The Beast and Belle in Beauty and the Beast 3D
That ballroom looked better in ’91.

It was around the 3D re-release of The Lion King‘s stellar box office run that someone said it was a sad, sad day at the movies. If Disney didn’t even have to bother putting work into making a new property, but could instead just put an old one out with a new coat of three dimensionality on it and reap cash, actual new movies that are good won’t get numbers at the box office. Disney will stop making good features. Actual movies will get squeezed out of the box office in favour of some old four-star movies trotted out again for all to see. And for some reason that I can’t fathom in hindsight (maybe I’m judging by the wrong movie, who knows), people thought ticket sales for The Lion King were cutting into Drive‘s first week. And yeah, new movies like Drive or Contagion being bumped off the top spot by Lion King is almost certainly a pisser, but were those tickets really being sold to the same audience?

In any case, I just got home from the 3D re-release of Beauty and the Beast and that’s what I’ve been thinking about this entire time. Is it really a sad day at the movies when good family films are back in theaters with a new coat of paint? Sure, it’s a lot less work than making a new feature film of equal quality from the ground up. Sure, it’s pretty much every criticism you could throw at it. But in a modern world less and less concerned with preserving our history, more and more caught up in blindly imitating it to make money, shouldn’t it be a welcome vacation to get a Best Picture nominee back on the big screen, no matter how it’s being released there? These are the days when the true family film, entertaining for all members, is disappearing entirely. To get a movie this beautiful, timeless and magnificent re-released is wholly welcome in my books. And especially when the end product looks as luscious and gorgeous as it does.

It is not a word of a lie when I say to you that aside from Avatar, this is the most beautiful 3D movie I have ever seen. The entire film feels like a living, breathing, moving painting. The backgrounds have kept their lush detail; the characters have kept their expressive faces and bodies. You feel Belle’s isolation, the Beast’s angst, Gaston’s pride, Lefou’s idiocy. All of the animation is exactly as great as it was 21 years ago. And the movie itself is still as good as it was–there is no detriment to the story or to the emotions of the characters by the 3D retrograde. Really, if you’re a parent this month and you need to take your family to a movie, make it Beauty and the Beast, because it’s much more majestic and grand than a DVD rental. Sure, you’re paying Disney to put out an old movie with a new spitshine on it. But that’ll be the last thought on your mind at the first sight of those French rolling hills and forests.

Beauty and the Beast is really one of the great movies. It’s Disney’s finest princess feature to date, featuring the one and only storyline in which the man has to change his nature entirely to suit the woman’s needs and where the princess-to-be, Belle, never needs rescuing. She’s freed from a cellar once by a teacup, but even that is so that she can go save someone else from certain death. I swear, I was sat in the theater wishing for a pressing reason to see this movie again. To sit back, start it all over again and let it wash over me. It’s that good-looking and the movie’s no slouch either.

Now, the 3D post-conversion process isn’t without its faults. Specifically, this is only Disney’s second post-conversion from 2D source rodeo, so they have a few kinks to iron out. The biggest help to them would be to learn a couple lessons from Paper Mario. No one has a problem watching two-dimensional characters in three-dimensional environments. Making the trees round? Great! Having Lefou’s nose stick out? Sorta just visually mucky with the post-conversion. You can never tell if that’s his nose or if his head just sorta bulges in the middle. Leave the characters as the two-dimensional drawings they are and we know them to be, but place them on distant planes of depth from each other. To reach out, put their hand a few planes closer to the audience. It would help immersion and help to preserve suspension of disbelief.

Also, Beauty and the Beast was notable in its initial release for its computer-generated ballroom environment where Belle and the Beast share their falling-in-love slowdance. And in two dimensions, that still looks great. It’s a jawdropping feat of animation. In 3D? It looks like really old 3D CG software test footage. Maybe in that case, you could have flattened the pillars and the chandelier a bit. It’s the concept of planes of depth at work again–when you look at cel animation when you go to capture it with your two naked eyes, you see it in planes of depth. Replicate that feeling. It’ll go over a lot better than you expect, especially combined with truly three-dimensional environments, backgrounds and set-pieces.

At the end of the day, I don’t really see it as the end of cinematic creativity that Disney are re-releasing their classics in 3D to make more money. With any luck, that money goes to making better original features. The new original features have fewer competitors due to a marketplace saturated with classics. Families will have movie-going options that don’t involve poo jokes. New generations experience the magic of cinema for the first time before they’re too old to believe in talking drawings. And in the meantime, some really good looking post-converted movies are in cinemas. Film: FOUR STARS 3D post-conversion: FOUR STARS

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