Quite literally bigger and better than ever, “Beauty and the Beast” will doubtless enchant a new generation of moviegoers, and many who want to see it again and again, in a newly reformatted “Special Edition” suitable for screening at Imax theaters and other large-screen venues.
But size isn’t the only thing that matters in this new version prepared for animated classic’s 10th anniversary reissue. Taking their cue from George Lucas, Francis Coppola and other auteurs with the muscle to revise and reconstitute their masterworks, directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise have included a brand-new sequence to showcase “Human Again,” a rousing production number by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman.
Tune had been written by pair as part of the original Oscar-winning 1991 score — and later popped up in the smash-hit, Disney-produced legit version of “Beauty and the Beast” — but didn’t make the cut for the animated production. Until now.
Trousdale and Kirk reassembled most of the original pic’s animators and vocal talents for the six-minute sequence, a festive show-stopper that spotlights the enchanted servants who have been turned into anthropomorphic household objects.
Chief among the all-talking, all-singing supporting players: Mrs. Potts (voiced by Angela Lansbury), a proper British teapot; Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), a fastidious mantel clock who’s frequently overwrought and tightly wound; Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), a dapper candelabra with the panache and singing style of Maurice Chevalier; and Wardrobe (Jo Anne Worley), a massive dresser stocked with attire altogether worthy of a fairy-tale heroine.
New sequence blends seamlessly with original footage, which has been grandly restored and enhanced for “Special Edition.” Pic overall appears slightly brighter and cheerier than original 1991 version, which tended to emphasize a darker, brownish-gray color scheme. Even so, a few suspenseful scenes — including a rescue from hungry wolves and a confrontation with an angry mob — are as intense as ever. Magnified in large-screen format, the images may cause some toddlers in the audience to huddle even closer to their parents.
In terms of animation, “Beauty and the Beast” remains a uniquely elegant and entertaining mix of hand-drawn classicism and high-tech innovation. (Speaking of the latter: One of the original’s most magical sequences, the computer-generated ballroom dance to the title song, is nothing short of stunning in large screen.) The Ashman and Menken score –justly praised by many critics back in 1991 as superior to anything heard on Broadway in decades — has lost none of its capacity to delight.
On a second (or third, or fourth) viewing, however, one better appreciates the importance of Linda Woolverton’s cleverly revisionist screenplay as a key to pic’s enduring popularity. Script positions familiar fairy-tale plot in an 18th century French village, but gives it a distinctly feminist edge.
Belle (sweetly voiced by Paige O’Hara) is a brainy, book-loving beauty who’s considered an oddball eccentric by her neighbors. The local Prince Charming, the self-aggrandizing Gaston (Richard White), is a lunkhead hunk who takes a dim view of bright women. “It’s not right for a woman to read,” he proclaims. “Pretty soon, she starts thinking and getting ideas.”
The good news is, there’s a liberated guy in a nearby castle who thinks Belle is just swell as she is. He’s even willing to give her full use of his immense library. The bad news is, this guy is the Beast (Robby Benson), a once-handsome nobleman who’s now an accursed recluse, doomed to remain in monstrous form until he finds true love.
“Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition” should earn a princely sum in large-screen houses. And even though the 1991 original has long been available on homevideo, revised pic should do well during subsequent bookings in standard-size venues. DVD and VHS biz will be, well, beautiful.