The greatest of those films, and in my opinion the greatest of all Disney films, is Beauty and the Beast ('91) which long had the distinction of being the only animated film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture (Pixar's Up made the newly expanded list of ten nominees last year). The second release in Disney's new golden era was exquisitely drawn, elegantly scripted and performed, and features one of the best scores in film history, composed by Alan Menken with songs by Menken and Howard Ashman, the great lyricist who died of AIDS not long before the film premiered. The score and three of the songs were nominated for Oscars, and while glorious opening number "Belle" and showstopper "Be Our Guest" were both fully deserving, no jaws dropped when statues went to the score and the elegant title ballad.
"Beauty and the Beast" was sung by Angela Lansbury in the film, but a re-imagined pop version ran over the credits and was released as a single, starting what would become a lengthy tradition. The adult contemporary cover featured a duet by established R&B star Peabo Bryson and then-little known French Canadian singer Céline Dion. It reached the top ten in the U.S. and many other countries, becoming Dion's international breakthrough and winning a Grammy for the two singers.
Coming from a family of music snobs, I rarely got to hear the duet version before someone got to the VCR eject or the car stereo track skip button, and even as an adult I've had to be rather surreptitious about my occasional re-visitations with the syrupy, overproduced ballad. But since today Disney is bringing Beauty and the Beast out of the so-called "vault," I can't think of a more defensible and appropriate time to indulge my little guilty pleasure. (A new cover by American Idol champ Jordin Sparks has been prepared to support the DVD re-release.)
"Beauty and the Beast"
Céline Dion and Peabo Bryson
(Walt Disney, 1991)