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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
25th Anniversary 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:  DTS HD 7.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  90 Minutes
Release Date: 
September 20, 2016

“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 ****

Wow...just...WOW.  Animation and Blu-ray is already a match made in heaven, but gorgeous, rich, traditional animation and Blu-ray even more so.  I've seen this movie many times, and I was stunned by the beauty, clarity and vibrancy of this high definition offering.  Every frame pops with life and color, every detail is crisp and clean, and every movement rings out with a natural fluidity.  This is a dream come true...absolute perfection.

Audio ****

The DTS HD 7.1 soundtrack is also an immense treat.  This is a dynamic track made full by the rumblings of the Beast's voice and the big sequences.  But it's Alan Menken's score that really gets the red carpet treatment, sounding more live and full than ever with uncompressed audio.  This is what a Blu-ray listening experience is supposed to be!

Features ****

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

There are new features, including a look at 25 years of composer Alan Menken's legacy, the cast recordings, some of Walt's own early development for the project, fun facts, and a look at the voice of Bell, Paige O'Hara.

Both the DVD and Blu-ray discs feature three viewing choices:  the special edition featuring the "Human Again" number, the original theatrical version, and the very cool “work in progress” edition as shown at the 1991 New York Film Festival…but thanks to Blu-ray technology, you get to watch it picture-in-picture with the actual film, which is even better!  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 classic features?  Well, they're here, but...only from accessing the Digital HD that comes with the disc.  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, and a memory game.

Summary:

When Disney releases a 25th annivesary release for one of their animated treasures, no studio does it better.  Beauty and the Beast is wonderful beyond words.  A marvelous movie and a high point for Disney animation, it’s also a great Blu-ray offering, with plenty to enjoy for adults and kids alike.  Absolutely recommended.

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