'Beauty and the Beast' practically perfect

October 30, 1992|By Scott Hettrick

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

(Walt Disney Home Video, 1991)

The most poignant moment in "Beauty and the Beast" comes on the final frame of film following the end credits:

"To our friend, Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman (1950-1991)"

That should put a lump in the throat of anyone who was swept into the magical musical worlds of "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Shop of Horrors," all created by the songwriting team of Ashman and Alan Menken. Ashman died of complications from acquired immune deficiency syndrome before "Beauty" was released. A couple of weeks after his death, Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg said, "Howard's genius was to be able to find a place where music could be emotional and yet carry a story forward."

It is an apt description of each of the delightful and memorable songs in "Beast," including the personality-defining "Belle" and "Gaston" and the realization of feelings of love in "Something There." Ashman was equally adroit at elaborate Busby Berkeley-style numbers, such as "Be Our Guest," and beautiful love songs, such as the movie's title track. These songs revitalized Disney's animation department, which had been rudderless in the quarter-century since Walt Disney's death in 1966.

This spin on the classic story of a woman who falls in love with a man-turned-animal is pure Disneyana, complete with inanimate objects that come to life and a happy ending in which the beautiful young heroine ends up with a handsome young man.

It's also the finest animated achievement from the studios in years, perhaps ever. The traditional, painstaking, frame-by-frame artistry is expertly meshed with top-of-the-line computer animation in the elegant ballroom dance scene.

From the blend of comedy, drama and music to character development, story, dialogue, voice casting and animation, this film, like "The Little Mermaid," is, to paraphrase Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.

Disney is also offering the film on video as part of a children's activity kit for $44.99, which includes a 96-page animation flip book, a storybook and figurines of Belle and Beast. A collector's edition, priced at $99.99, features a second video on the making of the film, a compact disc of the soundtrack, a book about the film and a lithograph of Belle and Beast. Finally, since Disney has no plans to release a laser-disc version of the completed film, a "work-in-progress" version that features the entire movie with many unpainted sequences plus behind-the-scenes footage is

available on laser disc for $49.99.

INCIDENT AT OGLALA

(LIVE Home Video, 1992)

Movies can be powerful tools of persuasion. Biased documentaries and one-sided dramatizations such as "The Thin Blue Line" and "Roger and Me" not only plant opinions in the minds of audiences, they can sometimes result in changed legislation, an overturned conviction or at least a new hearing on the subject in question.

It's obvious that's what the producers of this film are hoping for, which immediately makes one suspicious about the quasi-documentary's objectivity.

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