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'Beauty and the Beast' (1991)/Directed by Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise

This is a particularly special one for me when it comes to Disney animated pictures. As a child, its musical numbers, written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, and the score (also by Menken), left such an impression on me that I listened to the soundtrack album incessantly. I've always particularly loved 'Be Our Guest', 'Belle' and 'Gaston'. Such beautiful instrumentals, vocals, lyrics, and on top of that, spectacular two-dimensional animation (I would LOVE to see this on the big screen someday).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. If you've somehow never seen this masterpiece and have never heard of the original French fable, it follows a young prince (Robbie Benson) who, as punishment for his vanity and selfishness, was cursed to be a hideous beast, while his servants were cursed to be magical household objects. The enchantress responsible for this curse, however, leaves a rose that will bloom until the beast is twenty-one, whereupon he will remain in his current state if he cannot learn to love another, and earn their love back.

When a townswoman named Belle (Paige O'Hara) arrives at the castle to rescue her father Maurice (Rex Everhart), who's been taken prisoner after wandering in following a wolf attack, the beast may have found his chance for salvation. Along the way, Belle and the beast fall in love whilst learning to see past their own initial surface-level judgments of one another, all whilst Gaston (Richard White), a self-absorbed local with his eye on Belle, plots to make her his.

When I was younger, this movie merely grabbed me because of how well-crafted it was as a piece of animated fantasy storytelling. The use of color, the amount of detail in the design of the beast's castle, the use of scale; all of it was just such a joy to take in visually. The pacing was concise and to-the-point, not a moment wasted (appropriate, given its ninety-minute runtime). The writing and voice acting were top-notch, particularly by the aforementioned Paige O'Hara, as well as Richard White. Gaston was the first villain I loved to hate, so much so that when he (spoiler) died, I still actively remember thinking to myself, good riddance. He was such a despicable soul, but I also was completely entertained by him, which is a testament to the performance, and to the efforts of everyone on the crew who helped bring the character to life.

That's everything that drew me in to it as a kid, and that does still hold a lot of value for me as an adult. But what keeps me coming back above all, and what's solidified it as one of my favorite movies, is the internal journey of the beast. He's someone who absolutely had his faults and needed to grow, yes, but he's someone who, when faced with the consequences of his shortcomings, didn't feel like he could change, or that he deserved to be loved. Having struggled severely with depression in the past, I relate to those feelings and thoughts all too well. Watching this character grow from a place of self-loathing and insulation to truly loving himself and others, and opening himself up to connection and learning he can grow after all, resonates with me and my own mental health journey deeply, which gives the film an even greater power than it originally had when I was little. I couldn't be more grateful to directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, as well as everyone else who worked on this masterpiece, for their efforts. It's one of the rare movies I truly feel is absolutely flawless. I can't recommend it enough.

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