I’ve got to admit to a bit of puzzlement when I learned that Disney’s Beauty & the Beast would be re-released in 3D. In my mind, it has ever been thus.
Beauty & the Beast received plenty of critical adoration when it was first released 20 years ago, including being the last animated feature to receive a Best Picture Oscar nomination. Included in that praise was recognition of how the emerging development of computer animation permitted a heightened depth of field, whether in the opening tracking shot through the woods or in the landmark ballroom dance sequence. If nothing else, seeing this nearly perfect film in 3D provides a reminder of just how remarkable it was a generation before it became commonplace for animated images to feel like they couldn’t be contained by the screen.
Of course, there’s far more to this tale than its technical breakthroughs. The fairy-tale romance between the smart, bold Belle (Paige O’Hara) and the surly, isolated Beast (Robby Benson) evolves quickly but effortlessly, a credit to Linda Woolverton’s efficient script. The songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman are among the finest in the entire Disney canon, from the exuberant “Be Our Guest” to the performance of the title song by Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Potts that has brought me to tears literally every one of the dozens of times I’ve seen that glorious ballroom dance over the past two decades.
But I’m not sure I ever quite appreciated the character animation of Belle, which is subtly remarkable at creating what feels like an actual performance. Watch for the slight eye movements and wrinkles of the nose that convey an emotional range in keeping with the magnificent music. While technology may only now be allowing Beauty & the Beast to be in actual 3D for the first time, see it again to appreciate how much depth it always offered in so many ways.
BEAUTY & THE BEAST 3D
Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White