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I had the pleasure of attending the second showing of this film at the New York
Film Festival.  It was billed as a "work in progress" containing a combination
of completed and partially completed sections of this film which has been in the
works for three years and is to appear in the theaters this December.
 
The evening began (at 11:15 PM no less) with some representative of Disney
giving a vague intro to a 45-second sequence from the film.  We saw four
versions:  (1) a story board version, using the voices of the animators along
with general drawings of what the sequence was supposed to convey - rather much
like several stills;  (2) a version using the voices of the actors, with out-
lined action;  (3) a detailed lined version, and (4) the finished sequence with
color and all.
 
The film runs 78 minutes (it really does seem too short) and went in and out of
the above four types of stages of completion.  Actually most of it is "done".
Most often the shots and sequences left unfinished involved an elaborate
scene.  It didn't really interrupt the film.  (Lest I be misunderstood, what I
mean by "incomplete" is the colorings of the images -- the soundtrack is
finished from beginning to end.)
 
Among some people here in NYC there is a stereotype view of Californians as
people who don't work but just have fun all the time.  And as nasty (or
complementary) as that sounds, it is one of the impressions I have of this film.
This is a film made by people who tried to enjoy themselves and it works for
the most part.  (For instance, a gag:  a fight between a trunk  and an
armed peasant -- they have a fling, then the trunk swallows the peasant and
sits contented.  Just when you think it's over, the trunk lets out a big, loud
burp.)
 
The style of the film -- even of the drawing is very eclectic.  For the most
part the feel is of a work of Chuck Jones, but there are glimpses of the
Fleischers.  The first 20 minutes is rather like watching MTV--constantly
assaulting not only the eyes with a dizzying array of images, but also the
soundtrack, swiftly moving from extreme lows to highs, loud to loudest.  I like
this when it is something like a montage sequence or a film by Len Lye, but it's
a little tough here.  I guarantee that few people will be bored by this film.
Of course they draw heavily on the "Disney tradition" (if there really is one),
but I kept seeing allusions and references to many other films (even one by
Oskar Fischinger!).
 
Better not think about Cocteau -- the story has been recast.  Belle is holds
her own, though she is misunderstood by her townspeople because she likes to
read.  But she's not afraid to shove people out of the way as she sings (in a
style that reminds me of Cosette in Les Miserables).  Her father is a kind of
absent-minded inventor.  With that exception (Belle's father) there is not one
positive image of a male figure in this film (and except of course, the prince
in the end).  The macho image as personified by Gaston, the jock who intends to
marry Belle, comes across very negatively.  Unlike Cocteau (oops! better keep
that film out of my mind) the Beast is an angry slob.
 
The disappoint thing about the film is that the characterizations are made so
clearly that it doesn't seem possible for them to modify.  The "transition"
from Belle's hard-headedness to a person who can love a beast is not there: all
of a sudden she's going out with him.  Similarly for the beast, you feel he's
an idiot that doesn't change.  Your opinion changes when he's faced with death,
not because his character is different.  This is where I find the film too
short -- lack of character development.
 
But the images are really quite nice, and it's so refreshing to see such vibrant
colors.  the audience (remember, it was 11:15 PM) was in the mood for a good
time so they found it very campy.  And I must admit that the climax of the film
is a sequence in the style of Busby Berkeley (though not as good as his) in
which the dining accoutrements sing and dance.  One shot stands out in my mind:
a computer generated image (it was all outlines, but you could see what was
going on) of a magnificent dolly shot, starting from above a ceiling, passing
a chandelier, zooming in on Belle dancing with the Beast, heading for the floor,
then while on their legs turning around a full 180 degrees for a very wide
angle of the ballroom in which this is taking place. OOOOOOH!  I can't wait to
see what it looks like when color is added.
 
I'm happy to report that there is minimal reliance on the famed Disney technique
of cuteness.  Nothing bats it eyes (except a feather duster flirting with a
clock), and there are many sophisticated sexual innuendos which I suppose a
five year old won't understand.  None of the songs is very memorable, but they
serve the purpose of the plot.
 
I hope that Disney will preserve this print and perhaps release it as one of
those "THe Making of Beauty and the Beast" or something similar.
 
Bob Kosovsky
Graduate Center -- Ph.D. Program in Music / City University of New York
New York Public Library -- Music Division
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Disclaimer:  My opinions do not necessarily represent those of my institutions.