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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beauty and the Beast: 20 Years Later

As a parent, I am obligated to have a hand in influencing my child in a positive way. I try to make sure she is learning how to make good decisions and acting properly. As a role model, I am an abject failure.

However, as a parent I am also allowed certain indulgences in choosing what influences her. I admit, allowing her to watch The Family Guy until the age of two was probably not the best choice, but she learned a lot of great words, including dumb ass and douche bag. But we rectified that situation and spent the next year watching primarily Sprout and PBS Kids.

Those days are gone, though. My daughter traded in Barney and Kipper for Jurassic Park and Scooby Doo. Well, it all started with Ghostbusters, actually. We sort of progressed to Jurassic Park from there since she loves dinosaurs. Now, that’s not to say that she doesn’t get to watch kid friendly fare. On the contrary, that’s where the indulgences come to light. I get to introduce her to all the stuff I loved growing up and try not to admit I love. I introduced her to Toy Story and Shrek and Charlie Brown and Dr. Seuss and she loves all them. So, this past weekend we stopped by the video store to see about picking up some more childhood favorites for her to experience, while giving me the chance to relive the magic as well. I picked up Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. I had great hopes of watching one of them when we got home, she opted to watch Godzilla. She saw the cover in the store and thought, “OOH, Giant Dinosaur!”

It’s actually hard to believe that Beauty and the Beast is 20 years old. I was a junior in high school and was too busy trying, and failing, to be cool so going to see it in the theater was out of the question. No, I was going to see Pet Semetary Two and Alive and Batman Returns and stuff like that. I didn’t actually get to see it until it was on Home Video in those huge, white clam shell cases. Walking out of a video store with those big things was a definite sign you were carrying a kid’s movie out of the store.

But, from the standpoint of someone who had a love of film, a lot can be said for my motivations to see it. OK, that’s a crock. It’s Disney. It’s a cartoon. I was a theatre geek. Let’s not generalize things with glossy euphemisms.

Flash forward 20 years and 80 pounds later and there I am sitting in my living room with my wife and my three year old, in our pajamas watching the film on DVD. And I can say that I forgot how good a film it is.

It’s going to be hard to introduce these older films to my kid when she grows up a bit. After all, she’s so used to CGI and 3D and realistic animation techniques and it’s hard to back pedal to the old 2D style of movies, hand drawn by real people… possibly in Korea (I keed I keed). But the film really is a piece of art as it is cinema. It falls right into that Disney Renaissance that started with The Little Mermaid and ran right into the ground after Hercules or Mulan. It all pretty much fell apart after 1995, when Toy Story came out.

But when you think about the total package that comes with those early 90s Disney films you have to remember that the animation was just a part of the overall process. There were more pieces than just drawing people moving place to place. Even the early introduction of CGI into the mix only enhanced the animation techniques but the artistry was second to none in terms of content. Factor into that the music and story and you had a formula for success.

There was no new ground being tread upon in terms of story. It stuck to the rails of the French tale of a girl forced to live with a hideous beast in return for the safety of her father. As she learns to love the beast he learns to love her and a spell is broken, revealing him to be a prince. What does get updated is the supporting characters, in true Disney fashion. Jerry Orbach, Davd Ogden Stiers and Angela Lansbury provide a great offensive line of characters as the staff of the castle as portrayed by transformed household objects.

The songs alone make the film a award worthy one but it’s the whole package of story, characters, art, and music that make the film one of the best in the catalogue. Don’t believe me. Just watch the opening prologue and tell me that it isn’t one of the best pieces of music and narrative in film.

And it doesn’t stop there. It goes right into a big opening number, just like a stage musical from Broadway of the past. It has such a throwback appeal to it. It reminds you of sitting in the audience and watching the orchestra cue up and go into the overture, followed by the rise of the curtain and the milling about of characters as the lead goes into their opening song which introduces you to the plot.

The characters are a bit stock in nature, but they keep in line with the Broadway convention which is what the film is going for. It was natural to adapt the film for the stage because of this.

But what really impresses me about the film is how well it holds up against time and technology. First of all, it’s 20 years old and still plays very well, in part to its overall story and script but also because of its timeless style of being a throwback to Broadway, in itself. It was retro when it was new.

And as far as the animation it stands alongside films like Toy Story and Shrek just fine. Now, you cannot deny that PIXAR produces a good product. I love their films and I tend to forget I’m watching a computer generated film after a bit. Usually, I will watch the new ones with that trained eye of, “Wow, they made that happen” or “Look how real that appears” but eventually, I forget and just get sucked into the story, which is good. But I never forget that they are on the forefront of tech in terms of animation and their track record shows how good they are at both sides of the coin; story and style. I think they are 11 for 11 as far as hits are concerned with only one film that has a sequel or two… something will change in the next couple years as Cars 2 and Monsters, Inc. 2 hit theaters. That was one of the problems I had with Disney. It had a tendency to be at a dead horse with sequels, usually of a lesser quality arriving direct to video. It was a marketing machine but the introduction of CGI and 3D animation made spelled doom for the traditional Disney film. It wouldn’t be until 2009’s The Princess and the Frog that the old Disney magic would be seen, again.

But of course, all of this is frivolous chit chat to my daughter. She could care less about the fact that it’s 2D vs. 3D or 1991 vs. 2011. She watches for about five minutes and then moves on to something else. Then she comes back and then moves on to something else. Pure kid. Meanwhile, I’m sucked in as I always am and my wife, who would rather be reading one of her vampire, demon, Twilight, True Blood, whatever books was actually engaged in watching for the entire two hours.

In a few years, my kid will be on to other things and my ability to influence her cultural upbringing will be gone. My only hope is that the foundation has been laid and she’ll be able to discern shiny crap from good product. She’s already got one battle won. She sees the newer Scooby Doo cartoons on Cartoon Network and thinks them totally inferior to the 1970s ones that can be found On Demand. My job is done here.

And they lived happily ever after.

1 comment:

Eesti said...

He also feels more appreciated and needed as the organ, because the beast enjoys his melancholy music. The plot revolves around the castle trying to plan a Christmas, even though the beast banned it after being cursed because it brought back painful memories of his human years and the time he turned into the beast (which is portrayed in this movie as happening at Christmas), and Forte's attempt to stop Christmas from happening and also destroying Belle so she cannot fall in love with the beast and restore their humanity.

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