The defunct Premiere Magazine once asked the top film critics of America to rank the films released in 1991, and "Beauty and the Beast" came on top of their list. Many observers weren't surprised when the nominees for the 64th Academy Awards were released. "Beauty and the Beast" became the first animated picture to be honored in the Best Picture category, and it happened long before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) decided to go back to the old format of nominating nine films for Best Picture. (It last happened during the 16th Academy Awards. The awards night was held on March 2, 1944.) Moreover, there was no category for Best Animated Feature. Perhaps the Academy voters weren't receptive to the idea of giving the highest prize to an animated picture. And the older voters may be thinking of Walt Disney. He had the most Oscar statuettes, even Oscar nominations. No one in the entertainment industry would come near his record. (In case you're insisting on Meryl Streep, then Walt Disney has 59 Academy Award nominations including 22 awards.)
Walt Disney would be proud of the musical version of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's fairy tale if he were around, as it marked the renaissance in Disney films. Television ensured that the public would have easy access to Mickey Mouse and company. They also don't have to pay a ticket to see a temperamental Donald Duck on the big screen. In fairness to this white duck, his mischievous could amuse the audience. But there's so much that the viewers could take the likes of him. (And it had nothing to do with the other Donald.) Disney films, which once put generations of viewers under a spell, lost its Midas touch. It turned out to be a temporary phase.
Younger viewers must find a copy of this musical before watching Condon's live remake. Here are three good reasons:
Alan Menken was at the top of his game. Those who didn't get tired of the "Frozen" soundtrack don't need to let go of Elsa and Anna, as the "Beauty and the Beast" soundtrack could be a companion piece. Angela Lansbury's divine voice could give Idina Menzel a moment of goosebumps, as her part in the rousing "Be Our Guests" would delight her fans (and even those who were unfamiliar with her singing talents). And her rendition of "Beauty and the Beast" could well up tears in the eyes of most moviegoers.
Richard White stood out, and he played the bad guy. Any film would be forgettable, if not a near disaster if the villain wasn't good enough. Richard White, an opera singer, provided a commanding voice to Gaston, a vain hunter who saw Belle as a trophy wife. He didn't have many appearances as Belle and the Beast, but he made sure that he would be remembered in his limited screening time.
The Disney formula had never been better. Likable lead characters, unlikable villains, merry supporting cast, happy ending. Enough said.