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REVIEW – Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted ChristmasDirected by: Andy Knight
Produced by: Lori Forte, John C. Donkin
Written by: Flip Kobler, Cindy Marcus, Bill Motz, Bob Roth
Edited by: Daniel Lee
Art Direction by: Julie Eberley, Clive Powsey
Music by: Rachel Portman, Michael Starobin
Songs by: Rachel Portman, Don Black
Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Paul Reubens, Haley Joel Osment, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie, Andrew Keenan-Bolger
Year: 1997

 

Disney may not have invented the concept of the midquel (a follow-up that takes place between the timeframe of the original work, rather than before or after), but with their direct-to-video series, I swear that they’re probably the one studio to make unusually extensive use of the concept. There’s Tarzan 2, Bambi II, The Lion King 1 ½, The Fox and the Hound II, and, as a follow-up to a film that celebrated its 25th anniversary just this year, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas. (This would itself followed up by Belle’s Enchanted World, which was actually a compilation of episodes meant for a TV spinoff set within the timeline of the original movie that never came to be.) Along with the Aladdin movies and the first Lion King sequel, this was one of the few direct-to-video follow-ups my family actually had sitting around while growing up, and I recall that my sister and I would proudly claim that we were the owners of “the only good Disney sequels,” which… yeah, I don’t know about that, considering there weren’t that many at the time to begin with, and they all were pretty awful to meh in terms of quality. The Enchanted Christmas, in particular, is probably the worst of the four that we owned (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the others, granted), particularly considering the quality of the film that bore it.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Robby Benson, Paige O'Hara

Remember, now, that the first was also the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award and would remain as such until the release of Pixar’s Up a whopping eighteen years later. At the very least, the Aladdin and Lion King sequels held to the spirit and themes of the originals. The Enchanted Christmas, however, can’t even remember that Belle’s life in the castle is basically as a glorified prisoner, presenting instead a revisionist story wherein the previously headstrong, stubborn, and self-sacrificing Disney Princess has a minor crisis of conscience about whether she should keep her promise to the Beast and stay within the castle walls or go out into the woods (yet again into the path of hungry wolves, I might add, because apparently Belle was actually an idiot this whole time, too) in order to find a Christmas tree to cheer him up. Ooph

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Bernadette Peters, Paige O'Hara, Haley Joel Osment

Told as a post-enchantment flashback to the winter in which Belle’s and the Beast’s romance was just beginning, it’s revealed that the time spent between verses of “Something There” was a time spent with the two arguing about whether or not to celebrate Christmas. We’re reintroduced to all the original characters (and pretty much all of their original voice actors with the exception of Chip, now voiced by a very young Haley Joel Osment), and we’re also introduced to a few new friends that never showed up anywhere in the previous film. There’s the obviously Jewish axe named… Axe, a French Christmas angel and former castle decorator named Angelique (one of three characters in the franchise to actually have an accent, despite the French setting), a monstrous and conniving pipe organ named Forte, and his minion Fife, who is actually a piccolo. … I guess they didn’t want people to get him confused with the Dragon Ball character there. They are voiced, respectively, by Jeff Bennett, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, and Paul Reubens.

Forte serves as the film’s primary villain, who takes great pleasure in the fact that this whole curse has thrown the Beast into a rather brooding mood, which in turn makes him want to listen to Forte’s dark and depressing compositions, something the spoiled prince never cared much for back when he was human. Unfortunately for him, Belle’s presence in the castle has caused the Beast to become a bit more chipper these days, and with the holiday season on the way, the joy and goodwill are certain to lead to the two falling in love and breaking the curse. And so, like so many other Christmas villains, he plans to put a stop to it all, either by getting rid of Belle or by stopping Christmas from happening – something the Beast is already inclined towards because, it turns out, that’s the day when the curse was placed on the castle, and he can’t bear to be reminded of it. Naturally, Forte and Fife’s machinations throw a wrench into the festivities and the budding romance between the two leads, though what, exactly, is at stake, given what we know about the end of the first film, is ultimately kind of a non-issue for us in the audience.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, Jerry Orbach, Paul Reubens, Bernadette Peters

As a result of this, the focus of the film is really more about what happens to the characters we’ve never seen before. Most of the characters who aren’t the Beast spend the movie alternating between excitement for the holiday and depression from the holiday being repeatedly cancelled, while the Beast burns hot and cold about whether or not he’s going to allow Belle to bring the Christmas spirit back into the castle. Given that this is a Christmas movie wherein the letting of Christmas happen is framed as part of the reason why the two characters we know fall in love with one another end up falling in love, we know that Christmas is also going to happen in the end. As such, it’s all down to Axe, Angelique, Forte, and Fife, and the axe is pretty much just there to provide old Jewish man-style humor while never once making reference to Hanukkah, despite the holiday setting. Oy gevalt! Angelique mostly mirrors the Beast – his refusal to celebrate in turn causes the Christmas angel to become despondent at the prospects of ever being able to put her skills to use for the holiday ever again, let alone apparently leave her place up in the castle attic, where I guess she’s been sitting in storage ever since the curse was first placed. Fife provides the more easily forgiven comic relief lackey role, so you know where his story is going. Forte, as a result, ends up being the more interesting one of the bunch, since it’s a toss-up as to whether he’ll be redeemed or just go full on villain.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Tim Curry

It must be said that Tim Curry does a great job voicing Forte, as can be expected, and the character is kind of awesomely designed, too. One could imagine him carrying an actual theatrical release with some polish. His motivations, however, are certainly shallow and petty, as presented. Forte, the former court composer, is basically just jealous that the prince never actually appreciated him nor his dark work, and he doesn’t like that Belle’s stealing away the young man’s attention now that he’s had it for a while. Yes, there certainly seems to be some kind of subtext going on there, which you may not want to consider too much, given that Forte is shown to be pretty old and the prince fairly young, and all these characters seemingly had a long history within the castle. Nevertheless, it’s pretty hard to ignore, and Curry’s not shying away from it in his portrayal. The result is a gleefully dark but silly villain as only Curry can play, and I suppose that’s something the movie has going for it. I can’t really say much else about the other characters, including Angelique, as they are almost all literal window dressing within the new story. I’m not even sure that Paul Reubens’ diminutive Fife was that effective as an evil lackey, so no harm, no foul there.

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Flashback

At least there are songs, right? Well… yeah, but you won’t exactly find anything here comes close to the quality of the stuff in the original. Broadway grandeur gives way to children’s song-level lyrics that merely list off all the wonderful things you can enjoy this time of the year or have the characters extolling their truly generic belief in Christmas as a thing that exists, despite what the mean ol’ Beast may say. (Perhaps it’s best that Hanukkah stays out of this one, after all?) There’s also a random song about the fascinating world of books, wherein Belle sings:

Stories and stories
‘Bout mermaids, kings
And sunken treasure
Magic worlds where the impossible
Becomes the everyday.

I dunno about you, but in a world wherein a vindictive enchantress casts a spell upon all the residents of a huge castle and turns them into household objects based upon their occupations, you’d think that kind of whimsical romanticism about the existence of magic would be seen as kind of insensitive, no? The mermaids in this world are probably more like the man-eating ones from Pirates of the Caribbean than the theatrical ones with animal sidekicks in The Little Mermaid. The villain’s song about not falling in love and instead loving yourself is, at least, rather amusing in the wrong context. Actual lyrics:

If you must love someone, may I suggest
You love yourself? Just think it through
You’ll never leave and you will find
You’ll get more rest.

[…]

Love takes the wildest heart and makes it tame
If you’re turned on, then just turn off
Emotions are a thing all great men overcame
Please, don’t make this grand catastrophe
Don’t get attached to anyone or anything
There’s nothing worse than things that cling.

It’s at least amusing in a grade school-level way in a film with otherwise preschool-level crap elsewhere

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Robby Benson

I’ll grant that there are some other positives, as well. The animation, though nowhere near as good as the original, is at least fairly decent, coming from a much smaller, TV-oriented studio within Disney. The story takes a remarkably dark turn that I didn’t expect that I thought was actually almost thematically fitting to the original – you know, before it had to go back into taking the easy way out and fixing things all nice and easy. As stated previously, Forte is an engaging villain, too, and Fife… Fife isn’t the worst annoying sidekick ever, I guess? It’s certainly nice to have the original cast back, regardless of their actual usefulness as characters here. Haley Joel Osment is also a superior substitute in Chip’s expanded role, but he was always a gifted child actor, and I remember him even being remarkably “acceptable” in the second Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Beauty and the Beast The Enchanted Christmas - Carolers

Other than that, though, there’s nothing much else to say about this, as none of those positives are enough to elevate the film beyond its status as a hastily and cheaply cobbled together holiday cash-in meant to entice families into buying something that reminds them of a far superior film they loved a few years prior. This film doesn’t get nor does it care about what made the first work and sometimes even flat out ignores it – again, Belle is freaking more concerned about her promise to stay within boundaries set by the Beast than she is concerned about holding out her minimal obligations to him in order to keep her father safe in this movie that is set before the Beast has had his full change of heart. That’s borderline Maleficent-level revisionism, I tell you! The Enchanted Christmas is not the worst of Disney’s direct-to-video fare, but it’s by no means an exception to the rule that you really should just stay away from those in the first place, regardless. There’s a reason why one of the first things John Lasseter did when he took over Disney was to put an end to these things, and that is because they were sullying the brand image and retroactively ruining much better films that came before. It’s not good, and not even an obstinately interesting Tim Curry performance can totally save this bland tribute to generic holiday cheer.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1.5 / 5

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