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"Beauty and the Beast" is DA BOMB!
By Christa Williams

"Far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise!" Disney triumphs once again. The tale of Beauty and the Beast springs to life in the form of an animated musical masterpiece.

This movie is more than a simple story with songs inserted. The music creates the story. Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken truly capture the classic tale with their award-winning songs. The opening song "Belle" provides all the essentials of plot exposition, beautifully depicting how the villagers perceive Belle's odd behavior, particularly her longing for something more and her lack of desire for the arrogant and shallow Gaston (Richard White)-even if he is the most muscle bound hunk in town. Belle (Paige O'Hara) is an atypical Disney heroine, courageous and strong-willed. Maurice (Rex Everhart), her eccentric father, loses his way in the woods and stumbles into Beast's castle. Belle rescues her father from being Beast's prisoner by taking his place. Beast (Robby Benson) jumps on her offer, with an ulterior motive. He is cursed to live as a monster to teach him a lesson until he can learn to love and earn love in return. Beast accepts the exchange of Belle for Maurice because he hopes she will break the spell.

However, Beast doesn't understand how love works, and as a consequence, all her attempts end up scaring her away. He tries to be hospitable and gives her a nice room, but loses patience in his frustration and demands her to eat dinner with him. When she refuses, he demands she eat only bread and water. He also restricts her movement in the castle, banning her from the West Wing, but when her curiosity gets the best of her, he frightens her so badly that she leaves the castle. Wolves almost eat her when she flees from him, but (yay!) he saves her.

As in all classic musicals, the songs propel the story line. They provide insight to the characters; they depict the change their attitudes and emotions. For example, in the opening of "Gaston", he is sulking because Belle turned down his marriage proposal. By the end of the song, he has undergone a transition, and we see him scheming to coax Belle into marrying him. When he sees Belle has feelings for Beast, his character experiences another change. In "The Mob Song", he convinces the whole town to destroy the Beast in a matter of minutes.

Songs enhance characterization as with Gaston, but there are other pieces that are just as important. For instance, in Lumiere's (Jerry Orbach) sparkly production number "Be Our Guest," Belle begins to take interest in the enchanted castle and become friends with its inhabitants. The title song, "Beauty and the Beast," sung by Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) in the magnificent ballroom sequence, won both the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best song for capturing the essence of the film. Take any of these songs out, and what remains would be choppy or incomprehensible.

A charming fairy tale and brilliant musical score are great, but the icing on the cake is the beauty of the picture itself. The technical aspects of "Beauty and the Beast" elevate this film beyond mere animation. The film marks the debut of the PIXAR system that is featured in the ballroom dance sequence and "Be Our Guest". The system provided depth to the cartoon with lighting, shadows, and computer animation. Disney was so pleased with the results of this that they used the system again in "Aladdin" for the magic carpet and the Cave of Wonders, and eventually released "Toy Story", the first entirely computer animated film.

"Beauty and the Beast" also utilizes the horizontal multiplane camera, which is a nifty piece of equipment, even if it is a royal pain in the *neck* to work with. Disney first attempted to use the camera in the original "Fantasia", and although the effect is wonderful, the setup turned into a true fiasco. Many years later, they finally return to the technique, which created the three-dimensional effects in the opening sequence and ballroom scene in this film.

"Beauty and the Beast" attracts many audiences. Kids enjoy the fun characters, magical theme, and memorable songs. Its innovations and technological advances mixed with a beautiful sense of artistry place it in the spotlight for movie buffs. Its appeal to all generations and its timelessness makes it an absolute classic.