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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Platinum Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, Jerry Orbach
Directors:  Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  90 Minutes
Release Date:  October 8, 2002

“Please…please don’t leave me…

I love you…”

Film ****

A tale as old as time, true as it can be.  It’s the tale of the Walt Disney animation studios.

Once upon a time, a magician named Walt and his team of loyal and talented apprentices turned the world on its ear with a wondrous, one-of-a-kind masterpiece called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  The first full length animated film in cinema history, it was considered a risky undertaking by some, but only until its magic appeared on the screen for all to see, becoming an instant landmark and one of the most beloved movies of all time.

Walt and his team continued to rule the world of animated features for years to come, introducing one masterful, musical masterpiece after another.  The likes of Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and more continued to win the hearts of children and adults alike, until Disney’s very name became synonymous with the best in family entertainment.

But the magician was just a man, and mortal, and one day, the great Walt entered mortality.  He left behind a legacy and a studio who tried to live up to it, but it seemed the magic was indeed gone.  Films like The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Great Mouse Detective, Robin Hood and others had their own kind of charm, but not the wonder or enchantment of the earlier works.

But then, in 1989, something amazing happened.  A picture called The Little Mermaid proved that the magic wasn’t gone, merely lying dormant like the sword in the stone, waiting for the next worthy wielders to pick it up.  With a great story, incredible songs, Oscar wins and more, once again, Walt Disney was back on top.  And the great magician, wherever he was, was no doubt looking down with a smile.

And he wasn’t through smiling, either.  Two years later, the studio bearing his name and keeping his magic alive release a new animated film that would make history.  Beauty and the Beast was more than just another Disney fairy tale.  It was visual splendor, musical magnificence, and imagination completely unleashed.  It became the first animated movie in history to score a Best Picture Oscar nomination.  Considering that animation has its own category now, chances are it might be the last as well.

I still remember like it was yesterday, seeing it in the theatre for the first time.  You never sit down to an animated film, no matter how good you think it’s going to be, and imagine that you’re sitting in the presence of a future Best Picture nominee, but it was still clear from the opening strokes that the Disney studio was working with a confidence and a boldness in creativity fueled by their mermaid’s past triumph.

No detail was overlooked, as scenes came to vivid, musical life.  The drawings were filled with enchantment, the characters were lively and instantly memorably, and perhaps even better, the songs were majestic and the musical numbers thrilling.  With Oscar winners Howard Ashman and Alan Menken reuniting after their success on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast took on a life of its own through the words and music.  One could easily argue that with these two films, Disney not only personally oversaw a renaissance of animation, but of the musical as well.

The story is also a tale as old as time.  A handsome prince is transformed into a hideous Beast (Benson) as the result of his own black heart.  Now he has only a limited amount of time to break the spell, and to do so, he has to win the love of a maiden…a seemingly impossible task, given his physical state.

But Belle (voiced by the elegant O’Hara) is no ordinary maiden.  Book smart, independent, and kind of heart, her “odd” ways make her the talk of the town, and the hopeful prize of Gaston (White), a handsome ogre of a hunter who, by the end of the film, will demonstrate what the TRUE nature of a beast is.

When providence makes Belle the prisoner of the Beast in his enchanted castle (his servants had also been transformed into various household objects), it proves to be his last chance…either find a way to get Belle to love the man inside the monster, or remain a Beast forever.

Though the two central characters are wonderful, the supporting cast is equally charming, featuring the inimitable voices of David Ogden Stiers, Jerry Orbach, and Angela Lansbury as the hapless servants who try to help their master break the spell.  They get some of the most memorable songs, as well…Mr. Orbach delivers the showstopping “Be Our Guest” with flair, while Ms. Lansbury croons the gorgeous title song during one of the movie’s most memorable (and technically awesome) moments, as the Beast and Belle share a ballroom dance.  

But look…as the song says, there’s something here that wasn’t there before.  This DVD features both the original theatrical version and the IMAX re-release, which included a dropped musical number called “Human Again” that gained popularity with the Broadway show.  It’s a delightful number, and makes an already good thing even better!

With a story that taps into our hearts and imaginations, a great cast of characters, superb song score, and an anything-is-possible attitude, it’s no wonder that Disney now categorizes this picture as one of their three or four best offerings of all time.  It really is that good.

Video ***1/2

Considering three versions of the film are on one disc, the THX certified anamorphic transfers are quite good, but a little more space might have equaled perfection.  Colors are bright, vibrant, rich and beautiful, with mostly solid definitions and detail.  The only problem is a slight touch of bleeding from time to time, and a slight amount of shimmer in the brightest segments.  These are slight, and overall, the video presentation is a marked improvement over previous VHS releases.  As Disney has called this an “experimental” DVD, perhaps something they’ll learn from the experiment is to use separate discs for separate film versions for maximum quality.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack is near perfection…just listen to “Belle”, and you’ll hear voices and instruments all over the place; smooth, clear, and with perfectly rendered transitions!  Dialogue is clean and clear, too.  The dynamic range is fair, but could have been mixed with a little more impact.  The use of the surrounds, however, is optimal, and make this one of the best sounding Disney animated offerings yet released on DVD…can’t wait to hear The Lion King next year!

Features ****

Hope you have some free time on your hands…you’re gonna need it with this double disc Platinum Edition!

Disc One features your three viewing choices:  the new special edition as recently released to IMAX theatres, the original theatrical version, and the very cool “work in progress” edition as shown at the 1991 New York Film Festival…the latter containing mostly pencil drawings with some color sequences intact, and a real treat for animation buffs!  There is also a commentary track with the producer Don Hahn and co-directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, plus input from scorer Alan Menken.  It’s a well-rounded, informative and enjoyable listen.  The first disc rounds out with some sneak peeks and an interactive game that will lead you to unlocking some secrets on the second disc!

Disc Two has everything else.  You pick a character, and get some features, or select the magic mirror to view everything in a nice tidy list.  There is an extensive 51 minute look at Beauty and the Beast, which can be viewed in its entirety or via subject matter from a handy menu.  In it, you’ll learn about the origins of the story, the casting, the scoring, the animation, the Broadway hit and much more.  There is also a more compact making-of featurette hosted by Celine Dion (the former is the more detailed, naturally, but both are enjoyable).  A story-behind-the-story features top celebrities relating the tales behind some of Disney’s most beloved classics, as Paige O’Hara, James Earl Jones, David Ogden Stiers and more tell you about Cinderella, The Lion King, Pocahontas and others…good for kids and adult fans alike!

There is a Mrs. Potts personality profile game to tell you which character you most resemble (for me, it was Lumiere), two “Beauty and the Beast” music videos including the original hit version with Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, plus a backstage look at the Disney animation studios, a music/memory game, the continuation of the break-the-spell game from disc one, and more…I’m sure I’m leaving something out. 

Oh, and the menus are quite cool…three dimensional, full motion animation with music and voices!

Summary:

Disney proved that their Platinum Edition line would be something special with Snow White, and they’ve built upon that tradition with Beauty and the Beast.  A marvelous movie and a high point for Disney animation, it’s also a great disc, with plenty to enjoy for adults and kids alike.  Absolutely recommended.