Beauty and the Beast: Still a Masterpiece – Disney+ Review (Day 1)

I revisit the first movie that I ever saw in the theater.

SUMMARY

Belle (Paige O’Hara) is an educated woman living in a village in France. Naturally, reading causes her to be ostracized. Singing about how provincial and boring the town is probably doesn’t help her reputation, either. She is constantly harassed by the local huntsman, Gaston (Richard White), whose entreaties she rebuffs. One day, her father, Maurice (Rex Everhart), goes to a fair to showcase his invention, but gets lost on the way back. He seeks refuge in a castle, but it turns out the castle is owned by a Beast (Robby Benson), who imprisons Maurice for trespassing. The Beast is, in fact, a prince who was turned into a monster for refusing to give shelter to a disguised witch when he was eleven. Yes, when he was eleven, an age which isn’t an adult even by ancient standards, but apparently is legally competent if you’re a tricky witch. The Beast was given until a magical rose wilts to learn to love someone and earn love in return.

Who’s a cursed boy? You are! You are!

Belle ventures out to try and find her father and the Beast agrees to release Maurice if Belle becomes his prisoner. She agrees to the switch, which is good for the plot. The Beast gives her a room that is likely larger than her entire former house and doesn’t smell as much like an old Frenchman. The Beast’s staff, who are similarly cursed, because that’s totally fair, attend to her needs. The staff consists chiefly of Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), the clock and majordomo, Lumière (Jerry Orbach), the candelabra maître d’hôtel, Mrs. Potts (Angela “I love her so much” Landsbury), the teapot cook, and Chip Potts (Bradley Pierce), her chipped teacup son. Yes, those were their names before they got transformed, so I guess the curse has a sense of humor. Bad luck for Monsieur Latrinè (in fairness, the name used to be Merdehouse).  

There’s also a feather duster who didn’t merit a name in the film.

While Belle gets along with the staff, she enrages Beast by wandering into the forbidden West Wing and finding the rose. Beast yells at her, so she flees the castle, getting attacked by wolves in the process. Beast saves her from the wolf pack, and the two end up finally bonding as he shows his gentle side. Or as the Stockholm Syndrome sets in, depending on your point of view. At the same time, Maurice has tried to convince people that Belle is captive, but they dismiss him as crazy. Gaston uses his apparent insanity as part of a plan, bribing the local warden of the insane asylum, Monsieur D’Arque (Tony “I was also Frollo” Jay), into committing Maurice. However, Maurice sets off for the castle to rescue Belle before he can be committed. The fact that no one seems to notice that Belle has been missing this whole time is very concerning. 

Monsieur D’Arque was probably never going to be a good guy.

After having a romantic evening with the Beast containing a song that will make me a little misty anytime I hear it, Belle sees Maurice lost in the woods. Beast lets her go save him, giving her a magic mirror as a gift. When she rescues him and takes him home, Gaston tries to imprison Maurice as leverage to convince Belle to marry him, but Belle uses the mirror to prove that Maurice is sane. Also, magic is real, which should be a bigger deal than it is in the film. Gaston and his sidekick Lefou (Jesse Corti) rally the locals into a mob to kill the Beast while trapping Belle. She escapes and heads to the castle while the servants fight off the mob, and the Wardrobe (Jo Anne Worley) murders a man and I don’t feel like that’s addressed enough. Gaston confronts the Beast, but after Belle comes back, Beast wins the fight. After Beast spares him, Gaston stabs him and falls off a roof to his death. Beast dies in Belle’s arms, but because this is a Disney movie, her love (and also magic) brings him back as a human. They get married, and no one ever mentions that the Beast’s name is Adam.

The bad guy has the black horse with red eyes. Man, if only life was this simple.

END SUMMARY

I should clarify that this is the first movie I made it all the way through in theaters. I did try to go to other ones, but I mean, I was four and kids are dumb. I think the fact that this is the first movie that I actually sat through is a big part of why I am so enamored with the power of cinema. I have watched this movie at almost every stage of my life, from child to adolescent to adult to cancer patient to broken soul in the shape of a man to adult again, and this movie has never been anything less than a masterpiece.

I left Ernest Scared Stupid because of the child murder. Again, four.

This was the first animated film to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, beating out other contenders like Thelma & Louise, City Slickers, Terminator 2, Doc Hollywood, Barton Fink, The Fisher King, Fried Green Tomatoes, and, of course, Highlander II. It was one of the most pronounced times since the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that critics were really forced to acknowledge that animation can be an art form for everyone, not just for children. In a few years, Toy Story and Pixar’s revolution would follow, which would eventually lead to the creation of the Best Animated Film Oscar, but even that would not have likely happened if this film had not used computer aided drawing through the CAPS (Computer Animated Production System) program created by Pixar. The ballroom scene involved heavy use of computers and that sequence proved the use of CGI as a way to create bigger and more impressive effects than would be possible using traditional animation for the same budget.

Yeah, CGI has come a long way, but this is still a great use of it.

Actually, budgeting was a major concern for this film, because it had been stalling since the 1950s when Walt Disney first tried to make it work. After Who Framed Roger Rabbit finally started to revitalize the Disney animated division in 1987, the film was put back into production, but as a non-musical film. After they worked on it for over a year, Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered it scrapped and told the team to start over. This led to the previous director, Richard Purdum, to leave the project. Now having already hemorrhaged money, Katzenberg demanded that the film be a musical like The Little Mermaid and put Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise in as directors. To give you an idea of how crazy a move this was, their only prior directing experience was doing the animation for “Cranium Command” at EPCOT. Now, to cap it off, they were ordered to finish the movie in 2 years, because Disney slotted four years for production and had already used two up on the rejected version of the film, and using the same budget that had already been half-spent by the last crew. Producing a movie of this caliber out of these circumstances is like being called in as a first-time designated hitter in the world series, told you’re down by three in the bottom of the ninth and hitting a grand slam with a wiffle bat.

I’d put this in a museum, and they said this was the rushed production.

That’s enough background, let’s get to the movie itself. This story is, as the song famously says, a tale as old as time. Before this film came out there were multiple versions of Beauty and the Beast on film and television, including Jean Cocteau’s famously surreal 1946 rendition from which the Disney movie borrows heavily. Despite the number of adaptations, this tends to always be seen as the quintessential telling of the story, and I think it’s actually the changes that this version made to the characters that really make it stand out. 

Not having hands everywhere was a good change, although I love Cocteau.

First, all of the supporting characters have big, bold personalities. While several versions of the story describe Beast as having magical attendants, they’re usually depicted as silent magical spirits, whereas this film gives them all distinct personas. Lumiere is the aggressive and passionate one, Cogsworth is the worrywort, and Mrs. Potts is the mother figure. They all come across as the kind of people that would feel dedicated to looking over the Prince lovingly, even after they were stuck in this situation for ten years. Similarly, Maurice comes across as a quirky person but a loving father and a kind soul, despite his limited screen time. 

Animation makes visual storytelling easier, but it still takes talent to pull off.

Then there’s the bad guy. Gaston provides a villain with one of the most detestable personalities out there: Someone who has never been told no and refuses to hear it. He could literally have all three Bimbettes (yes, that’s what they’re called, don’t blame me), but instead he refuses to have anything less than the most beautiful woman in town, despite the fact that they have nothing in common. It’s even worse because Gaston IS actually good at hunting and providing, something that would make him celebrated during that time period, as the film points out. Gaston can have anything except Belle, which, of course, makes him more of a d*ck for going to such lengths to get her. He is a great addition to the story, because you probably know someone like that. 

Replace “eggs” with “whey protein” and you definitely know him.

The main characters, too, are different than in any portrayal I’ve seen before this one. In both the original story and Cocteau’s version, the Beast is a gentleman who attempts to woo Belle with his wealth and lavish lifestyle, something that she reciprocates. In this version, the Beast is not initially a kind person, but is in fact bitter and temperamental. Given that he was cursed when he was eleven (no, I’m not letting this go), this may be justified, but these flaws make the love story even stronger because he is the one who has to change inside as opposed to the burden being just on Belle to look past his outer appearance. He has to learn to care about something beyond himself.

He’s also a bit insecure. Can’t imagine why.

Belle, while she does initially recoil from his appearance, quickly gets past that and instead is more focused on how he treats her. As opposed to just being overwhelmed by materialism or pining for a prince like her traditional counterparts, Belle in this version is focused on adventure. While people may point out that she doesn’t end up traveling to the “great wide somewhere,” but instead marrying a prince and living in a castle like 20 miles from her house, I would point out that she’s still in a magical castle finding a connection with a cursed prince, which is still a freaking adventure plotline. Part of her journey is realizing that adventures don’t all have to be grand journeys, but can be found in just recognizing the truth within another person. Plus, she has the most outspoken and independent personality of any female lead in a Disney movie up until that point (including Ariel) and never really dreamed of finding a man. Instead, she dreamed of being part of a great story, which is what she gets. Compared to the previous versions, having a Belle who is more focused on the internal than the external is a massive step-up in protagonist. While she’s not the pinnacle of self-actualized lead (I mean, there’s still the Stockholm Syndrome discussion everywhere), she still set the stage for many more empowered women to come.

You couldn’t start one book club in a town that can sustain a book lender?

The music of the movie is… well, it’s Ashman and Menken, so it was always going to be good, but this movie contains as many iconic and memorable songs as any Disney film. “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston,” and, of course, “Beauty and the Beast,” are all perpetually played at Disney parks and are the subject of numerous covers and parodies. I imagine there are not a ton of people out there who have never heard at least some version of the songs in their lives. The ballroom scene would not have its grandeur without the song accompaniment. At the Oscars, Beauty and the Beast got 3 of the 5 nominations for best song. However, I want to point out that it’s not just the songs that this movie nails, but also the score. The movie consistently uses the score to heighten the tension and, given that Menken composed it, it is a master class in emotional manipulation. Guess that’s why it also got him an Oscar. 

This is how you start a movie.

Overall, this movie does almost everything right. It dazzled me as much rewatching it this time as it did when I first saw it as a small child on the big screen. It’s part of why I consider animation to be a valid art form and why I love film as much as I do. It helped make me who I am, and, for that, I will forever be grateful.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Banana Splits Movie: Making a Kids Show Creepy

Someone decided that they should take a goofy kids show from the 60s and add the Terminator. It works pretty well.

SUMMARY (NO REAL SPOILERS)

Just like in the real world, The Banana Splits debuted in 1968 produced by Sid and Marty Krofft (H.R. Pufnstuf, Land of the Lost, Far Out Space Nuts, The Brady Bunch Hour). It’s a children’s show featuring four anthropomorphic animals voiced by Eric Bauza: Fleegle the dog, Bingo the orange gorilla, Drooper the lion, and Snorky the elephant. They play music, drive around in Banana Buggies, do goofy skits, and introduce cartoons made by Hanna-Barbera. They were supposed to be a kid-show version of the Monkees, something the movie mentions as trivia.

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They rock hard. 

Unlike in the real world, the show didn’t get cancelled after two seasons and has instead continued for 50 FREAKING YEARS, including adding a human co-star that no one likes, Stevie (Richard White). Harley Williams (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is a huge fan of the show and for his birthday his mother, Beth (Dani Kind), gets him tickets to a live taping along with his half-brother Austin (Romeo Carere), his jerkass father Mitch (Steve Lund), and a classmate named Zoe (Maria Nash). 

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They seem super excited now, don’t they?

At the studio, they’re greeted by Paige (Naledi Majola), a hostess who Ausin immediately hits on poorly. In the audience with them are: Parker (Lia Sachs), a young girl whose father Jonathan (Keeno Lee Hector) wants to make famous, and twenty-something couple Thadd and Poppy (Kiroshan Naidoo and Celina Martin), two Instagram celebrity-wannabees who love the Banana Splits. During the show, the new VP of Programming, Andy (Daniel Fox), informs the show’s producer Rebecca (Sara Canning) that the show is being cancelled that day. Stevie overhears this and is delighted, having hated being the butt of jokes for… however long he’s been on the show. He’s in his 30s, so I’m guessing like 15 years. Unfortunately, he tells the Splits… who it turns out are freaking Terminator-esque robots. The idea of being cancelled apparently doesn’t sit well with their “show must go on” directives.

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Yes, they have glowing red robot eyes.

Naturally, all of the named characters get special “backstage tours” as part of the show, including getting to meet the Banana Splits… with deadly results.

 

END SUMMARY

I remember watching reruns of The Banana Splits from my childhood and always thinking “what the hell were kids watching back then?” I mean, it was somewhat charming in how very over-the-top it was, but it was nonetheless bizarre. So, when it was announced that they were going to make a horror film out of this property, I was intrigued. It’s kind of rare to do a horror film that is based on not only a childhood property, but one that was explicitly aimed at young children. Sure, there have been horror films based on Pinocchio, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel, but those were usually just derived from the more horrifying original versions of the stories, whereas the Banana Splits were always meant to be harmless. The reason why this movie ends up working is that, even though the characters were always goofy and childish, they still fell into something akin to the uncanny valley that we get from mascots. They had unblinking eyes and unchanging expressions, something that made them always feel robotic even though they had people inside of them.

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This went South in a hurry.

Another strength of the movie is that the characters are still goofy as hell, even when they become killer robots. They force victims to participate in horror versions of the show’s games. They kill people using goofy devices and twisted, but still darkly funny, methods. They still use their over-the-top voices and much of the same lines both before and after they malfunction, something that makes them still kind of amusing. Also, great work by Eric Bauza for duplicating all of the Banana Splits’ original voices pretty dead-on. The film has a lot of solid comedy in it, even if it’s the same kind of weird humor that the show originally had (i.e. bad puns). 

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This magic trick doesn’t go as planned.

The kills in the film are exactly what I wanted to see. Banana Buggies, lollipops, and goofy cartoon props are all used and used well. If you like cheesy horror effects, this movie is for you.

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This one is crazier given the set-up.

There are only really two flaws in the movie. First, there are too many focal characters and the film has to go between all of them, which eats up time to watch what we came here for: Robots wearing fursuits murdering people. There are subplots for each character that simultaneously are too short for us to care about them but also take up too much of the movie. The second thing that rubbed me wrong is that the impetus for the events is the show is being spontaneously cancelled. The VP says that it’s because the show uses up multiple sound stages, but there are people waiting in line to watch the show, there’s a ton of merchandise, and, oh yeah, IT’S BEEN RUNNING 50 YEARS AND ONLY HAS ONE ACTOR. They imply that the Splits have to be updated and rebuilt sometimes, but this has to have one of the lowest production costs of shows in history now and should have so much syndication that it basically just dumps money in your lap. There are so many other reasons that the show was getting cancelled that would have worked that it only made me angrier that they picked a dumb one. Still, that’s a minor issue.

Overall, I want more of these. I want more horror versions of stuff like this, shows that were goofy at the time, but creepy in retrospect. Hopefully the next one won’t be stealing as heavily from Five Nights at Freddy’s.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.