Few companies throughout the history of the world have been so shameless in their pursuit of the almighty dollar as the Walt Disney Company. After breaking the mold in 1934, Disney has never shied away from creative marketing and release strategies to wring every last dollar out of its most beloved pieces of intellectual property. Each week, we’ll look at the House of Mouse’s various sequels, prequels, spin-offs and various misadventures relegated from the silver screen to the small screen. Is there any artistic merit to be found? Or was each film mostly conceived as an excuse to print more money? Join me as we search for the answers from the wonderful world of Di$ney.
Why does this exist?
Disney animation and Christmas go together like princes and princesses. Browse through Disney+ and you would find enough Christmas and holiday specials from its plethora of original characters to last an entire holiday season.
It’s unclear how much Disney had pushed for a Christmas sequel to one of its original properties, but Beauty and the Beast feels like an ideal fit. You have the whimsy of an enchanted castle, a classic Disney princess and the original film still relatively fresh in audience’s minds. Also, even though Disney has never been above egregious leaps in logic, a Christmas movie set in the worlds of films like The Lion King or The Little Mermaid would just be bizarre.
What’s going on here?
The strangest aspect of the film is the framing device: When, exactly, is this story supposed to be taking place? With all the characters back as their cursed selves, the events of Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas have to take place at some ambiguous point between the events of the original film.
I understand that the appeal of the franchise for audiences is to see the cast of characters as anthropomorphized beings, but it’s hard for me to shake the narrative structure of the film. Granted, if Enchanted Christmas were made today, the Disney brass would likely ensure that there would be an overly complicated explanation, which would only serve to muddle the themes at play. Best to just quit being a Scrooge and stop asking questions.
The narrative structure is essentially the same as the original Beauty and the Beast with a little Christmas seasoning, as Belle does her best to help the Beast to see the good in life. As Christmas stories go, the film doesn’t stray too far from stock children’s fare: One character loves Christmas, the other despises it. But it was on Christmas morning that the Beast was cursed, and now the thought of celebrating the holiday brings back painful memories. Nevertheless, Belle and her enchanted friends are determined to put something together and cheer up the Beast.
Standing in their way is Forte, a gigantic pipe organ that essentially wants Beast all to himself. Speaking of plot holes: The film begins on Christmas Eve, which gives the whole endeavor a sense of urgency, but somehow Christmas Eve seems to last about two or three days. Narrative weirdness aside, the story works best when it strays further from the typical Christmas trappings and sticks to a traditional Disney format.
How much of the original is preserved?
Of the Disney Renaissance films, Beauty and the Beast is probably my least favorite. The Beast spends the majority of the film’s running time yelling at Belle, so I’ve never totally bought into the romance that the film is trying to sell. The same dynamic is at play in Enchanted Christmas, with the Beast resisting Belle’s attempts to drum up some Christmas spirit and even going so far as to lock her in the castle’s dungeon. But the script saves itself from making the discovery of true love the film’s endgame.
The entirety of the original film’s voice cast returns, with the one exception of Haley Joel Osment subbing in for Bradley Pierce as Chip. Tim Curry, as always, makes a meal out of his role as Forte, and Paul Reubens is a fun addition as Forte’s henchman, Fife. As much as I agree with the animators’ choice to make Forte an entirely CGI character, it stands out when compared with the aesthetic of the rest of the film. One aspect of the Disney Renaissance’s success that goes unheralded today is their restrictive use of CGI. Nearly every Disney film throughout the ’90s used it, but only during key moments when hand-drawn animation would be too laborious.
The songs are nothing to write home about, from both a musical and visual standpoint. Curry’s song, “Don’t Fall in Love,” doesn’t sound great, but at least the animators had fun bringing it to life; it’s probably the closest Enchanted Christmas comes to re-creating the visual splendor of songs like “Be Our Guest.”
Does this ruin the original film?
As weird as it sounds, I think this film is saved by its Christmas setting; if Disney had made another run-of-the-mill sequel to Beauty and the Beast, the results would surely be more tenuous. We tend to give holiday-centric films the benefit of the doubt. Look no further than the Hallmark Channel’s dominance in the genre as evidence of that theory.
Each of the characters gets their own moments to shine, and Curry gives the villain role some much-needed flair. With other films we’ve covered already, I’ve found myself wishing I could just stop the video and watch the original film instead. I didn’t have that issue with Enchanted Christmas, and that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
Next Time: Get your tea and crumpets, and casual xenophobia, out as we voyage to foggy Londontown for Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.