Whilst I understand that for some Americans this might seem perverse – a Brit commenting on the work of an iconic American institution – I hope that the fact that so much of the inspiration for the Disney film legacy has come from the literature of Europe in general and from Britain in particular (think Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Treasure Island, Robin Hood, 101 Dalmatians, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Wind in the Willows, The Rescuers, Winnie-the-Pooh and The Sword in the Stone) justifies my having a valid perspective.
That said, my latest 'extras' outing is for the forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray release of a story inspired by a French fairy-tale, Beauty and the Beast.
The film was originally released in 1991 and story of the making of what is now regarded as one of the Disney classics is fascinating since – despite the popularity of The Little Mermaid – there was still a feeling amongst the management at Disney that the Golden Age of Disney animation was an epoch in the past and, whilst worth celebrating, was not likely to ever return.
As is chronicled in the DVD features – and in an excellent and lavishly-illustrated book by Charles Solomon, Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast – the managerial short-term view of the studio's latest fairy-tale couldn't have been more wrong. Beauty and the Beast went on to become the first animated film to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and, like its predecessor, Mermaid, featured a score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman that was so utterly 'Broadway' that it resulted in the Disney company translating, transposing and transferring their cartoon musical to the stage, first in New York and then across the globe, so paving the way for further Disney theatrical ventures such as The Lion King and Mary Poppins.
And while you're waiting to get your hands on the book and the DVD, you can get a further perception on the film and its success from tonight's Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman that, around 11:15 pm, will feature an interview by me of Paige O'Hara (left) who, 19, years ago provided the speaking and singing voice for Belle – the beautiful half of the titular duo!
Miss O'Hara, who was cast, according to Co-Director, Gary Wise, because her voice had a unique tone with "a little bit of Judy Garland", has played some of the greatest musical roles Broadway could offer including Eva Peron in Evita, Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, Ado Annie in Oklahoma! and Ellie May in Show Boat and yet for millions of young girls who still dream – however politically incorrect it may be to do so – of being a Disney Princess, she is, and will always be, the beautiful heroine of this tale as old as time...
And here is the wonderful Angela Lansbury singing (as Mrs Potts) the film's title song...