Sunday, February 19, 2017

Steve's Top Ten Films: Disney's Beauty and the Beast

I've enjoyed some good-natured ribbing recently for my affection for this film, and I get why.  Disney's Beauty and the Beast is an unabashedly romantic movie and more than a little quirky given that the main love theme is sung by a teapot.  When compared to subsequent films that have more "modern" sensibilities, like Lion King or Toy Story, Beauty and the Beast can seem, at best, quaint and, at worst, outdated.

But, my appreciation for the movie hasn't waned since I first saw it as a teenager.  The reason for that is just as unabashedly romantic and quirky as anything found in the film itself: this movie quite literally and on a very real level changed my life.

I'll give you all a moment to finish your chorus of eye rolls before I continue to explain.

At the ripe old age of sixteen, I had developed quite a serious-minded outlook about life and about music and art specifically.  If an artistic creation, whether it be a novel or music or film, wasn't soaked in some esoteric high-mindedness or ponderous gloom, then it wasn't deemed fit for my consideration.  I saw no value in anything light and  fluffy, and something that even hinted at being sentimental was sloppy drivel.

There are reasons for why I had this attitude, but they are rather personal and little too involved to go into for this particular blog post.  Suffice it to say that when Beauty and the Beast came out I initially scoffed at it as being yet another mindless attempt by Disney to squeeze money out of a less discerning public.  The critical praise the film received upon its release did little to dissuade my prejudgments even though it was universally being acclaimed as one of the best animated films ever made and started making its way onto several top ten lists, including those of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel.

It wasn't until a teacher dared me to go see it because, as she put it, I really needed "to go see something fun," that I finally decided to go find out what all the fuss was about.  I went to see it on New Year's Eve 1991 with my mind made up that I would return to school to tell that teacher that the movie was just as ridiculous as I knew it was going to be.  As the theater darkened, my patented derisive smirk was at the ready and my biting sarcasm was ready to lash out and tear the sentimental heart out of this silly Disney propaganda.

But, then something happened.  Something I did not anticipate.  The opening number, although rife with the usual animated slapstick, was actually cleverly written and developed the lead female character very effectively.  Someone had put some actual thought and craftsmanship into the music, so by the time I heard what would become my favorite lyrics from the film's score ("But, behind that fair facade, I'm afraid she's rather odd"), the movie had already bypassed most of the roadblocks I had put up against it.

From there, the movie continued to make no missteps as the story, although charming and romantic, possessed real emotional weight at its core.  When the now-famous ballroom scene came on, I felt real tears forming in my eyes as the camera gently swept around the dancing figures of Belle and Beast while Angela Lansbury sang the title song.

Embarrassed, I wiped my eyes and resolved to pull myself together and not get pulled into the film so much.  This, I now see, was the last stand for my stubborn pseudo-intellectual snobbery, and it was soundly knocked away when I heard the film's villain sing, "Screw your courage to the sticking place!" in one of the films final numbers.  I shook my head in disbelief.  Did they really just make a Macbeth reference?  In a Disney film?

Well, I was completely in at that point.  This movie was perfection from start to finish, and I came out of it with a new appreciation for so-called family entertainment that managed to attain a high-level of quality.  As the years have gone on, the film has served as a reminder to me to not be so serious, that deep emotions and intellectual quality are not mutually exclusive, and that it is simply okay to feel transported by a movie without it having to have some sort corrosive subtext about the meaning of life.

In other words, we all need a little bit of quirky romance in our lives.

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