It’s been close to 2 decades since I last saw the original Beauty and the Beast, sitting mesmerized right alongside my then 3 year old daughter Becky as we watched the enchanted love story unfold before us. The fact Belle’s face soon adorned sheets, towels, plastic dinnerware and a closet full of other toddler accoutrements throughout my house didn’t obscure the fact that the film was cinematic and animation excellence and worthy of all the acclaim, honors and cash it garnered.
The film ushered in a new era of animated storytelling and production methodology, with Disney pushing the technological envelope with CAPS and other systems and tools that forever changed how animated films are made. Fast forward 20 years and computers are as ubiquitous in animation as Red Bull and plush toy-adorned cubicles. Technical prowess notwithstanding, Disney has taken on quite a challenge in bringing classic films like Beauty and the Beast into the modern 3D arena.
Sitting mesmerized right alongside my now 23 year old daughter as we watched this beautiful new version of the film, I can safely say the ends justify the means and the tremendous amount of work to bring this film to 3D has produced a visually stunning experience.
To say Disney simply converted the film to 3D would do a disservice to the artistic and technical talent involved in the process, who made a myriad of critical decisions that directly determined the film’s look, feel and how all the elements would interact on screen in the 3D space. Some of Disney’s top talent brought the original film to life, from Directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise to producer Don Hahn and supervising animators Glen Keane and Andreas Deja, to name a few – forgive me that I’m not mentioning so many others. A generation later, Disney’s top stereoscopic talent has given the film a new life in 3D.
I’m not going to take you through an exacting discussion in painstaking detail about the new film. Memorable elements include the stain glass windows of the opening narrative, the textures and uneven edges of the Beast’s castle, the immense library, the Beast’s torn apart bedroom, the Be Our Guest dance routine, Gaston and the Beast’s rooftop fight and the famous ballroom dance. Only occasionally did I get a sense that I was looking at 2D images in a popup book – the sense of space and proportion never bothered my eyes or felt out of place. The movie has a completely new look, with characters and backgrounds that bring a new warmth and sense of dimension and depth. I suspect the production team took advantage of the effort to clean up some imagery as well, certainly the colors, which just leap out from the screen.
Disney’s stereoscopic 3D pipeline is headed by stereographer Robert Neuman, whom I had a chance to interview in December at SIGGRAPH Asia in Hong Kong. He spoke quite passionately about the entire experience, telling how much artistic decision-making goes into a process many consider solely a matter of computer hijinks and button pushing. The result is a film that uses 3D to enhance and expand the impact of the story on an even grander scale.
If you’re a fan of Disney feature animation or of animation in general, the new Beauty and the Beast in 3D will not disappoint.
The film comes to theatres fronted by a new 6 minute short, Tangled Ever After, which is sure to please anyone with a pulse. Featuring most of Tangled’s central characters, the hilarious short is centered on chameleon sidekick Pascal and faithful stallion/dog Maximus as they wreak havoc on Rapunzel and Flynn’s royal wedding. It’s fast and quite funny. The gags don’t break any new ground, but the comedic timing is good. As a great cartoon easily demonstrates, pratfalls and slapstick comedy, when done right, are really funny.