Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Beauty and the Beast


Though I have a personal preference for The Little Mermaid, there is no doubt that this movie is the masterpiece of the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s. It continues the Broadway structure pioneered by The Little Mermaid, and also has songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. (Sadly, Ashman died of AIDS before he could see this film. It has a dedication at the end: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.”) It was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. (It lost to The Silence of the Lambs, which I don’t think is as good.) It was later turned into a smash hit Broadway musical, which ran for 5,464 performances and is certainly playing somewhere on the planet at this moment. The music is wonderful, the animation is wonderful, the story is great … I can’t find a single thing to criticize about this movie. It is also notable technically for increased use of CGI, particularly in the famous ballroom scene where the camera swoops through a chandelier and down to circle around the dancing couple.
I do, however, have a question. How on Earth did they pick Robby Benson as the voice of the Beast? Try to picture it. The casting guys are sitting around, tossing out names. “The Beast is a big, hairy guy, we need a deep, growling voice. Sort of an animal sound, like a panther or an angry wolf.” And one guy snaps his fingers. “I’ve got it! Robby Benson!” It just doesn’t play. Is it because he was such a sensation as “Boy tossing ball” in Wait Until Dark? Was it his performance in Ice Castles? Was it being the wimpy son opposite Paul Newman in Harry and Son? They had to re-engineer his voice electronically so it was totally unrecognizable. They could as easily have cast Pee-Wee Herman, or Sissy Spacek. Did he really have that great a reading?