I've always loved animation -- make that, good animation -- and feel lucky that my kids were the perfect age when Disney had its second golden age of animation in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
My son was 4 when I took him to see 1991's Beauty and the Beast -- and when it came out on home video, it quickly entered the hot rotation in the family VCR. It was the first animated film ever nominated for the Oscars' Best Picture category and wound up sweeping the music categories (it had three nominations for best song). If there had been an Academy Award for animated feature, it would have won that, too.
So I'm of a divided mind about the new 3D conversion of Beauty and the Beast. Granted, in the days before home theaters and streaming video, Disney regularly revived their animated features for theatrical release, thinking rightly that a new generation of potential movie-goers sprouted up on a regular basis, to whom something like Pinocchio or Lady and the Tramp was brand new. Now, parents would just say, "Hey, I can buy it on DVD for cheaper than the price of tickets and popcorn at the theater."
While I'm happy that kids will get the chance to see this wonderful film on a big screen, it comes from this crassly commercial ploy: the 3D conversion, which will force families to ante up an extra $3-$5 per ticket for the privilege of wearing glasses in a theater.
The 3D does nothing to enhance what was pretty much a perfect film to start with. And yet, given the reality of the theatrical-vs.-home video situation today, it's probably the only way kids would get the chance to see a Disney classic on a big screen.
The 3D conversion of Beauty and the Beast otherwise does nothing to enhance the film, though nothing to hurt it. This film was released four years before Toy Story changed animation forever. In fact, Beauty and the Beast was one of the first animated features to include some early computer-animated sequences -- some of the animation in Be Our Guest and the elaborate ballroom setting for the title song.
Otherwise, this was Disney hand-drawn animation at its peak. In 3D, however, the effect is a little like looking at a bad ViewMaster slide. While the 3D lends significant depth of field to the settings, the characters themselves are distinctly two-dimensional. They are moving in three dimensions but they look flat -- drawn, as it were -- while acting out the story.
It's even more apparent because the film has been paired with Tangled Ever After, a very funny, Chuck Jones-like short subject about the wedding that is the logical plot development after the end of Disney's 2010 Rapunzel animated feature, Tangled. The computer animation in the short has texture and depth -- a photorealism that is now the standard for animation.
Still, the old-school look of Beauty and the Beast and the unnecessary 3D don't detract from this delightful, witty and heartfelt fairytale -- of the selfish prince who is transformed by an enchantress into a monster, until he can learn to love another and be loved in return. Through a variety of circumstances, of course, he does: Belle, the beauty of the title.
I've seen this film so many times that I practically know the dialogue (and definitely know the songs) by heart. (Never underestimate the willingness of a 5-year-old to watch something over and over and over.) Yet a recent screening revealed that it more than held its own, from the bright dialogue by Linda Woolverton to the gorgeous and witty songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, who died during the film's production. It's a blend of music, humor and artistry that stands the test of time.
It also stands the test of 3D conversion. The 3D is unnecessary -- but it doesn't spoil the fun of Beauty and the Beast.
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