best films: #3: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

When asked what the greatest love story, musical, or animated film of all time is, the answer has always been very easy – Beauty and the Beast is the undisputed champion of all three genres, in my book.  (And it’s achievements are all the more impressive after seeing the 2010 doc Waking Sleeping Beauty – it’s a good watch… rent it!)  At the heart of the film is the impeccable scoring and lyrics from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, undoubtedly one of the all-time great duos in song-writing.  The entire soundtrack is sheer perfection.  From the jaunty, upbeat “Be Our Guest” to the thrilling and très français opening number “Belle” to the incredibly romantic and timeless title song, it has to rank among the best played movie musicals of all time, without even dividing the live action and animated ones.  And thankfully, this outing is much more than just the insanely addictive soundtrack.  The animation is beautiful and a great testament to the merits of hand-drawn animation.  CGI has churned out some impressive and wonderful films in the past decade-and-a-half, but 2D animation hasn’t gotten its fair shake in that time.  The simple fact is, children today can still watch Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin and be completely amazed at the color and style that comes with hand-drawn work.

And as far as the voice acting goes, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – stunt celebrity casting does not a great animated movie make.  Studios in this past decade have relied so heavily on casting famous tabloid fodder for their voice cast, neglecting the wealth of little-known talents (namely people like Pat Carroll who played Ursula in Mermaid or Jonathan Freeman who played Jafar in Aladdin).  In Beauty and the Beast, the stars are little-known Broadway actress Paige O’Hara and sideline player in a handful of movies Robby Benson.  Sure, they picked up the luminous Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, and Jerry Orbach for the trio of household objects who steal the show, but the pedigree is far surpassing anything you’ll likely see in anything DreamWorks Animation puts out.  Speaking of, Lansbury is giving arguably one of the best animated voice acting performances ever – it’s unfortunate that the Oscars completely poo-poo this sort of things as “true acting.”  But all things considered, the true star and biggest success of this movie is the storytelling – adapted from the French fairy tale, it’s the prime example of a film that works for all ages and generations.  It’s beauty transcends preconceived notions, cynicism, and ill will.

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