Belle and the Beast. Disney
Films released in 3-D tend to fall into three categories. One is where the 3-D is an enhancement — say, Martin Scorsese's Hugo. Another is where the 3-D is actively annoying — based on the trailers that have been running in theaters, that's certainly the way the upcoming Titanic rerelease is going to be. Disney's 3-D reissue of its 1991 Best Picture nominee Beauty and the Beast falls into the third category: films where the 3-D is completely unnecessary, but doesn't take anything away from the experience, though it swipes a couple of extra dollars from your pocket.
There was certainly no need for this utterly lovely film, done in a traditional animation style before Pixar and other innovators changed the game, to be trifled with. Nevertheless, after last year's highly successful 3-D release of The Lion King, you're likely to see a wave of similar projects. And while you may be able to track down one of the theaters that's showing it in 2-D (they do exist!), if you're choosing between seeing it in 3-D and not seeing it at all (or simply continuing to watch it on home video), it's well worth trekking out to the theater and putting on your glasses.
This is the story, of course, of Belle, the bookish daughter of an inventor who finds herself imprisoned in a castle by the Beast, who was once a handsome prince but was banished to hideousness by an enchantress as a punishment for his arrogance. Only love can break the spell. You know the drill.
Appropriately, that enchanted castle where the prince lived, in which everyone apparently paid the price for his sins by being turned into objects — the cook into a teapot, the maid into a feather duster — is where the magic happens. In the great pantheon of Disney sidekicks, you'll find your crickets and crabs, your warthogs and monkeys. But the inventiveness that goes into creating a footstool that's really a dog, or a stove that's really a chef, may be unmatched.
An enchanted fork, Lumiere and Cogsworth.
An enchanted fork, Lumiere and Cogsworth. Disney
The enchanted castle's greatest creations by far are Lumiere and Cogsworth, the suave candelabra-slash-butler voiced by Jerry Orbach and the officious clock-slash-house-manager voiced by David Ogden Stiers. Lumiere is the mischievous romantic dreamer (and French); Cogsworth is the rule-following worrywart (and British). Together, they give the proceedings lightness and humor at a time when, without them, you'd mostly have — let's face it — a pretty creepy story. Lumiere's "Be Our Guest" number is a classic Chevalier-like song-and-dance, and rightly so, but it also helps make Belle's situation seem a tad less dire.
Not everything about the story works, and there's always been something about the "love the ugly, for they may one day become blandly handsome!" arc that's never been entirely logically consistent. But the Beast (voiced by Robby Benson) is a fine creation, surprisingly funny and a far more romantic furry-faced hero than you'll find in Twilight.
Fortunately, the use of 3-D is fairly restrained here; it doesn't particularly call attention to itself. There's always the problem of reduced light in 3-D films since the glasses make everything look a touch darker, but other than that, in this release, Beauty and the Beast feels very much like it always has.
It remains as true as it was when it happened to The Lion King that this didn't need to happen. A simple rerelease without the 3-D gimmick would have been a better idea, and would have made the movie more likely to fall within the budgets of pinched families. Nevertheless, there are moments to take what you can get, and good old-fashioned cartoons (even in tacked-on 3-D) are a tradition well worth preserving as a theatrical experience, particularly when done this well. Kids who are accustomed to seeing these big musicals on little screens should get a shot at seeing them not precisely as they were meant to be seen, but closer to it.
Besides, there are kids out there who don't even know where Mr. Burns' "See My Vest" number on The Simpsons came from. And they really should.