Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tale as Old as Time

“Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast,” Charles Solomon, Disney Editions, 176 pg. 2010. $40.00.

Released nearly in conjunction with the home video re-release of the 1991 animated film (diamond edition DVD and the first time for Blu-ray) comes at long last an “art of” book devoted to Walt Disney Pictures’ presentation of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Belle and Beast pencil on animation paper by James Baxter

Solomon’s new book by page count is comparable to the Disney and Disney/Pixar “art of” books published by Chronicles in the last four years. That also just about doubles the section Bob Thomas devoted to the making of the film in his book, “Disney’s Art of Animation: from Mickey Mouse to Beauty and the Beast,” when the film was new. So, the newer book should be like a fat trove of “Beauty and the Beast” goodness, and truly it does contain plenty of never before published art and interview accounts. However, it feels to be a bit on the light side, perhaps because about a third is devoted to things NOT directly about the film; maybe because I’ll always want more.

The second annoying bit is how the author introduces a casual tone by attributing accounts with first names. Solomon is the author of other books about animation including “Disney That Never Was” (1995) on which he did not employ the same convention. Still past that, Solomon’s account is comprehensive with contributions from nearly all available players to work on the film including co-director Kirk Wise, writer Linda Woolverton, Roy E. Disney, Jeffery Katzenburg and most of the lead animators and artists.

Solomon is able to neatly divide the book into eleven chapters each cleverly titled with a line from one of the film’s songs. As such, he creates a chronicle from fairy tale origins, to early development treatments through to the Broadway stage version and the 2002 re-release IMAX “special” edition with six-minutes of additional animation, that is the “Human Again” song sequence.

The second chapter is a brief account of the studio’s up-and-down-and-up fortunes from the loss Walt Disney, years of “sleepwalking” artists, the election of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells to the Board and the records-breaking film “The Little Mermaid.” However, it is the third chapter covering the initial version of the film that is the most revealing and interesting to the Disneyphile. On management side, Eisner and Katzenburg were still struggling to understand the process of making an animated film. On the creative side, story and development artists struggled to find the elements to bring the classic tale to life. For example, Belle had two older sisters as she did in the original French story and at one point gained a younger sister, Clarice, and cat, Charley.

In the later chapter covering the Broadway stage version, it’s revealed that lyricist Howard Ashman didn’t want the Beast to sing, but with the extended length of the stage show, Woolverton and songwriter Alan Menken felt that it was right that the Beast did. That and the IMAX chapter together amount to the obvious conclusion that people like Disney’s take on the story even with additions, tweaks and 3-D.

Rating: (7/10) D D D D D D D - - -

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