Judge Clark Douglas keeps asking the mirror to show him the Beast, but he always sees himself.
Our reviews of Beauty and the Beast (1946) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published July 13th, 2011) and Beauty and the Beast (1991) (published October 15th, 2002) are also available.
The most beautiful love story ever told.
"She glanced this way, I thought I saw…And when we touched, she didn't shudder at my paw. No, it can't be; I'll just ignore…But then, she's never looked at me that way before…"
Facts of the Case
The lovely Belle (Paige O'Hara, Enchanted) is one of the most well-liked girls in her village. The vain Gaston (Richard White, House of Mouse) is desperate to have her hand in marriage, but Belle sees right through his superficial flirtations. Belle's father is a kindly old inventor named Maurice (Rex Everhart, Friday the 13th), who's just taken off on a trip to submit his latest invention in a competition. Alas, along the way Maurice is captured by a ferocious Beast (Robby Benson, Rent-a-Cop) and held prisoner inside an enchanted castle. Belle quickly comes to the rescue and pleads with the Beast to release her father. The Beast agrees, but only on the condition that Belle agrees to live with him in the castle forever. Belle reluctantly accepts.
Once upon a time, the Beast was a handsome prince, but his vanity proved to be his undoing. A curse was placed upon him, and unless the Beast can find true love before all of the petals fall off an enchanted rose, he will remain a beast eternally. Though the arrangement between Beast and Belle seems unlikely to inspire romance, the two begin to develop a mutual understanding of each other as time passes. Alas, as soon as Beast discovers that he truly loves Belle, he realizes he needs to let her go. Will the curse ever be broken?
During the mid-1980s, it seemed as if the legendary Walt Disney Animation Studios had left their best days far behind them. Their animated efforts like The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective were met with a shrug by critics and audiences. To everyone's surprise, the studio came roaring back to life with the 1989 feature The Little Mermaid, a lovely story that reached considerable heights on the wings of spectacular songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. Delightful as that film was, Disney hit even greater heights two years later with the release of Beauty and the Beast.
The film was and is a sublime animated experience; a beautifully mature re-telling of a classic fairy tale that still manages to be entirely accessible to young children. It's no surprise that the film was nominated for Best Picture upon its release; the complex love story at its core enters territory far more dramatically compelling than most animated films were permitted to explore in the pre-Pixar era. Yes, there are cute anthropomorphic characters and bits of silliness designed to make the kids giggle, but the storytelling is emotionally honest and refreshingly sincere. It's one of the finest films in the Disney canon on a technical level, but it's universally beloved because it's so affecting on an emotional level.
Belle is easily one of the more well-characterized princesses Disney has created; she is a distinct, free-spirited individual who is neither a victimized damsel in distress nor an unconvincing action hero. She's tender-hearted yet far from naïve, a compassionate, literate woman with a limitless capacity for being understanding, but also an ordinary person who can be fearful and fragile at times. The Beast is an equally complex creation, though that complexity frequently gives way to his animal instincts and terrible temper. It's only once Belle arrives that he is able to slowly but surely allow himself to reveal his additional dimensions. It's with his character that the animators do their best work, revealing in his eyes and facial expressions things that the character simply isn't willing or able to say out loud.
The obligatory "colorful supporting characters" in Disney flicks can sometimes be grating additions, but in Beauty and the Beast they only add to the delight of the film. Jerry Orbach (Law and Order) and David Ogden Stiers (Doc Hollywood) generate excellent chemistry as Lumiere and Cogsworth, while Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote) brings a matronly grace to the role of Mrs. Potts.
But for all the great storytelling and memorable characters, it must be said that the music plays an enormous role in the success of Beauty and the Beast. The melodies are some of the most memorable of Alan Menken's career (which is saying something when you consider what he's accomplished), while Howard Ashman's lyrics demonstrate why he was quite possibly the greatest lyricist ever to collaborate with Disney Animation. If you get a chance, take some time to study the arrangement of the lyrics—their literate nature, endless wit and complex rhyme schemes are a marvel to behold. From the bustling "Belle" to the jovial "Be Our Guest" to the romantic title song, every number in the film is a real treat.
Beauty and the Beast arrives on Blu-ray sporting a predictably spectacular 1080p/1.78:1 transfer, as the film's lush, sweeping hand-drawn animation looks better than ever in high-definition. The colors are so rich and vibrant, the level of detail so remarkable—this Blu-ray disc draws out the ever-so-faint little touches in the film that add to the sense you've been watching something lovingly crafted by hand. There are no problems of any sort to report; absolutely none. There are no banding issues, no flecks and specks, no noise or any other nagging little items to complain about. The audio is equally excellent, with Menken's score being given such a powerful, rich mix and the action scenes benefiting from very immersive sound design. It's a great mix, one that really gives your speakers a workout at times but will never give you cause to adjust the volume one way or the other. I can't imagine the video or audio being better in any way.
The new "Diamond Edition" of Beauty and the Beast provides us with a huge selection of bonus features both new and old. Let's dig in:
• Three Versions of the Film: Available for your viewing pleasure is the 85-minute theatrical version of the film, the 91-minute extended version of the film, and a "Storyreel Picture-in-Picture Experience" version that lets you examine storyboards and rough animation alongside the finished film. I have mixed feelings on which version is the best—the "Human Again" musical sequence added to the extended version is a marvelous scene, but it throws off the pacing a little bit. It's good to have both options available.
• Audio Commentary: A good track taken from the 2002 DVD release featuring producer Don Hahn, co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale and composer Alan Menken. This track accompanies the extended version of the film.
• Sing-Along Track: If you're like my wife and have a tendency to suddenly start singing along with the film as you're watching, you may enjoy this option which will prevent you from fumbling the lyrics.
• Beyond Beauty (157 minutes): The crown jewel of the supplemental package, as far as I'm concerned. This is a massive documentary covering just about every single detail of the film's making; about as comprehensive and absorbing as one could possibly hope. However, the documentary is an interactive piece that allows viewers to branch off into additional interviews, featurettes, animated shorts and more. For the most important details, just watch the piece without selecting any of the other options as they pop up. For the full 2 and ½ hour experience that digs into a lot of the minutiae, click everything.
• Composing a Classic (20 minutes): A terrific featurette in which composer Alan Menken sits down with agent Richard Kraft and Don Hahn and discusses the music of Beauty and the Beast. Menken is seated at a piano and treats us to snippets of his themes throughout the piece. My favorite bit is when Hahn explains that the film won the Golden Globe because, "The songs in The Silence of the Lambs weren't quite as good."
• Broadway Beginnings (13 minutes): A nice piece on the Broadway adaptation of the film.
• Enchanted Musical Challenge: A kid-friendly game in which you have to answer trivia questions to find Belle's friends.
• Bonjour, Who is This?: An interactive game that requires the use of a telephone and more than one participant. Yeah, I'm not even going to bother.
• Music Video (3 minutes): Jordin Sparks regales us with her rendition of "Beauty and the Beast." Better than the Jump 5 video from that previous DVD edition, I guess. Irrelevant bit of trivia: some years ago when I was in the restaurant business, I taught the members of Jump 5 how to clean an ice cream machine. True story.
• Deleted Scenes: First up is a massive 18-minute alternate opening sequence presented in storyboard form. It's an interesting watch which adds a lot of story elements missing from the finished film, though the video quality is rubbish. Next, you get a much lovelier 8-minute storyboarded sequence featuring Belle exploring the library. Both of these scenes are given brief introductions, though obnoxiously you have to watch them separately (meaning you have to watch the intro, then go back to the menu and select the actual deleted scene).
• Classic DVD Features: A sampling of vintage featurettes and tidbits are assembled here, running just over an hour combined. In this area, you'll find: a short documentary entitled "The Story Behind the Story," an early presentation reel, an alternate version of "Be Our Guest," an alternate score selection written for "The Transformation," a deleted song, a camera move test, some animated scenes in pencils, a music video featuring Celine Dion & Peabo Bryson and some trailers & tv spots.
• Tidbits: The disc is equipped with BD-Live and the nifty Disney Smart Menu.
Note: The version of Beauty and the Beast I was sent to review was housed in an ordinary DVD-sized case, which is apparently supposed to appeal to people thinking about upgrading in the future. Personally, I find it a little annoying as this film won't fit neatly on the shelf next to my other Disney Animation titles, but thankfully you have the option to buy a version in a standard Blu-ray case, too. The one other difference is that in this DVD case release, the DVD version is presented as Disc 1 while the Blu-ray version and the Blu-ray bonus disc are presented Discs 2 and 3. In the Blu-ray case, the DVD version is Disc 3.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If the film has a weak point, it's Gaston. The character is a one-dimensional figure in a film that otherwise avoids one-dimensionality; a buffoon who never comes across as genuinely threatening villain (despite the fact that he inflicts some major damage on the Beast). Granted, the film pokes fun of the character in a manner that's entertaining on a simplistic satirical level, but I can't help but feel that the film would have benefited if Gaston had been less goofy (and a bit more frightening). Still, the character doesn't play quite as huge a role in the proceedings as many Disney villains, serving as more of a silly aside than an integral part of the main course.
One of the great Disney flicks gets a magnificent transfer, stunning sound, and a huge supplemental package. Any respectable Blu-ray collection needs to include this terrific release.
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