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“Beauty and the Beast” - (Diamond Edition) - {Blu-ray} - (Wayne)
Wayne Klein
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Release Date:
Special Features:

Documentary, featurettes, sing-alongs, music video, three versions of the movie, deleted scenes, audio commentary with directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale and co-producer Don Hahn Rated: G


Made during the second renaissance of animated classics, ‘Beauty and the Beast” has aged remarkably well in fact better than the more popular “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” that followed in its wake. What made the film so successfully wasn’t just the lush design or beautifully rendered characters but the storyline and songs of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The duo who had composed “Little Shop of Horrors” immediately injected the films with witty, involving, catchy songs that complimented the writing and direction of the film making “Beauty” the most appealing and powerful Disney film of the decade. ***

Although it may lack the stylized and more adult, darker hues of Jean Cocteau’s French live action film, the film manages a the fine balance between drama and humor that always made the best American musicals in film and on Broadway both appealing and powerful. A young prince (Robbie Benson) cursed by an enchantress for his lack of empathy to become the monstrous Beast wanders isolated within his enchanted castle where all of his servants have also been turned into objects that most clearly represent their personalities. ***

In a local French town the misunderstood and bookish but beautiful Belle (Paige O’Hara) wants nothing more to learn about the world and escape the provincial town where she often finds ignorance rules the day in the form of the blustery and vain bully Gaston (the late Richard White in a brilliant performance). Her brilliant but absent minded father Maurice (Rex Everhart) an inventor takes refuge in Beast’s castle during a horrible storm, Belle comes to the rescue discovering the enchanted Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury), Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers) and Lumière (the late Jerry Orbach) the servants of the house who have been turned into various items (a pot, a clock and a candle opera respectively). Belle agrees under duress to stay if Beast (who believes they have come to spy on him) will stay behind as his prisoner. Gradually Beast learns to trust Belle and rediscovers his lost humanity which gives the house staff hope that he may yet reverse the curse which will soon become permanent if Beast doesn’t fall in love. ---

Image & Sound:

This deluxe edition has three different versions of the movie on both the DVD and Blu-ray discs included. The Blu-ray obviously looks better with its higher bit capacity rate and resolution but even the DVD looks quite solid with nice detail, colors that pop and nice textures reproduced throughout. The Blu-ray though looks positively brilliant. ***

Audio sounds remarkably strong with dialogue always front and center. Dialogue comes across crisp and clean with nice detail sprinkled throughout the surround speakers. The music positively comes to life on the Blu-ray with a lossless presentation that approximates the original theatrical presentation of the film. I doubt the film has looked or sounded this good since its original release in 1991 and, in fact, it might look better.

Special Features:

The one drawback to “Beauty and the Beast” is organization of the special features and, indeed, the various film versions themselves as they are presented almost like a maze with too many options for children and impatient adults who just want to get the film started in the form of a popup menu that gives various recommended features on the disc often while you’re watching the film. ***

The bulk of the special features are presented in high definition including the excellent documentary “Beyond Beauty” that runs around two hours. It provides an extensive review of the film from conception to the last printed frame of the film including various alternate storylines, changes that were made and the head butting that occurred between the directors and the studio which often didn’t quite grasp what they had. ***

Lyricist and writer Howard Ashman died of AIDS shortly after the completion of the film (even while he was working on the follow up film “Aladdin”)and I wasn’t surprised to see Disney shy away from the fact that Ashman was homosexual and the fact that he was struggling for his life against the ravages of the disease losing his mental acuity and stamina each day that he fought to try and stay alive long enough to complete his project. Disney also ignores previous film versions of “Beauty and the Beast” giving only lip service to Cocteau’s masterpiece as it “Beauty” was a complete original project without precedent. These flaws aside, the documentary is very good. ***

“Composing a Classic” allows Ashman’s writing partner composer Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid”, “Aladdin”) to discuss his collaborative relationship and development as a team. “Broadway Beginnings” allows Menken to discuss their influences, the various projects that they worked on before Disney hired them and the difficulty in creating a musical. ***

We also get “Beauty and the Beast” a new music video performed by Jordin Sparks, two games that my kids quickly grew bored, “Sing-Along Tracks” and BD-Live materials (none of which was up when I was previewing the disc).

Final Words:

During this period of time it seemed like Disney could do no wrong and a large part of that was due to the strong directing/writing/animating talent at Disney as well as leadership that encouraged them to take risks (once they saw how profitable it could turn out) and the inspiration of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. The Ashman/Menken duo created a series of memorable musicals and helped revive Disney’s animation department. If Ashman had lived who knows how much better the later Disney projects might have turned out?


Copyright @ Teakwood Productions 2000
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