Being a great fan of animation in general and anime in particular, I read with great interest the thread on animated movies. I do wish to point out that all great animated features are not just Japanese, there are a few real Disney gems. I'd like to talk abit of a movie which is today almost overlooked, and in my opinion is easily the greatest Disney of them all (and had it not been for Howl's Moving Castle, it might be my favorite animated movie of all time). Since it's a different topic, and I'm going to write a pretty long, post I thought it prudent to start a new thread.
The movie in question is Beauty and the Beast. And yes I realise that saying that the only animated movie that has gotten nominated for Best Picture Academy Award is overlooked is a little strange, but I notice that it is largely forgot when talking about the Disney oeuvre. People mention Cinderella and Snow White and the Lion King and Aladding, but they almost always forget this gem.
First of all, this movie is insanely beautiful, more so than any other Disney movie. While I certainly don't dispute that Anime is enourmously beutiful aswell, it's not the same thing. From the small town, to the great castle, to the the frightening woods, to the gorgeous ballroom, each frame is like a fantasy. It's also a fairly European style, with many European classic motifs. I don't know why that especially appeals to me, it just does. For instance the scene when the Beast fights a number of wolves in order to save Belle is just remarkable. The grey tones of the wolves and the snow and the backdrop of the black forest. Also the fight itself, which almost looks like a dance is fantastic.
The musical numbers are a great fun. Often they burst and pop with spirit, other time they're so scary I wouldn't take young children to see them.
However, what truly makes this movie so much greater than something like Aladdin is, in my opinion, it's portrayal of Belle. Almost all Disney movies has thinly veiled sexism in it, as indeed do most fairy tales. It's always the perfect Prince, beutiful and kind, who comes to the rescue of the poor Cinderella, or whomever it maybe. Even in Aladdin which features a really strong female character (princess Jasmine), it is still the brave, funny, gorgeous, and (almost) perfect Aladdin who comes to her rescue and saves her from her dreary life.
This movie works completly counter to that assumption. Belle lives in a small little town where she is the beauty, but is that all she is? Certainly not! When all the other girls in town are fawning over the town stud Gaston (whom I'll get to in a minute), she prefers reading a book, or taking are of her kooky old inventor dad. She wishes out to get out, but does not expect, nor indeed want, any help from anybody. When her dad disappears, she goes out to search for him she doesn't get help from anyone. Indeed she rescues him, and takes his place!
And what about Gaston? He is clearly a charicature, he's chavinistic, he's stupid, he's vain and just ridiculous. He is also the classic Disney hero, he has all the attributes of the classic Prince Charming, and where it another girl, he would have "rescued" her, with his strength and magnetic good looks. But not Belle. In the end we see what he really is made of when he leads an angry mob to charge the castle.
So how about the actual love interest in the movie, the Beast? He is completely different from any other male in Disney history, he is tortured, depressed, paranoid and lonely, all of which leads to him becoming abusive and very closed. It's Belle who saves him, not the other way around. One can easily interpret his origin story in Freudian terms, when he was a child he was (clearly) abondoned by his parents and have never really felt love. He got to live in a castle with only servants that followed his every word and never questioned or challenged him, and he got whatever he desired. As a result he became what he is, a depressed, tortured, abusive beast (well, the movie tells it in a fairytale way, but this is the obvious interpretation). It's not hard to make an Oedipal connection with his love for Belle.
I have lots more praise for this movie, but I think this will be enough for now. It's just so refreshing seeing a female character in an American movie be smart, brave, kind and beutiful, and for once let her act as a saviour.
Well, enough writing. Cheers!