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Movie Rewind: Beauty and the Beast

Maija Gustin | Friday, October 1, 2010

“Beauty and the Beast” is making a comeback (not that it ever really left) next week. The Disney classic, released in 1991, is one of the most beloved and successful animated (and non-animated) films of all time. Now the movie, about true love, personal identity and talking furniture, is making a return to pop-culture with the upcoming re-release of the film on Blu-Ray and DVD. There will also be a theatrical release of sing-along version for one day only, and that day is tomorrow.

Until “Up’s” nomination at this past year’s Academy Awards, “Beauty and the Beast” was the first and only animated film ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Along with fellow nominees “Bugsy,” “JFK,” “The Prince of Tides” and eventual winner “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Beauty” was considered by Hollywood’s elite to be one of the best films of that year.

But, more importantly, it was considered by everyone, adult and child alike, to be one of the best movies of that year. Grossing over $400 million at the box office, “Beauty and the Beast” proved to be one of the most successful animated movies of all time. The third film of the period known as the “Disney Renaissance,” (the first two were “The Little Mermaid” in 1989 and “The Rescuers Down Under” in 1990) “Beauty” successfully combined the traditional Disney filmmaking formula with some modern updates.

Like many earlier Disney films, “Beauty and the Beast” was based on a classic fairytale, this one from France, and quickly became known for its beautiful animation and extremely popular original songs.

Where the Disney studio changed up this traditional formula, which had been failing for many years before “The Little Mermaid,” was with its animation and its music. “Beauty and the Beast” does not stray far in style from other classic Disney films like “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.” However, the studio took full advantage of advancing technology and incorporated computer animation into its traditional hand-drawn style. This can be seen to greatest effect in the famous ballroom scene, in which a ballroom of epic scope was created using computers.

Disney also made some changes to its musical stylings. Though long known for sticking to classical music in its films, the Disney studio decided to change things up and hired contemporary composers to handle the music. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, both of whom had previously composed Broadway musicals like “Little Shop of Horrors” as well as the soundtrack for “The Little Mermaid,” together produced some of Disney’s most popular songs, including “Belle,” “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest.” They would go on to write the music for Disney’s “Aladdin.”

Some argue that “Beauty and the Beast” is Disney’s greatest film, perhaps even the greatest animated film of all time. Whether true or not, “Beauty” has infiltrated every aspect of pop-culture, from Belle dolls to yellow ball gowns to home video sequels to a successful stage musical. Many see Belle as the ultimate figure of female empowerment and the film’s messages about seeing the beauty inside resonates with audiences of all ages. Young children are enthralled by Lumiere and his band of misfit furniture, adults tear up at Beast’s miraculous transformation and even college students find it hard not to sing along with “Be Our Guest.”

“Beauty and the Beast” has sadly been in the Disney vault since 2003, but soon that will no longer be a problem. For those lucky few with a Blu-Ray player, a new Diamond Edition of the movie will be available on Tuesday. For the rest of us, we’ll have to wait until Nov. 23 for a two-disc DVD edition. It’s tough, I know, but do yourselves a favor and start preparing now for this glorious day by pulling out that dusty copy of the soundtrack you have buried somewhere and start warming up those pipes. For the very ambitious, join (virtual) host Jordin Sparks for the special sing-along version of the newly restored high definition version of “Beauty and the Beast” tomorrow afternoon.