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‘Beauty and the Beast’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 22, 1991


Gary Trousdale;
Kirk Wise
Robby Benton;
Paige O'Hara;
Richard White;
Jerry Orbach;
Angela LansburyG
General audience
Song; Original Score

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In "Beauty and the Beast" Walt Disney clocks in its 30th animated feature with the usual visual industry. Characters' eyes are etched in endearing, twinkly curves. Animals and things have a life of their own.

Meet a talking candelabrum, a yapping clock, a cockney teapot, an ensemble of singing, dancing household utensils -- and of course the Beast. The animation's top-notch, the techniques hiply cinematic. It's Disney as usual.

That's the trouble. "Beast" isn't one of the all-time greats. In fact, it feels like "The Little Mermaid" with fur. The songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (who enlivened "Mermaid") have been brought back. But theirs is a lackluster encore. The scenes, characters and songs attempt to duplicate the success of "Mermaid" all too obviously. The wit and the music aren't nearly as good. Of course, such formulaic maneuvering will be lost on most youngsters. There are enough Disney injections in "Beast" to ensure a pleasant enough experience for them.

The story, based on the fairy tale, is set in 18th-century France. Provincial beauty Belle (Bambi with curves) is constrained by her fellow villagers and the grim prospect of betrothal to narcissistic Gaston. "I want so much more than they've got planned," she sings with dippy yearning. The prince she wants, of course, is captured inside the Beast. When the monster captures Belle's father for wandering onto his property, an encounter is ensured.

The Beast used to be a human prince. (Didn't they all?) But when he didn't provide shelter to a gnarled old woman, she made him shaggy and turned his servants into living utensils. Now the entire household awaits a loving someone to break the spell.

The Beast (featuring Robby Benton's voice) is an impressively scary creation. His thunderous tones boom through the castle, terrifying his staff. This is one bad-tempered, unhappy guy. When Belle wins his heart, he has to tone down his act and control that temper. "Say something to her," hisses the candelabrum. The Beast gives it a shot: "Uh, hope you like it here," he says. It doesn't help matters that Belle, at least initially, is his prisoner.

There are some interesting creations, such as the Beast's four-legged spider of a stagecoach. There are also some amusing moments. Egotistic Gaston is a preening, musclebound jerk who sings odes to himself: "As a specimen, yes, I'm intimidating/I'm especially good at expectorating/I use antlers in all of my decorating."

That "Mermaid" repeddling is hard to dismiss, however. Lumiere the Candelabrum's Maurice Chevalier accent is clearly intended to substitute for the Caribbean-lilted lobster in "Mermaid." And the ensemble song, "Be Our Guest," in which the household gadgets enjoin Belle to live with them, is an obvious attempt to reprise a similar "Mermaid" number, "Under the Sea." But it's just under par.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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