Beauty & the Beast

Beauty & the Beast  (A+)

 – – Meet the First Princess Who Traded Barbs Before Vows

 We all know the story: the prince transforms into a hideous beast, and the beauty manages to fall in love with him anyway.  This Disney classic is the only animated movie ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and it deserves it.  The animation is beautiful.  The script is tight and witty, and the voices are wonderful with Robby Benson as the Beast, Broadway’s Paige O’Hara as Belle, Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts, Jerry Orbach as Lumiére, and baritone Richard White as Belle’s narcissistic suitor, Gaston.

Best of all is the music.  Angela Lansbury, a Broadway star several times over, predicted that animation would save the American musical as mass cultural entertainment.  And thanks to Alan Menken & Howard Ashman’s songs, she’s been proven right.  “Tale as Old as Time” is to weddings what “Stairway to Heaven” is to prom.

If you find the cult of Disney princesses distastefulmake an exception for this movie.  Yes, Belle has the hourglass thing going, but she is a terrific role model for girls.  She’s smart, bookish, brave and selfless without being sanctimonious.  She was the first Disney princess who had to be wooed and won over before falling her for her prince, the first princess who traded barbs before vows.  She’s discerning enough to reject the handsome lout (Gaston) in favor of the more worthy, complex beast.  But be ready for your kids to miss this point.  My 7-year old told me that Belle chose the beast “cause he was nice . . . and cause he had that fancy, big house!”

But beware, parents of little kids, there are plenty of dark moments in this shindig [NIGHTMARE ALERTS!!!]. The Beast is very menacing in his first two scenes: first, with Belle’s dad and later with Belle herself.  Then, just as your kids’ sphincters relax, the Beast throws a scary tantrum when he catches Belle in the West Wing, prompting Belle to run outside and get attacked by even scarier wolves.  You’re in the clear again for a long while after that until the Beast faces off against Gaston.  For parents who may not remember (this movie came out more than 20 years ago, but – don’t worry – you haven’t aged a bit), the Beast takes a knife in the back, and Gaston plunges to his death (“Be Our Guest”, indeed).  So, if your kid is squeamish, hold off on showing her/him this movie!  Once she’s seven, even if she’s still skittish, make her watch it.  She’s got to get desensitized sometime – – so why not use a masterpiece to rip off that Band-Aid?

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