Sunday, July 29, 2012

D52 - Week 30 - Beauty & the Beast

Kevin, the Enchanted Sketchpad
The first thing for me to get out of the way is, Beauty & the Beast is a masterfully created film, and is a likely candidate for Best D52 Movie Overall. Oh, I'm sure you can find a flaw or two. What movie has none at all? But they would be the kind of flaws on the scale of finding a few grains of rice overcooked in your lobster risotto with truffled corn cream, crispy leek and puree of fine herbs*. It doesn't ruin the overall dish, and you're only really noticing it because of how much you're savoring the whole thing, and you're savoring it because it's worth savoring. If I may continue the food analogy, The Rescuers Down Under was a Snickers bar. Also quite enjoyable but not worth tweeting a picture to brag to your friends about. Or something.
When B&tB first came out I was a kid, and as such didn't have a very refined palate. So I would opt for junk food over fancy cooked meals and, similarly, I didn't appreciate this movie as much as I should have. I was more into...let's see, what came out the same year...ooh, Darkwing Duck! Yeah, I watched the heck out of that. But yet didn't pay much attention to Beauty & the Beast. Well, Snickers does satisfy.
And Beauty & the Beast is very, how do I put it, classical indeed. It's what I would think of as fairly highbrow theater, or at least high enough brow without being inaccessible to children. The gags somehow remind of the type of gags you might see in a live Broadway show. You certainly won't find any pop culture references (see: the movie after this) or fart jokes (see: the movie after that). Maybe that's why I didn't cotton to as a little one. It never gets too too silly. By which I mean, silly enough to have Beast making a mess of his mane with his food but not as silly as a mallard dressing up as a superhero and fighting villainous duck-billed anthropomorphic plants and electrocuting or liquidous dogs. And while I still enjoy very-silly, I think I appreciate not-too-silly now too.
I didn't see this film when it first came out, but I did see its 3-D rerelease earlier this year. And it only recently hit me that that was the only time I've seen any D52 movie in a theater. Would any of them be more appreciated with full surround sound and a screen that can fit several mes? I...actually thought the art quality kind of suffered with the theatrical experience. There's something about seeing slightly off drawn faces that makes that even more off. Or maybe instead, or compounding that, it was retrofitting the characters and settings and things into three dimensions. Amanda and I only paid for the tickets because we wanted to see Beauty & the Beast in a theater, not because we wanted to see it in 3-D. I've emphasized this point plenty before, and it's too bad that by paying for the 3-D tickets at all we're surely not making the point well to the distributors themselves. Ah well. Maybe it'll look better in Finding Nemo?
It was quite nice to hear the soundtrack through proper high-end sound equipment. This also may be nitpicking but the only thing I don't like is when the use of separate channels makes you realize you're watching a movie with strategically placed speakers, such as when you hear a knock on the door that comes from a particular corner of the room. But for the music...oh, man, the music. Maybe it's because I'm not what one would call musically gifted, but it amazes me when not one but two people working together can write and compose a set of songs that are not only consistently catchy, interesting, and can stand the test of time, but also each have a unique storytelling purpose and weave into the main story in the most seamless possible way. Really, think about how hard it must be to write a musical (well)! Think about all of the rock or pop or whatever musicians who go against the odds to create one or two or a few songs that are catchy and creative and memorable, and how must work and thought goes into that, AND THEN imagine how amazing it is to use that much creative energy to make an album's worth of music, all in one limited time frame, that each sequentially move along the characters in a story created by someone else. And to make each of those songs beloved in their own right....
Basically what I'm saying is it's top-of-the-line stuff.
But how about the story? If I may go back to my Little Shop of Horrors comparison. In both cases the story itself is kind of ... dumb. As tends to be the case when magical curses or alien plants are involved. I still don't get exactly what Audrey and Seymour actually have in common, and the case for Belle's possible stockholm syndrome is quite astute, and why didn't Seymour consider using stray animals to feed the plant before going straight to humans and why did everyone else in the castle have to pay for the way Adam treated the woman anyway?
So it doesn't quite mesh with, like, reality, but that may be the beauty of it. The very idea of taking an idea that sounds on paper like it should be stupid, but making it actually surprisingly watchable, is rather impressive. Not unlike using the right creative team to make My Little Pony much more entertaining than it should be!
So with all of this obvious admiration, is there anything about this week's feature that I don't like? Weeeelll, there is that added-in-later "Being Human" sequence. There isn't anything wrong with the song itself, but what bugs me is its placement. Here we the viewing audience are, getting to the climax, we're waiting to see what's going to happen with Belle and Beast's relationship, and Gaston and his mob are getting ready to strike, and everything's up in the air aaand - we get a light-hearted song that doesn't really have anything to do with what's going on. It kills the tension! Also, is it canonically official that Beast has trouble reading? Because before the Being Human scene "existed," my interpretation had always been that Adam/Beast enjoyed reading, and that's why he had that huge library and why he wanted to share it with Belle. Amanda disagrees by saying that it just happens to be in the castle because it was handed down through the royal line and yes, I'm sure that he hasn't personally read every single one of those books, but it does make a big difference on the "real" meaning behind that scene. I had always took it as a reveal that Belle and Adam shared a love of books, and a common interest is pretty darn significant as far as a building relationship is concerned. And it means even more when you consider Gaston dismissing a book because it doesn't have any pictures. You get to make a clear assessment: Belle loves books. Gaston doesn't care for books. Beast also loves books. Therefore Beast is more "right" for Belle. But the added scene shows that Beast doesn't. That changes the intention altogether. Now it means he was just showing her the library as a way of saying, "I know you like books, so here's a bunch that I happen to have because of my wealthy lineage." Where's the love in that? It doesn't even seem generous, if he didn't intend on using them anyway. I don't care for Belle's teaching Beast to read as a thing for their relationship, because who's to say that Gaston wouldn't let down his tough front and read with her after getting to know her long enough too?

 -I find it kind of jarring when Belle actually calls the beast "Beast!" during the climactic finale. Does this mean she was calling him "Beast" during any of their off-camera time together? Come to think of it, does she ever call him by that name in any of the midquels like Belle's Enchanted World or Magical Christmas or whatever? You would think her finding an appropriate way to address him would fall somewhere in the whole "falling in love" process.
-I like to imagine that, after the curse was lifted, the occupants of the castle continue to do things as their respective object forms out of pure habit. Mrs. Potts absentmindedly tries to pour tea out of the middle of her face, Lumiere has to bother with actually lighting matches, and so forth.
-I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I really do hope that the opening-soon Be Our Guest restaurant in Walt Disney World's new Fantasyland has on the menu an item plainly called "The Gray Stuff." At the very least, the waiters should offer something that happens to be gray and recommend that you try it on account of its deliciousness.
-Gaston, you eat five dozen eggs and use antlers in all of your decorating. Are you really one to judge another's mental health?

Favorite character: The Beast has more emotional complexity and a better performance of them than all of the wild things from the Where the Wild Things Are movie combined.
Least necessary character: You would think the footstool dog would get the chance to do something at some point. Maybe he was practice for the rug in Aladdin.
Overall: With stellar animation, art, acting, direction, music and just about everything, it's hard to find a minute in Beauty & the Beast that isn't worth watching.

*See Food Porn Daily (SFW)

Amanda, the Enchanted [???]
Hoo boy.  Now we're talkin'! We're talking a big production where all the brightest and best young artists are all work on the same film and each of them is contributing absolutely everything that they have into each of their prospective specialties. 

For starters, whoa.  The animators sure cut their teeth good and hard on Little Mermaid, Rescuers Down Under, and Oliver and Company.  Now that they have grown up teeth there didn't seem to be anything that was too big for them to chew! The subtlety in facial expressions, the weight of body mass, the showmanship of the big crowds all thrill me and yet also do not distract me from the important bits.

As for the music, well, I love me some big ol' off Broadway productions that happen to be accessible to everyone in America and then some for a meager ticket price and actually use a huge cast of Broadway actors.  Now, I'm not saying Broadway actors are "better" than Hollywood actors because many choose to do both or transition from one to the other, I'm just saying that when this film was made, it was clear from the get-go that it was more than any previous Disney musical had been before.  While in many of the Golden Age movies, the music was at best, a way to change the tone of the movie, and at least, a way to pad out the running time with amusing song and dance routines for characters that otherwise aren't strictly necessary to the plot.

As for the story?  Yeah, Kevin's right, it's not necessarily the most believable or even belief suspending thing I've ever seen, but the pacing is so good and it's such a simple basic "Don't judge a book by its cover" story that it doesn't really need to be a piece of classic literature.  The joy here is the characters and seeing how they fit into their world and seeing how they react to each other.  Belle is so very different from Beast and yet they work together as a couple.  Belle is ALSO so different from Gaston, and yet they clash so distinctly.  Even some of the most minor characters are as memorable as the leads.  While she was never shown as a human after the transformation scene, I can picture her perfectly.  While Marie doesn't look anything like the feather duster she turned into and she has hardly any screen time all and yet after the transformation, there's no question of her identity even without the painfully obvious roles of servitude that each of the castle's objects played.

As for nit-picking? Yeah, I can do it with the best of them.  I was highly annoyed with the Spielberg-ing that was done to this film when it was re-released.  I know not everyone agrees, but I prefer to accept the idea that art, regardless of its form, represents an era.  It may become a classic for all time, but it still came into being during a certain time.  That perhaps time restraints and lack of funds might have stunted what it could have been, but that's all part of the artistry!  Make do with what you have and be proud of what you end up with.  While I don't hate the added "Human Again" sequence and I recognize its use in the Broadway version of the show, it really doesn't belong in this movie.  Making the extra scene a whole decade later caused some very clear jarring visual differences during the abrupt transitions.  While the animators and voice cast all came back for this encore performance, you can't bottle lightning.  I hate to get caught up in analogies, but while ecofriendly halogens may be the norm today, you can't force them to fit into out of date sockets and expect the same ambiance.  I suggest that such effort should have been put into making a better sequel or perhaps a christmas mid-quel that made a little more sense and had better music and animation in general.  But I suppose that's for some other year? (Don't hold your breath. Not a promise.)

Favorite Character: LeFou.  In my mind, LeFou is madly in love with Gaston.  He showers Big G with compliments, he tags along everywhere whether he's wanted or not, and he obeys every order he's given.  Poor guy went after a straight man and got permanently assigned to the Friend Zone.
Least Necessary Characters: The Bimbettes.  I'm no feminist (frankly I hover on the line between anti- and unconcerned) but even they gross me right out.  Come on, ladies.  If one of you ever got him, what would the other two do?  Blood is thicker. Bam.
Overall:  Need you ask?  Watch it.  Watch the original version and appreciate it.  Watch the re-release and appreciate how far technology has come in a decade.  But you needn't bother with Belle's magical world or Belle's Enchanted Christmas.

[Ask Amanda about her line-for-line performance of the entire movie. -KM]
Oh geez, fine.  Because this is so beloved a movie and came out at a time that fit perfectly into my adolescent life, I have rewatched it enough times to be able to recite it word for word and lyric by lyric.  Kevin challenged me and I accepted.  I assumed he would get annoyed quickly and tell me to shut up.  I was counting on it!  And then he decided to apply Film and Theater styles on me.
"Now the Beast has a Mexican accent," he says.
"Now you also narrate all the animals' thoughts," he says.
"Now Belle is played by Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan."

Let me just say.... Success. Hilarity. Equal mix of pride and shame.


  1. I'm probably a little late nitpicking this, but isn't there a minor scenelet of Belle having to read to read to the Beast during the "Beauty and the Beast" song, too? "Human Again" has many problems, but I don't think this is one of them. (Well, okay, maybe hammering the point entirely too hard is still a problem. Yeah, it is.)

    I think the explanation is a third interpretation that you and Amanda seem to have maybe not considered? Adam has a lot of books because he liked reading. Past tense. Are we to assume that he ate like a total slob when he was a human, too? No, of course not. He was a fabulously wealthy prince! Clearly, THAT was a change that gradually came about because he's a beast so why even try anymore - so why can't this be that, too? He has a library because he used to read, and now he hasn't for some time, but now he wants to again because Belle is worth not being a complete monster for.

  2. I was going to make a comment about this point, but Jesse beat me to it. I agree with Jesse, back when he had his humanity, he did have an enjoyment of reading. But as he became more of a Beast it slowly fell out of place. Now it's something he can share with Belle. I found it a very touching scene.

    Also Amanda, I can also recite this film line for line. I vote we do a line-off eventually! :)

  3. >>>Adam has a lot of books because he liked reading. Past tense. Are we to assume that he ate like a total slob when he was a human, too? No, of course not. He was a fabulously wealthy prince!>>>

    But...but I thought that his behavior toward the magical witch lady was indicative of his general attitude, meaning, yes, I think he could've been a rude eater, since he was disrespectful to the woman. If you're saying that he would be a proper eater because he was a wealthy princess, why wouldn't he be a respectful gentleman to all of his subjects for the same reason?

    >>>He has a library because he used to read, and now he hasn't for some time, but now he wants to again because Belle is worth not being a complete monster for.>>>

    It's just that what he says in the Human Again scenelet is "I learned -- a little. It's just been so long." Having learned to read a little doesn't scream "bookworm" to me.
    But if we're not counting that brief moment at all, then the Beast Bookishness issue is very much up for interpretation. Maybe he reads, maybe he used to read, maybe he doesn't read or never did. We obviously need to contact the writers to get this sorted out for good!

    And it must say a lot for how much we all enjoyed the story to be able to pontificate about its details this much!


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