REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast

20 03 2017

From their first moments, all movies start establishing a contract with their audience to set the framework of guidelines and conventions through which to view the work. This might sound like advanced film theory – it’s not. And for all those who just want to know if Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” is worth seeing, this is relevant. These implicit contracts are some of the first things you factor into your decisions about a movie’s quality because they relate to whether or not you believe their created worlds.

Fictional films present distortions of observable reality that ask for various suspensions of normal existence. Conveniently, one of the easiest illustrations of this principle resides in the musical genre. We generally accept that people do not burst out into song as a mode of expression. If they do in a film, though, why? Is it a sung-through musical like “Les Misérables,” where music is the only mode of communication? Is it like “La La Land,” where song and dance numbers provide an expressionistic commentary? Is it more akin to “Into the Woods,” where moments of heightened emotion cause the characters to break out in a catchy melody?

The animated musicals of the so-called “Disney Renaissance” from 1989 to 1999 hinged on a fairly interesting set of conventions. The films borrowed heavily from the Broadway musical format but also took wild flights of animated fancy. Their limitation was not the confines of a stage but the edges of imagination. It’s no wonder these films carved out such a special place in the millennial consciousness.

But when it comes to adapting “Beauty and the Beast” into a live-action feature, musical numbers and all, director Bill Condon had a special challenge that Kenneth Branagh did not face in his 2015 version of “Cinderella.” Fans of the 1991 animated classic expect a certain fidelity to the original film. But so much of what made that film so effervescently delightful simply does not translate easily to a world that more closely resembles our own.

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REVIEW: Waking Sleeping Beauty

18 12 2010

As part of the generation who grew up loving the second wave of Disney animated classics such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Lion King,” it’s interesting to see a full-length documentary about the creative team that made it all possible.  Enter “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” a chronicle of the second Golden Age of Disney animation from 1984 to 1994.  It covers all the struggles of ushering in the new era and all the fantastic successes of the finished products they put on screens before a sea of exciting moviegoers – and then all the struggles that success created.

It’s a little different than most documentaries in that all interviews are done through audio; we never see any ex post facto commentary from the people who brought us these classics.  There’s so much footage of the animators themselves that perhaps Hahn thought viewers would best be served by seeing the process take place (since that is, after all, what most people want when they sit down to watch the movie).  But without their faces, it’s hard to establish characters outside the main narrative, which makes it feel more like a narrated sequence of events than a documentary.

While the power struggles between CEO Michael Eisner, Board Chairman Roy Disney, and studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg are fascinating, they lack some perspective that could have taken “Waking Sleeping Beauty” to the next level.  I love these Disney movies and I love seeing the creative process that got them made, but I still wonder what distinguishes this documentary from any other bonus feature on the DVDs for these animated movies apart from its length.  It feels like something Disney would show at the 25th reunion for “The Little Mermaid” animators – fun for everyone, but only truly pertinent to the people involved in it.  B