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Beauty and the Beast

Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Film: A+

Directed by: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Written by: Linda Woolverton
Produced by: Don Hahn
Starring: Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Pierce
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but when this age-old phrase is converted to modern times, it translates to "the desktop is mightier than the pencil." There's no denying that the computer has become a tool used across the world, whether for political reasons, or for business or especially for educational purposes. Computers have also been adopted by the film industry to give their works of art a shinier feel and along with the visual effects wizards, the filmmakers who use these electronic devices the most are the animators. After a while, it was uncertain whether the cel-based animation used to create such classics like The Little Mermaid and Pinocchio would be completely dropped in favour of the quicker and slicker style. While studios like DreamWorks may have given up on them, the folks at the world's pioneering animation studio are still behind the pencil-and-paper animation that has enchanted families for generations. Looking back at one of their essential works, Beauty and the Beast brings back memories of not only nostalgia, but also warmth. Quite possibly the greatest love story ever told, this "tale as old as time" has always been told by bringing pen to paper. From its candle-lit beginnings by a French writer many years ago to the Disney animators who brought joys to people of all ages, Beauty and the Beast has always touched the heart.

Belle is a smart and independent girl living in a small French town, who despite her beauty, is looked down upon by the other citizens. Only Gaston, the town's ladies man, has any interest in her and will stop at nothing to receive her hand in marriage. When Belle's father rides off to compete in the state fair, he gets lost and finds himself in a mysterious castle, populated by moving and talking objects. Despite a warm welcome, he soon finds himself under the imprisonment of the beast who rules over the castle. Coming to her father's rescue, Belle decides to take his place and stay in the castle. The Beast and the objects finally see this as a chance to break the spell that was cast over them years ago, in which the only way it can be broken is if the beast learns to love and be loved in return. At first, the chances are slim, but Belle then begins to notice the beast's sweet side and thus a friendship commences.

The main part of what makes Beauty and the Beast such a brilliant film is the fact that the relationship between the two title characters doesn't feel artificial or one-dimensional, even though they're drawn on paper. Unlike other famous fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast feels quite realistic in its definition of love. The story breaks all conventions by not going the "love at first sight" route and letting the romance progress at a reasonable pace. Belle also proves to be the most interesting Disney heroine, as she doesn't fit the norm of typical princesses like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Unlike the aforementioned characters, Belle is not bland, but actually as a personality. She defines individuality and seeks to do more than just marry a prince. Her annoyance at Gaston is not only humourous, but also shows that her ideas of romance don't consist of "a rustic hunting lodge... my latest kill roasting on the fire... and my little wife, massaging my feet... while the little ones play on the floor with the dogs... we'll have six or seven," as Gaston puts it. The Beast is also a rather stubborn, but loving personality. Despite his tough exterior is a nice person at heart which Belle begins to realise the more into the relationship they enter.

Adding to the brilliance of the chemistry between Beauty and the Beast are the songs from Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman. Although both did terrific work on The Little Mermaid and their cult musical Little Shop of Horrors, the music in Beauty and the Beast stands as their best. The title theme song is quite possibly one of the most romantic songs ever written, combining beautiful lyrics with a very memorable melody. This song enhances the film's famous ballroom scene to ever impressive heights, already helped by the breathtaking animation in the sequence. "Beauty and the Beast" was not written as just a way to sell soundtracks and win Oscars. It adds another dimension to the characters as they continue to fall deeply in love with each other. It is both moving and deep. The other songs provided by the team also contribute wonderfully to the film, from a show-stopping Broadway number called "Be Our Guest" to the very funny ode to "Gaston." They're bursting with energy and humour made even more poignant by the fact they would feature the last lyrics written by Ashman (who had also already contributed some work to Aladdin). It's a brilliant way to end his career and the end credits homage him perfectly: "To our friend, Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman (1950-1991)"

Probably one of the most important ingredients that make Beauty and the Beast such a success is the startling animation. The animators at Disney did a terrific job at making everything absolutely perfect, from the character designs to the sets. Each character has their feel, whether comedic or dramatic, and the animators allow them to breath, seamlessly combining the actor's voice to the moving drawings. The sets are also worthy of mention, particularly the look of the Beast's castle. The gothic castle is drawn and painted beautifully from top to behind, so much so you're forgetting you're watching an animated film. The film is bright and colourful, but also dark and dreary when necessary. As mentioned before, the ballroom sequence combines Menken and Ashman's music with the animation flawlessly, giving a completely magical feel to it. When computers are brought into the scene, it seams in perfectly, not feeling distracted in the least. Beauty and the Beast most certainly stands as Disney animation at its finest.

Some of the best animated films in the world have come from the Walt Disney studios and Beauty and the Beast is deservedly one of their crown jewels. At the film's release, it was honoured with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, a rare feat for an animated film. It proves that like its heroine, Beauty and the Beast steps out of the comfort zone and thus it succeeds magically in taking people off into their hearts and children within.

The two protagonists in love in Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
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