Starring: Paige O’Hara (her first film), Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury
Director: Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
Summary: Belle, whose father is imprisoned by the beast, offers herself instead, unaware her captor to be is an enchanted prince
Other Nominations: Original Score*, Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”)*, Original Song (“Be Our Guest”), Original Song (“Belle”), Sound
Better than I even expected. There’s always something magical about high-quality 2D animation that simply can’t be replicated by 3D animation, and here it has aged beautifully (heck, even the limited 3D animation in the film still looks okay). This is thanks in large part to its art style and the talent that Disney had at this point, where they were tremendous at getting small but crucial facial expressions and emotions across. The voice cast is also excellent from top to bottom and I miss when you could have non-celebrities do voice work on big animated films like this (even if this was the film that started us down that road). Seriously, it’s a shame people like Steve Blum, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn or Billy West, some of the best voice actors on the planet, never get the chance to do a high-profile film role.
Ultimately though, there are a couple things that make the movie special. The score is of course a classic, and it got 3 song nominations and won Best Original Score for a reason, with “Be Our Guest”, “Belle” and “Gaston” as my favorite numbers. The characters are some of the best in the Disney canon-Belle had far more depth than the previous Disney princesses, Beast feels far more fleshed out than he is in previous versions of the story, and Gaston is one of the great Disney villains ever, being wonderfully assholish and basically a parody of the kind of Disney Princes of the past who were mostly handsome and strapping but not much else. Finally, the movie is well-plotted, with the intro being a perfectly compact and visually attractive summation of how Beast came to be, and every scene has a purpose. Along with Aladdin and The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast might be the best of the “Disney Renaissance” era films and was a deserving choice for the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture (and the only one from the five nominee era).