I’m happy that Disney has decided to re-release many of their classic films in theaters. But in 3D? Eh… not so much. It’s a flagrant marketing ploy that only serves to distract from the real selling point: that Disney has decided to re-release many of their classic films in theaters.
For months now I’ve had trouble wrapping my head around the very concept of converting a native two-dimensional image to three-dimensions. A live-action film, or even a CGI one, includes photography of real or at least virtual three-dimensional spaces, so post-converting one to 3D makes a least a modicum of sense, even if the technology isn’t there yet. A 2D animated film doesn’t work that way. The imagery creates the illusion of depth, but the original illustrators didn’t have to go nuts with it. The character models in a film like Beauty and the Beast are lusciously realized and expressive, but in some respects very minimal. They often have only one skin tone for their entire bodies, for example, and those bodies don’t have to react to light in a fully organic way in order to be accepted as “real.” So when you take these characters and place their forearm in front of their shoulder in three-dimensional space, it’s a jarring, confusing image, since we can’t subconsciously see the physical distance in between those points. It’s all just one color, and some of that color happens to be closer to you than the rest of it, and that's as nebulous an effect as it sounds. The 3D creates a visual miasma that brings down the entire film, distracting from the carefully constructed framing by focusing your attentions on little details that usually aren’t detailed enough to warrant a closer look.
These visual distractions can't quite ruin the beauty of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, still one of the finest animated films to date, but they come close. The movie, as if you don’t know, is a 1991 production from directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise which adapts the traditional fairy tale by combining elements of the original story and certain elements of Jean Cocteau’s classic live-action movie version from 1946, like the handsome and villainous competitor for the heroine’s affections and the castle full of living props. The story is fairy straightforward – a beautiful outsider’s father is kidnapped by a monstrous beast, she volunteers to take his place, and they fall in love – but this particular version adds a deeper layer of characterization. The Beast’s awkward romantic gestures contrast gloriously with the heroine’s legitimate sense of persecution, marrying a classic romantic comedy routine with a classical, almost Universal horror storyline. Both aspects of the film finally come together in the middle of the movie, when the Beast saves her life. His actions speak louder than his awkward words, and the love affair can begin in earnest without the otherwise problematic abduction subplot getting in the way. Exceptional storytelling, and that's just brushing the surface. The makers of Beastly should have paid attention, and the makers of Beauty and the Beast 3D shouldn't have tried to fix what obviously wasn't broken.
Alas, all the brilliant screenplays, sumptuous animation and justifiably award-winning music in the world can’t compensate for the tragic 3D presentation, which serves only to distract from how exceptional Beauty and the Beast really is. The story is in place, but it's hard to become absorbed in the film when every other image brings a new disorientation. At its best the 3D version of the film comes across like a giant pop-up book, which probably would have grown on me over time, but many of the film's more complex animations are muddled in the conversion, consistently marring the original effect of the animators’ work.
I hear tell that the 3D version of The Lion King was more effective, but I missed that one in theaters and can’t speak to the comparison myself. Suffice it to say that this was Disney's chance to win me over to the side of 3D post-conversion for 2D animation, and sadly, it turns out that converting Beauty and the Beast to 3D was about as good an idea as colorizing radio. Point missed, original film sullied, only worth your time if you watch the entire film with one eye closed.
That said, the 3D animated short that precedes the film, Tangled Ever After, is a fun and funny mini-sequel to Disney's underappreciated Tangled, and that 3D looks just fine. Then again it was actually animated in three-dimensions, so the fact that it looks better is hardly a shock.
Beauty and the Beast:
Beauty and the Beast 3D: