Matt Hackmann

RetroReview - Beauty and the Beast

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Beauty and the Beast

For the first time in what has to be going on twenty years, I took some time this afternoon to watch Beauty and the Beast. It probably is in my top three movies in terms of times seen, having played the shit out of it when I was younger, one of those films that I had memorized and would recite nigh constantly. Interestingly enough, most of my memory of the dialog is gone. But, whatever. Review time.

Adapted from some Frenchie story, Beauty and the Beast is a pretty cliche movie about Stockholm Syndrome. Selfish prince is an asshole to the wrong person and gets turned into a beast with the stipulation that he can't be turned back until he gets somebody to love him. Enter sort of feminist Belle who wings up his prisoner but then realizes hey, maybe he's not so bad, falls in love with him and cue curtains. Per the fairy tale norm, all of this life changing shit happens in the span of a week, a month at most, and the spell is broken and they fuck like monkeys. It's super cliche and there's nothing I can say about this that can't be leveraged against every other romantic fairy tale in existence. What I want to focus on, being a connoisseur of the subject, are the technical aspects of the movie.

Now, being Disney and given the high regard this movie has, you would expect there to be a certain level of quality. Certainly, the production values are pretty high, but this film was riding on an era that was straddling the line between the animation techniques of yore and the world of modern movie making. My biggest issue with the movie was how out of place Belle (and in the end, the Princified Beast) were compared to the rest of the cast. They were drawn in a manner that closer resembled humans than everybody else (other humans included), who were all rendered in a highly caricatured, cartoon style. And to that point, that style fucking sucks. It had all the problems of the older Disney movies; odd modeling at certain angles, movement that seems not quite natural, and those lips... they're goddamned humongous and, for whatever reason, aren't even synced to the voices correctly far too often. I don't know if it's all my time spent behind anime (which certainly has its ups and downs), but I found these character designs to be meh at best and almost grotesque when off model.

This isn't a problem at all with the "cartoon" cast; their features are exaggerated and, as such, we expect their movements to be. To boot, there are some nice little design flairs that parallel their human forms. Lumiere's cowlick is a little fwip of melted wax, Cogsworth's clock hands mirror his mustache, and Mrs. Potts' lid is a throwback to her little maid... hat... thing. The way these characters are animated in their non-human form is clever and you can tell the animators had fun with it. Even the Beast's animation was pulled off exceedingly well, full of lots of subtle nuance particularly in the facial expressions.

And then there's the CG. One of the big "firsts" of the time in this movie was the ballroom dance scene, in which the room was rendered entirely in computers. To say the least, it doesn't hold up. Sure, those big sweeping camera moves are nice, but the lighting on those pillars makes it looks like a low-budget children's show from today. You could also tell that a lot of establishing shots were at least put together in a computer, as the parallaxing of layers and panning was far and away too smooth looking for traditional animation. So smooth, in fact, that I almost felt like I was watching the Hobbit at 48fps all over again. The opening scene in particular was a major offender of this.

Oh, and then there's this...

Round and round and round...

There seem to be a lot of people who are entirely undecided on where they want to go...

Concluding, Beauty and the Beast certainly doesn't hold up as well now that I'm considerably older. It has its entertaining moments for sure, with the pairs of Lumiere and Cogsworth and Gaston and Lefou having the majority of these, but in the end it's just another Disney fairy tale adaptation with all the cons that come with. You'd think I'd be more into this stuff what with the staggering amount of high school romcoms that I consume on a weekly basis, but these just don't do it for me.

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