Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees found this years-old release lurking in the back of a magic wardrobe and gave it a spin.
You'll discover how true friendship and cooperation can turn a gloomy castle into an enchanted palace fit for a princess!
Although Disney's Beauty and the Beast was a rewarding film for adults as well as children, even garnering an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, this so-called sequel is strictly for the single-digit set. Billed as a full-length movie, Belle's Magical World is actually composed of four episodes from what I imagine was a stillborn television series. Disney has a lot of nerve marketing it as a film, but then, we already knew the Mega Mouse had nerve, or it wouldn't be churning out these straight-to-video sequels and midquels and so on to cash in on its major properties.
But, setting aside my rancor, what we have here is four tales set during Belle's durance vile at the Beast's castle, before he has earned her trust and love by learning to behave like a gentleman. Voice actors reprising their roles from the feature film are Paige O'Hara (Belle), Robbie Benson (Beast), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), and JoAnne Worley (the Wardrobe). Conspicuously absent is Angela Lansbury, whose presence is sorely missed; the replacement voice for Mrs. Potts (Anne Rogers) is only the palest of imitations. These stories contain new characters as well, none of whom is particularly interesting: Webster, the dictionary (groan), who probably exists to broaden kids' vocabulary with his constant stream of synonyms (Roget would have been a more appropriate name, and more French-sounding to boot); La Plume, a pen; Crain, a stack of manuscript paper (and a stranger idea for an animated character I have yet to encounter); a silver soup tureen of military bearing whose name I didn't catch; and a slightly deaf grande dame of a chandelier, Chandeliera.
Writing quality for the four stories varies considerably; the first episode was so lousy that I had a hard time making myself watch the remainder of the disc, but to my pleased surprise the remainder of the stories are all better than the first. The scripts tend to be workmanlike kids' fare that both shows and tells of the virtues of cooperation, respect for others, and honest communication; occasionally, though, there are some welcome glints of the kind of witty humor and character byplay that were so evident in the feature film. The Beast is almost entirely absent from the middle two stories, but since his character hasn't entirely moved out of the shouting, bullying stage, it's rather restful when he's offscreen. At the same time, the fact that he is still so uncouth means that he is an excellent vehicle for Belle's gentle lessons about attitude and behavior.
The four stories making up the program are as follows:
• "The Perfect Word"—Belle and the Beast end up on the outs after the Beast acts boorishly, and La Plume, Crain, and Webster take it upon themselves to write a letter of apology purporting to be from the Beast to help reconcile the squabbling couple. Naturally, this little Lucy-and-Ethel scheme goes awry. In a parallel subplot, Lumiere and Chandeliera bicker.
Eesh. Not only is the writing heavy-handed, investing these simple personality clashes with all the weight of grand opera, but the musical scoring (a constant, overwrought presence) makes it even worse. Imagine the line deliveries O'Hara and Benson gave in the feature film when Maurice's life was on the line—but here applied to a disagreement over table manners. Skippable, unless your child really, really needs a lesson in the virtues of apologizing.
• "Fifi's Folly"—Fifi, the flirtatious feather duster with whom Lumiere dallied in the feature film, now appears as his full-fledged girlfriend. When Lumiere enlists Belle's help in planning a special evening for the anniversary of their first date, Fifi leaps to the wrong conclusion and believes that Belle has stolen Lumiere's affections.
The writing quality picks up here, and Kimmy Robertson's performance of Fifi is enjoyable, especially when she is energetically portraying Fifi as the wronged woman determined to seek revenge. The lessons are sensible ones: Fifi learns not to leap to conclusions but to trust her beloved; Belle teaches Lumiere to speak honestly and from the heart instead of relying on flowery rehearsed speeches to impress his beloved. And Belle acts with resourcefulness and courage to rescue Lumiere and Fifi when they are imperiled by Fifi's sabotage.
• "Mrs. Potts's Party"—Mrs. Potts gets the blues after a long spell of dreary weather. The others decide to throw her a surprise party to cheer her up, but since no one is able to compromise, the plan deteriorates into a series of arguments and sabotage attempts. Belle has to remind everyone to look at the bigger picture and set aside personal vanity to work together, which means compromising.
The squabbles between Cogsworth and Lumiere feel authentic to their characters, and although the thin plot gets stretched a bit, there are some fun throwaway moments. The characters of the married oven mitts are not to my taste, although they did introduce a great gag about the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. It's a good lesson for kids on cooperation and teamwork, and could also serve as a primer on Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is what Mrs. Potts seems to be suffering from.
• "Broken Wing"—Belle takes in an injured bird, even though her Wardrobe warns her that the Beast hates the creatures. Although at first the Beast is jealous of the attention Belle gives the bird, he soon decides he likes its singing and puts it in a cage to keep it near him. Predictably, the depressed creature then stops singing, enraging the Beast. Belle shows him that the bird responds better to freedom and kindness than to imprisonment and threats. In a parallel plot, Cogsworth has trouble keeping order in the household when the other Enchanted Objects refuse to respect his authority, and Mrs. Potts has to teach him to command with respect, not bullying.
The main plot is a nice parallel to the overall story of Belle and the Beast, since she is the prisoner who teaches her captor to respect her needs. Both plots have some good points to make about treating others with consideration.
Animation quality here is definitely television-quality, not feature film caliber (although it is more consistent than the haphazard character design in the straight-to-video sequel Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas). The colors are bold, but the animation is jerky and perfunctory compared to Disney's big-screen work, and there is even some speckling and grain on the print, which is reprehensible in so recent an animated product. Sound is clear and adequate, but not impressive, despite the two surround formats offered.
The original VHS release of this material featured only three stories; "Mrs. Potts's Party" has been added for this soi-disant Special Edition. The extras include a two-step game, the first step being a kind of a "Where's Waldo?" test of observation skills, and the second a "viewing comprehension" multiple-choice test about the content of the feature. It's framed in a pleasant little story about Belle's wish to invite the Beast to dinner. The two songs that appeared in the feature (both, sadly, didactic and melodically dull) are available in sing-along versions. There's even a kind of zen feature, the "Enchanted Environment," which is a one-minute animated view of the forest and the Beast's castle in a snowfall. It's available with forest sounds, New Age music, or both, and plays on an endless loop. Very relaxing. Will kids like it? I'm a bit skeptical there.
Overall, this is pleasant fare for wee ones who like the characters from Beauty and the Beast, although older kids and adults won't find much to hold their attention. I just hope that Disney will stop milking this movie now; I shudder to envision the prequels Li'l Gaston and His First Slingshot and How Chip Got His Chip.
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