Yes, It Is a Tale as Old as Time
In the fall of 1991, Walt Disney Pictures released its thirtieth animated feature film; a film that would later go on to be called "the pinnacle of Disney animation" and "one of the greatest films - both animated and non-animated - of all time". That film was Beauty and the Beast.
Beauty and the Beast was released during a time when people were doubting that Disney would be able to make a well-needed comeback in the animated film industry and return to making successful animated films that echoed the days of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty (1959). Following in the footsteps of Disney's previous success, The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast was both a critical and commercial success, earning more than $350 million at the box office, and a very honorable 92% on Rotten Tomatoes (one of their highest in traditional animation since Cinderella).
Headed by first-time directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, produced by Don Hahn, screenwritten by Linda Woolverton, and featuring the voice talents of Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Rex Everhart, and the legendary Angela Lansbury, Beauty and the Beast let audiences around the world know that Disney was here to stay.
Beauty and the Beast returned to a classic Cinderella-esque format, but with a pleasant twist. This time, our heroine Belle's (O'Hara) best quality lies in her intelligence rather than her beauty. Bright and beautiful, Belle dreams of escaping her day-to-day repetitive "provincial life" and having adventure in the "great wide somewhere" like the ones she reads aboutd in her books. When her father, Maurice (Everhart), is taken prisoner by a hideous beast as punishment for trespassing, Belle bravely takes her father's place as the Beast's (Benson) prisoner, and winds up in her own fairy tale. Little does she know that the Beast is really an enchanted prince waiting for a girl to fall in love with him and free him from his decade-long curse.
When you really look at it, Beauty and the Beast is less of a fairy tale than it is a love story about transformation, both physical and mental. A girl realizes it's time to let go of her childhood dreams and become a woman, and a prince learns how to love. It's a powerful and compelling story in which both characters serve as heroes (more so Belle than the Beast). For this reason, Beauty remains my favourite animated film of all-time. Am I, a sixteen-year-old amateur male journalist, ashamed to says this? Maybe. But hey, someone's got to.
Story - 10/10 - A perfect score! Beauty and the Beast is a charming, easy-to-follow story that anyone, dude or dudette, can relate to.
Characters - 10/10 - Another perfect score! From the singing candlesticks to the jyrating teapots, Beauty and the Beast is filled with entertaining and unforgettable characters who, to this date, remain iconic. Extra points for the characterization of the vibrant Belle and the beinning of an era of independent, free-spirited and headstrong animated heroines who today's females can really relate to.
Voice acting - 10/10 - Perfect again! From the entertaining Jerry and David, to the regal Angela, and to the slightly husky-voiced Paige, each character is voiced with the perfect amount of enthusiasm and believability. Can they sometimes be campy? Yes. But that's what makes a Disney musical a Disney musical!
Music - 9.5/10 - Oh no!!! The film's only minor downfall. Don't get me wrong; this is probably the best animated soundtrack I've ever heard! Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman did a brilliant job with the film's songs, espcially the Oscar-winning and nominated "Beauty and the Beast" and "Be Out Guest". There was just one thing that turned me off: a little too much Gaston, and not enough Belle or the Beast. Don't get me wrong; Richard White did a great job at Gaston's speaking and singing voices. It was just a little upsetting that Gaston was featured in four songs, Belle was featured in three (one was a reprise), and Beast was in one. Other than that, fantastic!
Score - 99% - My highest rating so far, and this film is well-deserving of it!
In conclusion, Beauty and the Beast is the Best Picture-nominated film that saved Disney during the 90s, like Sleeping Beauty did in the late-50s and early-60s. If it wasn't for Beauty, there probably wouldn't be Aladdin, The Lion King, Toy Story, or any other animated classics that people have grown to know and love. Honestly, Beauty and the Beast has made me incapable of watching any animated film today without comparing it to Beauty. If you're one of the few people who haven't seen this double-decade-long prize-winner of a film, you are seriously missing an important part of your childhood. Don't worry if you've missed its 3D release (which was awesome, by the way). This is one film that looks even better in traditional animation.