Friday, 22 October 2010

TALE AS OLD AS TIME

For the past few years, I've had the privilege of contributing to the DVD bonus disc 'extras' to the re-releases of several classic Disney animated features (see side-bar to this blog). The reason that I consider this to be a privilege is because I live in London and not New York or Los Angeles where, not too surprisingly, most of the Disney historians reside.

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...



11 comments:

Steven Hartley said...

Beauty and the Beast has one great animation in it - but I've never really been a fan of the film, I don't know why. I think the reason is because it was fairy tales and it wasn't much like "Snow White", "Cinderella" or "Sleeping Beauty" - later Disney films never really seemed to appeal to me.

Magician London said...

This is my daughters favrourite film and your blog post was very interesting. Thank you

Roger

Boll Weavil said...

I think it's a mark of how good the great Disney films were that we often think of their version of the fairy tales as the definitive story. The Little Mermaid was OK but I did think, at the time, it heralded an era of cut-price animated features designed just to maximise the profit. How fantastic then, to see a film in the greatest traditions of the old 'hits' but with more than a nod to modern day sensibilities. The heroine does the rescuing, instead of being rescued, and the lantern-jawed, traditional hero is a meat-head ! Add this to some marvellous animation and good songs and you get a real classic movie without any of the formulaic stereo-types that took the shine off later efforts like the Lion King. B & TB is a fabulous film for me.

Andy J. Latham said...

The book is a great read and I'm really looking forward to the Bluray!

As you know, I was fortunate enough to meet quite a few of the big names from Beauty and the Beast. However I fear I may have insulted Bobby Benson by noting the similarity between his and the Beast's hair!! :P

Good Dog said...

Remember seeing this at the Guild 50th Street in Rockefeller Center. Over in NYC to take photographs for a series of commercials, a snowstorm hit, making for an interesting weekend. I ducked inside primarily to warm up when the freezing cold was giving me camera shake.

Does the Blu-ray cover the initial stage of pre-production when Dick Purdum was set to direct? I remember leafing through some of the boxes filled with sketches and pastel backgrounds from his take on it and they looked astonishing.

Brian Sibley said...

ROGER – Can I say what excelelnt taste your daughter has?! And what a very impressive magical web-site you have!

Boll – I couldn't agree more!

Andy – Yes, the book is excellent. I've never met Mr Benson but, talking about the beat, my one problem with the film (and I have the same feelings about Cocteau's magical La Belle et la Bete) is that the Beast is so much more interesting than the Prince he turns into!

GOOD DOG – I haven't seen the Blu-ray (and don't have a Blu-ray player) but I believe Dick Purdum's work is shown – as, indeed, it is in the book.

Boris Hiestand said...

It'd be fabulous if the extras discuss the early London-based days of production.

Brian Sibley said...

Not having a Blu-ray, I won't know. But do let me know when you know!

Michael Sporn said...

You're an articulate, intelligent, knowledgeable contributor on all the DVD pluses you've done. I wish they'd employ more people like you, who know what you're talking about and actually know how to say it.

Your British accent only makes you sound more authoratative to our dumb Americanized ears. No need to worry on that count.

Brian Sibley said...

*Blush*

Well, Michael, I thank you, most sincerely!

Boris Hiestand said...

Just watched it, and yes, they do briefly discuss the London days in the extras. Fascinating footage of Tom Sito, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja and others in younger years doing scribbles and boards for the film, which was much darker and truer to the original story at that point.

Though there is no mention of him, Michael Dudok de Wit can be seen in these meetings as well, helmed by Dick Purdom.
The docu seems very honest (Trousdale and Wise telling they didn't have much creative control at first and "acted" as directors until Katzenberg gave them more control after a 6 month "probation" period) and is a joy to watch. Also enjoyable is realizing how hideous American (hair)fashion was at the time! Mullets and moustaches galore.