Monday, 26 July 2010

Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin - no, not those ones...

In 1992 Bevanfield Films (the company behind Murun Buchstansangur, What-a-Mess and Bill the Minder) added two titles to the meagre ranks of British animated features: Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. Sandwiched between the releases of Disney's versions of the same fairy tales, it seems a safe bet that these direct-to-video offerings were conceived to cash in on their Hollywood counterparts.

A few years ago VHS tapes of cheap cartoons adapting the same stories as films by Disney and other big animation studios were a common sight at Co-Ops and Poundlands, with outfits such as Goodtimes, Burbank Animation Studios and Golden Films releasing umpteen versions of The Little Mermaid, Snow White and even The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Anastasia. At one point I bought several from a charity shop out of morbid curiosity and most were predictably awful. However, a few were pleasant surprises - the Goodtimes Pocahontas, for one, turned out to be a perfectly solid piece of work (and more historically accurate than Disney's film to boot). Clearly, then, whatever the motives behind these films, sometimes competent crews have been attached to them. And so I came to Bevanfield's films with an open mind.

The thing that struck me most about Bevanfield's Beauty and the Beast is just how talky it is. Whereas Disney used musical numbers and other set pieces to tell the story, Bevanfield instead cooked up lengthy scenes of characters discussing their lives at home, the result resembling something along the lines of an animated BBC costume drama. The respected actors who lend their voices to the two films - Christopher Lee, Edward Woodward, Derek Jacobi - add to this impression.

But although the novelty of the script lends some appeal, the story is ultimately pretty dull. Add to this the crude animation, clumsy direction and occasional attempts at visual humour that don't really work at all and you end up with a film that may entertain small children, but will probably be a chore to sit through for anyone else - even at a slender 68 minutes.








The 74-minute Aladdin is a little more entertaining, with a funnier and faster-paced script, but suffers from the same visual problems. With tighter storytelling and slicker production values these could have been serviceable children's specials, but as they are they're destined to join all the other third-rate animated fairy tales in bargain bin obscurity. Shame.

I didn't expect to find much information about these films online, so I was surprised when I came across an interview with character designer Paul Gunson, courtesy of cult film enthusiast MJ Simpson. Simpson also wrote a review of Beauty and the Beast in case anyone wants to learn more about the film.

5 comments:

  1. Oh my god, I have that that terrible version of Beauty and the beast too! Animation is so cheap that it makes me cry...

    I was thinking with my brother who has directed this "piece of art" and we found your blog.

    Thanks!

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  2. Hmmm, I wonder if that version of Beauty and the Beast found it's way to the dollar VHS/DVD bins in America too? Love how rather naked the "Beast" is with just that cape on in this version.

    Interesting you liked Goodtimes' take on Pocahontas. I may have to look for that one if I can still find it anywhere (it's been years since those things were sold regularly).

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    1. Bothered to spoil myself with watching clips of this on YouTube from a Swedish dubbed version and already found myself heckling at the Sasquatch-ish appearance of the Beast anyway (they sure love playing up the sort of taboo-nature of his 'area' the way things just obstruct it in some shots).

      God that was terrible, but I can't help torturing myself at it!

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    2. The Goodtimes Pocahontas wasn't a masterpiece for the ages, but the script was okay (commendably it made an original narrative around the historical event, rather than merely imitating the plot of the Disney film) and the animation was standard mid-tier anime fare (the entire visual side, down to the character designs, appeared to have been outsourced to Japan). I wouldn't go out of my way to find a copy of I were you, but it might make a nice present for a younger relative if you see it in a bargain bin.

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    3. Thanks Neil. Some of those Goodtimes releases can be found online these days either for free or a price I noticed. I could recall a time when those tapes were selling at drug stores for under ten bucks.

      I only just realized with the passing of animator Michael Sporn that he too had done a film for Goodtimes as well, he co-produced and directed "White Fang" in 1997. I wonder how that came about personally, too bad I can't ask him now.
      http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!overview/286357/White-Fang

      Here's a link to that film by the way for anyone curious to see it without paying. Since this is Hulu, it's only available to those in the US but if you have a VPN client, you're probably good to go.
      http://www.hulu.com/pocahontas-1994

      By the way, here's a screengrab of Bevanfield's Beast just stepping out of a doorway forgetting to cover up his middle for a few seconds, seriously it was like they couldn't make up their minds whether it was OK to show it or not, if he only had pants on, this would not be an issue!
      http://imgur.com/wMfyPhm

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