The late 80's and early 90's provided some of the Disney's most delightful and enchanting works ("Little Mermaid", "Beauty and the Beast" and "Lion King"). These films dazzled - and continue to impress - audiences by combining beautiful animation with a superb mixture of sincere emotion, comedy, drama and adventure. These films are timeless entertainment, charming both children and adults alike.
"Beauty and the Beast" was directed by the team of Kirk Wise (who recently was one of the supervisors of the US version of Hayao Miyazaki's animated masterpiece, "Spirited Away") and Gary Trousdale, who achieve their finest work here (although the dark "Hunchback of Notre Dame" was very good). The story is already widely known: Belle (voiced by Paige O'Hara) arrives at a menacing castle to save her trapped father, but ends up taking his place as the prisoner of a melancholy and easily angered Beast (voiced by Robby Benson). Saddened, she manages to make the most of her stay, kept company by a series of household items brought to life. While the beast may seem terrifying, he believes that Belle may be the one who finds the love in his heart and break the curse that turned him and the other inhabitants of the castle into the creatures they are.
While the classic story has been translated in an appropriate and enjoyable manner, there are several other aspects of this animated production that take it to another level. Although the consistent singing of most of the studio's animated productions has start to become somewhat of a cliche, the songs of "Beauty and the Beast" - especially "Be Our Guest" - rank as some of the best ever to grace an animated film. The voice actors, especially leads Paige O'Hara and Robby Benson, give personality and life to the Belle and the Beast. While the animation here was spectacular for the time ("Beauty and the Beast" was one of the first films to use computer animation), the voice acting of both the leads and supporting cast lift the characters off the screen and make them truly memorable. Even the "sidekick" characters in this film really get their own chance to shine and don't seem thrown in simply to create a "cute" character that would make a potentially good "toy" later on.
Overall, while the explosion of computer animation has really made for leaps in the quality of the presentation, it's still the story (realized in the "Toy Story" series) that counts. While "Beauty and the Beast" certainly isn't a new tale, the animators succeeded in creating a fresh, moving and energetic retelling. One of Disney's best.
VIDEO: The presentation from Disney of "Beauty" on Blu-Ray is in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are simply stellar. As for all three versions of the picture, they all deliver superb picture quality. Faults on the work-in-progress edition are to be expected, as this early version of the film combines near-complete scenes with rough drawings and images in other stages of completion. The theatrical cut is the film as it was shown when released in 1991, while the special edition version (shown in many IMAX theaters early in 2002) offers a version of the film with improved background and general detail as well as an entertaining new song sequence ("Human Again"). While some had some concerns with the animation on the stories-tall IMAX screen, I was amazed with the results of the transfer of the film to the IMAX format.
Both the special edition and theatrical versions of the film offered fine image quality, although the added details of the Special Edition boasted mildly richer visual experience. Sharpness and detail were quite pleasing on all three versions of the picture, as well. While a couple of slight instances of artifacting were,seen, the presentation was otherwise clean and crisp.
Colors looked spectacular, and were certainly the highlight of the image quality. The film's warm, vivid color palette was beautifully rendered, with no smearing or other faults. While not quite flawless overall, I still felt that all three transfers (especially the new special edition version) offered a lovely presentation of this wonderfully animated film.
SOUND: Disney offers "Beauty and the Beast" on Blu-Ray with a new DTS-HD 7.1 presentation that, while not groundbreaking, still seemed awfully enjoyable, especially considering that this isn't a new movie. The surrounds are not put to a great deal of use, and mainly exist here (aside from a couple of sound effects) to reinforce some of the music. While the use of the rear speakers is not terribly distinct, the front speakers certainly made up for it, offering the score and songs with a remarkably full-bodied and crisp sound. Dialogue and sound effects also remained clear and natural sounding.
EXTRAS: Blu-ray disc one includes:
“Special Extended Edition” and the “Original Theatrical Release” versions of the film.
“Broadway Beginnings”: This is a look at how cast members of various “Beauty and the Beast” ensembles were drawn to Broadway stage. The feature also covers how “Beauty and the Beast” made its way to Broadway and how the feature seemed made for the stage. Interviews with performers Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Nick Jonas, Christy Carlson Romano, Donny Osmond, Deborah Gibson, Andrea McArdle and Ashley Brown are included as well as other members involved in bringing the film to stage including composer Alan Menken.
“Composing a Classic”: Alan Menken, Richard Kraft and Don Hahn get together to talk about the process of creating songs for “Beauty and the Beast.” In the twenty minute feature, they not only discuss the importance of storytelling through music, but also sing some of the songs, talk about the different types of songs presented in the film, and offer their own take on the overall experience.
“Deleted Scenes”: There are two deleted scenes, both with optional introductions. The “Alternate Opening” is introduced by Peter Schneider. The scene “Belle in the Library” is introduced by Roger Allers. The unfinished scene features unused characters that Belle finds in the Library.
“Music Video”: featuring Jordan Sparks singing “Beauty and the Beast”
“Sneak Peeks” included are: “The Lion King: Diamond Edition,” “Fantasia and Fantasia 2000,” “Alice in Wonderland: Special 60th Anniversary Edition,” “Dumbo: 70th Anniversary,” “Disney’s A Christmas Carol,” “Tangled,” “Bambi: Diamond Edition,” “Toy Story 3,” and more.
Also included is a guide to taking Disney Blu-ray movies on the go with Disney file. Title is also live enabled.
Blu-Ray Disc 2 includes:
“Beyond Beauty: The Untold Stories Behind the Making of Beauty and the Beast”: An in-depth look at how the animation department at Disney was revitalized after being moved aside for live action films. The revitalization made way for “Beauty and the Beast” which once again solidified Disney’s strengths in storytelling and animation. The feature is interactive, which gives you the option to watch more in-depth aspects of a particular topic. Interviews, photographs, archives, and scenes from the film are included here. The feature is lengthy and covers several aspects of making “Beauty and the Beast” from the beginning production and writing stages, animation styles, composers, and more.
Games and Activities: “Enchanted Musical Challenge Game": In this game you must search through the castle to find five hiding friends before the last petal falls in order to help Bell and the Beast fall in love. “Bonjour, Who Is This? Game” - use your phone, receive secret messages and guess players’ identities before they guess yours.
Also included from the Classic DVD bonus features: "Beauty and the Beast" music video, performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, an alternate version of “Be Our Guest,” an alternate score for “The Transformation,” and the deleted Song “Human Again” with an introduction from Don Hahn and Alan Menken. Also included here are "Trailers and TV Spots" featuring both the theatrical and re-release trailers for the film, along with four TV spots and an intro by producer Don Hahn. “Story Behind the Story” hosted by Celine Dion, reveals the story and inspiration behind “Beauty and the Beast” as well as several other classic Disney films. More features include “Early Presentation Reel” and “Camera Move Test” which is a very interesting featurette on the film's early use of computers to aid in the animation and a camera move test, which takes a look at the early development of the "Ballroom" sequence. “Animation Tests, Roughs and Clean-Ups" gives viewers a chance to see the early phase of the animation and learn more about the merger of styles that must occur, as many animators must seamlessly work on one scene. A pencil version of the "Transformation" sequence and a featurette about ace animator Glen Keane are also included here.
Included on the DVD:
“The 3 versions of the film included here are: “Special Extended Edition,” “Original Theatrical Release,” and “Work In Progress Edition.”
“Disney Sing Along Mode": The words appear on the screen so you can sing along with songs during the film.
“Audio Commentary”: Commentary includes directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, who are accompanied by producer Don Hahn and composer Alan Menken. Trousdale, Wise and Hahn have provided commentaries in the past ("Atlantis") and are often quite animated and funny. The three (Menken only rarely pops in) cover most aspects of the production, discussing the actors who were brought in to provide the voices, the changes for the special edition, the story and some obstacles along the way. The three are energetic and drop in an occasional joke, making for a fun and informative track that even kids may enjoy.
Also included is a guide to taking Disney Blu-ray movies on the go with Disney file, as well as “Dylan and Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray is Suite!” and Sneak Peeks.
Final Thoughts: "Beauty and the Beast" remains one of Disney's more magical animated features, combining a classic story with excellent animation, superb characters, great songs and terrific voice work. Disney's latest edition of the film on Blu-Ray boasts superb video quality, excellent audio quality and a solid set of supplements. Recommended.
The Film A