Beauty and the Beast

Although there are times when the narrative seems excessively streamlined, this is the best Disney animated feature to come along in years (not that it even mildly threatens Jean Cocteau’s luminous version of the same fairy tale). Full of charm and humor, it seems to benefit from the benign influence of Pee-wee’s Playhouse (anthropomorphized household objects that manage the Beast’s castle like enlightened domestics), as well as the filmmakers’ fond memories of Busby Berkeley production numbers and the village night scenes in Frankenstein. The most fascinating buried textual references, however, seem to be to another recent Disney picture, Pretty Woman, which this cartoon trashes in very agreeable ways: both the heroine, Belle, and the handsome-prince version of the Beast seem modeled after Julia Roberts, while her suitor, the insufferably vain and boorish Gaston, a dead ringer for Richard Gere, hopes to convert Belle into a gratefully kept woman; the Beast, by contrast, is a ferocious spoiled brat who is eventually ennobled by love. (There’s also some pleasant propaganda on behalf of books–Belle is an avid reader–though it’s here that one wishes the movie had indulged in more flights of fancy.) Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise from a screenplay by Linda Woolverton, and featuring the voices of Robby Benson, Paige O’Hara, Richard White, Angela Lansbury, and Jerry Orbach. (Ford City, Harlem-Cermak, Evanston, Hyde Park, Webster Place, Bricktown Square, Lincoln Village, Water Tower)

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