Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” a film that set the standard for not just animation, but for the art of musical storytelling, garnered such critical praise in its initial theatrical release that it received multiple Academy Award nominations. Had Walt Disney been alive, he would have surely been proud — the founding father of Walt Disney Studios had spent much of his career fighting for the recognition of animated films within the Hollywood establishment.
“Beauty and the Beast,” the title track from the soundtrack, was the brainchild of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, and it won the Oscar for Best Original Song. Menken’s score took home the top honor that night as well. This animated masterpiece even got nominated for Best Picture — it lost out to “The Silence of the Lambs.”
With such a glowing history, and as one of Disney’s crown jewels, why would the studio now decide to re-release “Beauty and the Beast” in 3D? Sure, Disney’s theatrical history is built on the concept of re-releasing an animated classic into the movie houses every few years. However, 3D is already overused, and has some analysts speculating that the visual technology is losing steam, fast.
Following the triumphant return to animation glory with “The Little Mermaid,” Disney proved this type of moviemaking was worth fighting for, like Walt had done all those years ago. Thank then wunderkind Jeffrey Katzenberg for figuring out a way to jolt the animation department back to life. What happened between then and now to see Disney pander to 3D fans?
Perhaps Pixar is to blame. The once independent computer animation house, now back at Disney, has made a lot of money producing 3D animated features, including the critically praised “Up” and “Toy Story 3.” Those films, however, are not in the vein of hand-drawn animation, an art that has nearly faded into the annals of moviemaking history. “Beauty and the Beast” was an example of how such artistry can still dazzle.
In Roger Ebert’s original review of “Beauty and the Beast,” he noted that the film “reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too.” The lauded critic has recently been attacking 3D technology. One can only imagine how he will react, if at all, to Disney retrofitting such a glorious film to use that annoying technology.
Would Walt have been on board with such a shift? He was notoriously unhappy with all of his animated features, always trying to find ways to fix something up until the last possible moment. He even managed to correct sloppy animation in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” before it got a wide release. But, Walt was working towards perfection, not adopting the latest trend. He broke new ground, as opposed to following the herd. Had he not, the concept of a feature length animated film might have never become reality. Hopefully, 3D will be a short-lived trend, and it is worrisome to see Disney turning its classic films into trendy bits of entertainment.