The Classic continues in a magical holiday movie.
As a lifelong Disney fan, I find myself becoming increasingly discouraged by the studio's misguided attempts to increase shareholder value by churning out less than impressive sequels to their much beloved classic films. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (Special Edition) is a prime example of this disappointing modus operandi.
Facts of the Case
Recalling a lost adventure, the now human Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and Cogsworth recount the magical Christmas that took place shortly after Belle came to live at the castle. It seems the Beast holds a particular disdain for the holiday season, something only a good shrink could decipher. However, the rest of the staff is desperate for some holiday cheer and sets out to enlist Belle's help in surprising the master with a Christmas to remember. But not all of the staff is in agreement. In fact, at least three members—Maestro Forte (the malevolent pipe organ), Fife (his flautist lackey), and Angelique (a bitter Christmas tree topper)—are determined to make sure the holiday festivities do not come off as planned. Even more insidious is Maestro Forte's plan to ensure the enchantment is never broken, dooming the entire castle to an eternity as not-so-inanimate objects. How will our heroes stop Maestro Forte and save Christmas?
Beauty and the Beast remains the only animated film ever to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The music of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, along with the animation talents of Glen Keane and Andreas Dejas, and the acting talents of Robby Benson, Paige O'Hara, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, and many more combined to create a unique film that will forever stand as one of Disney Feature Animation's crowning achievements. However, as both Hollywood and Broadway have proven time and again, this type of magic is very rarely ever recreated.
While Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas reassembles the award winning cast of actors, the artistic duties are passed on to Disney's Television Animation team, while the musical reigns are handed over to talented composer Rachel Portman (Chocolat). Not surprisingly, the newcomers are unable to fill the shoes of their predecessors. From a writing perspective, the story is supposed to take place shortly after Belle trades her life for the freedom of her father. If this is true, why then are we introduced to characters and events never referenced by and often conflicting with the original storyline? For example, if Maestro Forte was such a prominent figure in the enchantment and plays such a pivotal role in castle's structural history, why are we only seeing and/or hearing about him now? From an artistic perspective, while the backgrounds are rendered with the quality of a feature film, the principal characters lack the definition and cohesiveness of their original designs. More distracting is the stronger presence of computer generated components, such as Maestro Forte, which fail to blend effectively with the more traditionally rendered environment. Finally, the songs created by Rachel Portman and lyricist Don Black fail to come anywhere close to the original Ashman/Menken classics.
The work of Robby Benson (Ice Castles) as the Beast, Paige O'Hara as Belle, Jerry Orbach (Law and Order) as Lumiere, David Ogden Stiers (M*A*S*H*) as Cogsworth, and Angela Lansbury (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) as Mrs. Potts are all top notch, stepping graciously back into the lovable characters they all created so effectively. In addition, Tim Curry (Clue) gives an exceptional performance as the devious Maestro Forte, as does Bernadette Peters (The Jerk) in a smaller role as Angelique—one of only two characters who change or grow as a result of this adventure. The other character development is found in Fife, played by Paul Reubens (Pee-Wee's Big Adventure), a surprising and unsuspecting member of the cast, who I only noticed as the credits rolled. Unfortunately, these otherwise great performances are lost amid a ridiculously contrived story.
Presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the transfer is great, devoid of any otherwise distracting elements. The colors tend to shift from vibrant to muddy at times, but this appears to be more of an animation discrepancy than a digital presentation flaw. Surprisingly enough, Disney blesses us with a Dolby 5.1 audio track and a DTS option at that, although it seems wasted on this direct to video release. This so-called special edition contains a number of bonus features, none of which really add tremendous value to the package. The most interesting is a behind-the-scenes featurette chronicling the making of the film. For animation fans, it's always interesting to catch a glimpse of the development process, but the kids won't find much excitement here. Next up is a cursor-driven game in which you must read music and play the organ in order to defeat Maestro Forte's evil plans. It may be a bit frustrating to kids who have never been taught to read treble clef, but I'm sure they'll experiment hitting all the keys regardless. Two other features made especially for the kids are the ability to 1) add sing-along words to each of the film's musical numbers and 2) watch only the musical numbers. Speaking of music, a video for the song "As Long as There's Christmas" by the teen girl group PLAY is also included. Oh yeah! And finally, the strangest of all the bonus features is a digital, musical fireplace. Yes, similar to those old loops local TV stations used to run when they went off the air for the holidays, you too can have your very own roaring holiday fire to impress your family and friends. Rounding out the disc are a bevy of promos and teasers for upcoming Disney releases, including more dreadful sequels such as The Jungle Book 2 starring John Goodman as Baloo. Cue Phil Harris to begin spinning in his grave.
While I hold the utmost respect for all the artists involved in this project—none of whom set out to make a bad film—the blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the Disney executives who greenlighted the project. As long as people continue to purchase these films, Disney will continue to make them. It's unfortunate the Disney brass fail to see the long-term implications of their actions. I cannot in good conscience recommend either purchasing or renting this disc. If your kids love Beauty and the Beast, buy the new Platinum Edition set instead—or save your money for Lilo and Stitch and Treasure Planet.
This court finds Disney Studios guilty of pillaging and plundering their own stable of beloved characters to make a quick buck. You are hereby ordered to stop wasting money on poor imitations and invest your resources in developing new, groundbreaking, quality feature animated films. Furthermore, as punishment for this offense, you are sentenced to 72 continuous hours of the music from this film, while watching the digital fireplace and eating Disney breakfast cereal. That'll teach you! Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Behind-the-Scenes "Making Of" Featurette
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