’s a good thing.)
After a quick voiceover, we’re soon introduced to a little town, full of little people. One in particular, though, stands out: Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara), the town’s most beautiful, if somewhat odd, resident. A bookworm who delights in helping her inventor father, Belle is the odd girl out in an 18th-century French town where stereotypes and caricatures run rampant. (The story is loosely based on an old French fairy tale.)
From here, the story remains intact: a beast (voiced by Robby Benson), a curse, a love story, a fight and a happily ever after. What has changed is the way Disney used 3-D to enhance this already amazing classic. Long shots, especially, were spectacularly rendered; close-ups were done with extreme care and judicious use of 3-D. The insidious forest, the foreboding castle, the stunning ballroom: All are immersive and further pull you into the story.
But as with any Disney movie worth its salt, the magic here lies with the songs. From the film’s opening number, “Belle,” to Jerry Orback’s show-stopping “Be My Guest” to Angela Lansbury’s pitch-perfect rendition of the titular song, “Beauty and the Beast,” you’re enthralled by the story-forwarding melodies by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.
Still, with all its Disney charm, the main attraction of “Beauty and the Beast” is its strong, intelligent heroine, the first of many who would soon grace the silver screen in animated form. And for Disney, it was the stepping stone that moved the company from purely kids’ material to more sophisticated projects, including “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” And for that, if nothing else, we should be thankful.
Four enchanted stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.