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The Untold Chapter

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Walt Disney’s new made-for-video holiday musical, “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas” ($27), is not a sequel to the 1991 classic “Beauty and the Beast,” the only animated feature to be nominated for a best film Oscar.

It’s more like a “midquel.”

“It takes place in the middle [of the story],” says director Andy Knight. “It’s a film about the bits of film they would have put in the original but didn’t have the time.”

“They call it the ‘untold chapter,’ ” offers Paige O’Hara, who is the lilting voice of Belle. “It’s great. You get to explore the characters more. I’ve been kidding about it. I call it ‘Indiana Belle and the Castle of Doom’ because [Belle] dives through the ice and [there are] earthquakes.”

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Besides O’Hara, “Enchanted Christmas” stars the memorable vocal talent from the original: Robby Benson as the Beast; Jerry Orbach as Lumiere; David Ogden Stiers as Cogsworth; and Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts.

The film also features three new characters: Angelique (Bernadette Peters), a charming treetop ornament; Forte (Tim Curry), a deliciously evil pipe organ; and Fife (Paul Reubens), an insecure, sweet Piccolo.

Rachel Portman (“Emma”) and Don Black (“Sunset Blvd.”) penned four new songs for the musical. The recently released CD soundtrack also features eight Christmas carols sung by O’Hara as Belle.

“Enchanted Christmas” is set on a snowy Christmas Eve. Belle decides to warm up the Beast’s dour, dank castle by celebrating Christmas. Unbeknown to her, though, Christmas was the day a curse transformed him from a handsome but vain young prince into the ugly, angry Beast.

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Despite the warnings of Lumiere and Cogsworth not to leave the castle grounds, Belle sets out with Mrs. Potts’ young son, Chip, for the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree. The scheming Forte, though, is willing to do anything--including destroy the castle--to keep the Beast away from Belle and her gift of love and hope.

Director Knight says it was a “great challenge” to follow in the footsteps of such a beloved movie.

“I guess the main challenge was to follow it up with something that did [the original] justice,” he says.

“Robby Benson and I are both so proud of these parts [we play],” says O’Hara. “We treated this one just as importantly as the first one. They took such care. Everyone had respect for the writing. It has really been fun.”

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Kids, O’Hara says, are going to get a kick out of the malevolent Forte, who, as a human, was the court’s pompous composer. “Isn’t he fabulous? He’s really scary, and the fact that he’s an organ doesn’t make it too threatening.”

Forte was impossible to traditionally animate. “He was a huge pipe organ,” says Knight. “From a practical standpoint, you have got a million parallel lines in a pipe organ.

“It was a bit of a nightmare. So the very first thing I set out to do was to get that character computer-generated, which wasn’t in the plan or the budget originally. But we managed to convince Disney it was a good idea. As a result, we have a pretty cool-looking character.”

“Enchanted Christmas,” which began pre-production just a scant 18 months ago, is the first animated feature produced at the new Walt Disney Animation, Canada.

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O’Hara believes “Beauty and the Beast” appeals to all ages because “people seem to be drawn to that kind of story where you are attracted to the person inside rather than the person on the outside. It’s not dissimilar with the way people are attracted to ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ ”

Belle also is a great role model for girls, O’Hara says: “She’s intelligent and independent. She has a side of her that is selfless. She has her own strength and spark. She’s very understanding, and she’s beyond her years in her ability to understand people and herself. I think that’s something kids find fascinating about her.”


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