The critical acclaim for Beauty and the Beast started in September 1991 when an unfinished copy of the film was screened at the New York Film Festival. Beauty and the Beast was the second animated film to be shown at the New York Film Festival but the first ever Disney animated film to be shown (Diane Haithman). This shows that Disney was breaking ground for animated films and in particular its own brand.
On the Diamond Edition DVD of Beauty and the Beast there are special features that discuss this event. The producer of the film Don Hahn says that they did not know what they were getting into and that it was really risky to show the unfinished film to an audience. What several people interviewed pointed out was that this New York Film Festival Audience was an adult only audience. Some go further to say that this was a “cynical New York” audience. The likelihood was that the audience was there to ridicule and scoff more than to enjoy Disney latest animated feature. The viewing ended in a standing ovation which was rare for the New York Film Festival.
James Stewart argues in his book Disney War that Disney knew exactly what they were doing by showing the unfinished film to a large film festival. Disney studio chairman Jeffery Katzenberg decided to show a print from two months earlier (119). Stewart argues that it was part of an elaborate plan to get the audience of critics and academy members buzzing about the film. This would hopefully get Beauty and the Beast recognized by the academy and ensures its award nomination. The main problem with this argument is that there is not guarantee that the audience would like what they saw. Even if Disney believed it had one of its best films it was still a gamble that could have led to failure for the Disney Company and a step back for animated film in general.
Two critics of Beauty and the Beast have reviews that echo each other. Roger Ebert and Janet Maslin write at two different times but seem to have a lot of similar feelings and likes about the film. They both commend Ashman and Menken for their beautiful scare. Ebert even goes on the call the title song “haunting”. Maslin and Ebert also discuss how the film is innovative and speaks to a new era of Disney animation and animated film in general. Both critics also discuss how the film fits in perfectly with the Disney tradition. Arguably these are traits that the film’s creators hoped would shine through. By creating a film that is a nod to the traditions of Disney but still making advancements it was ushering the Reissuance of Disney animated film in a big way.
Beauty and the Beast seems like it is off the great start. It has great story and characters. The latest advancements in animation were used. Critics love it and it got a standing ovation. But now the real test. How do you market Beauty and the Beast for the average market? Honestly the screening at the New York Film Festival was part free publicity but there were other ways Disney spread the word about their latest animated film. Disney obviously wanted their latest animated film to cross age and gender boundaries and the advertising used reflects this.
Disney released several different trailers and tv spots for Beauty and the Beast. Each one had a different tone and feeling about it. Disney highlights different aspects of the film from the love story between Belle and the Beast or the adventure and danger of being chased by the villain of the film Gaston. The highlighting of both romance and action adventure appears to be an attempt by the Disney company to get Beauty and the Beast to cross gender boundaries. If this film was just for little girls Disney would lose half of their potential audience.