and the Beast
Edition - 1991/2002 (2002) - Disney (Buena Vista)
by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
Disc One: The Film (3 Versions)
Original Theatrical Version -
84 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, animated
film-themed menus with music, scene access (21 chapters), languages:
English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned
Special Edition (2002 Version)
- 90 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, audio
commentary (with producer Don Hahn, directors Kirk Wise and Gary
Trousdale and composer Alan Menken), "sing-along" track,
theatrical trailers, animated film-themed menus with music, scene
access (22 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1),
subtitles: English, Closed Captioned
Work in Progress Version - 84
mins, NR, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, animated film-themed
menus with music, scene access (21 chapters), languages: English and
French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned
Two: Supplemental Materials
NR, full-frame (1.33:1), A Tale as Old
as Time documentary (also accessible in a total of 34
featurettes, by theme: Origins of Beauty
and the Beast, Development,
Tricks of the Trade,
Release & Reaction and
The Broadway Musical),
The Story Behind the Story
(also accessible in 7 segments), 3 interactive games, 2 music
videos, 2 theatrical trailers, animated film-themed menus with
music, languages: English (DD 2.0)
In 2001, Disney launched the Platinum Edition series on DVD, which
plans to showcase what they call their ten finest animated films.
The first of this group was Snow White
and the Seven Dwarfs, and what a release it was. For
2002, they bring us Beauty and the Beast,
which is even more of a must have. The plethora of extras is fitting
for such a remarkable film.
The tale may be as old as time, but I'm sure there are still a few
readers who don't know what it's about. In a brief prologue, we
learn that a cruel Prince has been transformed into a hideous beast
(and his servants into household objects) by an enchantress, after
the oddly un-named Prince refused to offer shelter to an old woman.
But the film proper opens as Belle (voice of Paige O'Hara) walks
through her small provincial town on her morning errands. She is
headstrong and book smart, traits that the townspeople can't
understand. When her father, on his way to an inventor's festival,
gets lost in the woods and is captured by the Beast Prince, Belle
sets out to find him. Fearlessly, she meets with the Beast, and
takes her father's place as his prisoner. At first, she is very
unreceptive to the Beast attempts to be kind, but soon warms up to
when she begins to view him as person and not a beast, and he
actually begins to transform from a Beast to a Prince, if not
physically, but in his heart.
Beauty and the Beast is quite
possibly the most complex Disney animated film created. The majority
of the fairy tale films (Snow White,
Cinderella) are quite clear on
who will end up with whom, and that there will be a happy ending.
This tale is a bit more unpredictable compared to the other stories.
In fact, when Belle and the Beast first meet, it's not clear at all
that these two characters are meant to be together.
This is also one of the more complex Disney films technically. First
of all, it uses the multi-plane camera system (a technology invented
by Walt himself) more than any film since Sleeping
Beauty. Almost every shot features characters walking
through multiple layers of drawings, and shot-wise, it's one of the
more impressive and sophisticated Disney films. Also, though not the
first Disney film to use computer graphics in an animated feature
(that honor goes to The Black Cauldron),
it is the first to create an entire environment that couldn't have
been created with hand drawn techniques.
The sequence I'm referring to is during the Beauty
and the Beast song, with Belle and the Beast dancing in
the ballroom. It was so complex, that the directors didn't think
that it could be pulled off, so they even created an alternate
version of the sequence, with the same character plates, but with a
black background and a spotlight (referred to as the "Ice
Capades" version). They had also planed on using computer
graphics in the final fight sequence, but it was decided to paint it
traditionally due to money and technological issues.
Though Disney films in the past have had quite memorable songs,
Beauty and the Beast is really
the first film to rely so heavily on its musical score. Due in part
to the amazing work of Alan Meinkin and Howard Ashman, the songs
appear when a major plot twist arises. And though they won an Oscar
for the memorable Beauty and the Beast,
their toughest song would be Belle,
a song that sets up the whole movie, Belle as a character, what the
town thinks of Belle, what Gaston thinks of Belle, what Belle thinks
of Gaston, what the town thinks of her father and what Gaston thinks
of her father. When the song eventually climaxes, it swells and
really draws the viewer into the rest of the movie. Of all the
songs, I believe it has the most satisfying payoff. But also
memorable, most certainly, are the showstopping Be
Our Guest and the ode to manhood, Gaston,
which features the immortal words, "I use antlers in all of my
Beauty and the Beast is a
testament to animation. It was a film that Walt worked on adapting
for years, but it was so complex that the art form hadn't matched
the stories requirements. Even in rough form, it famously wowed
critics at the New York film festival, The film would go on to gross
over $100 million at the U.S. box office, and become the first
animated film to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture. Even more
impressive, it become the first, and so far only, animated feature
to be nominated for Best Picture (eventually losing to
The Silence of the Lambs). It
did win two Oscars for Best Score and Best Song, with three
additional nominations, including Best Sound.
Though some impressive films, such as The
Lion King, Toy Story 2
and Shrek, have come since
this film's release, none have managed to hit this pinnacle. With
it's jaw-dropping artwork, pitch-perfect voice casting and beautiful
musical score, Beauty and the Beast
is unqualified the best animated feature ever created in my opinion.
Needless to say, Walt would be proud.
Now, onto the disc review... the video quality is at once wonderful
and bothersome. The three versions of the film are packed onto the
first disc, along with two audio tracks, a commentary and a few
extras. As a result, MPEG-2 compression artifacts are a-plenty on
all versions. While the work in progress version can get by with a
not-so-stellar transfer, the original theatrical version and the
Special Edition really needed the space. The original theatrical
version suffers more than the Special Edition, but both exhibit
noticeable artifacting due to the lower than ideal video bit rates.
At the same time, the picture is colorful, vibrant and free of
print-related defects. The Special Edition, thanks to the slightly
higher bit rate and changes created for its release, is the most
impressive. This may be due to the restoration that used the
Computer Animation Production System (the same system used to
restore Snow White last year).
Each element of the picture is scanned and composited in the
computer. The Special Edition was further modified to create more
detail in the background plates for the large IMAX format.
Don't get me wrong - it was a really great idea to include both
final versions of this film on DVD, as well as the work in progress
version. But the limitations of the format really called for either
an additional disc or for one version to be excluded. Personally, I
think this should have been a 3-disc set.
Perhaps due to the limited space, the 5.1 surround tracks supplied
for all three versions seems to lack energy. They don't take
advantage of the surround channels as much as you might expect.
Still, all of the provided tracks offer enormous clarity. Every
element, from the dialogue, to the music and effects, are subtle
when they need to be and are never mudded, always perfectly
balanced. Stereo separation is great with effects panning from side
to side, and voices coming from the appropriate speakers. Except for
the seemly absent ambiance, this track receives high marks.
Let's talk extras. I want to point out first, that there is less of
the "Disney back patting" here that seemed to be a little
overdone on the Snow White
DVD. I mean, do we really need Ming-Na to tell us all about the
company's purchase of the Anaheim Angels on a set about
Snow White? NO! Thankfully
this set is absent of those types of featurettes for the most part.
But like the Snow White set,
all of the extra are accessible through either text menus or
creative animated menus.
With the first disc basically eaten up by the three versions of the
film, most of the extras can be found on Disc Two. But the first
disc does give us an audio commentary, which you can hear only on
the special edition. It features producer Don Hahn and directors
Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. It's great to hear these friends and
collaborators talk about this film. Full of terrific information,
and never too self-congratulatory, this is a fun commentary. There
even seems to be a good amount of sarcastic humor towards what's
happening on screen, yet it's always respectful. Alan Menken joins
the trio during the Human Again
sequence, to comment on the history of the song.
There is also a subtitle track, encoded as a "sing along track."
Also included the sneak peeks section of the first disc are trailers
for Jungle Book 2, December's
The Lion King IMAX re-release,
the Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted
Christmas: Special Edition, Lilo
and Stitch and (two words: Hor-rah!) the
Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition.
On to Disc Two... the extras are split up in three sections. The
first is Cogsworth & Lumiere,
which is filled with material the DVD fanatic will love. To start
with, you get A Tale as Old as Time,
a 52-minute documentary on the making of the film. It goes quite in
depth on the history of the film with Disney, how a lot of the
animation was accomplished, casting the voices, background on the
Broadway show and more. It's a really well put together program,
which you can view as a whole or in sections by subject. You can
also view the documentary, cut in half, in the Mrs.
Potts section of the disc.
While viewing the documentary in sections will take a little
navigating, the sub-menus where these links are available also
contain featurettes not in the documentary. There's the
Early Presentation Reel, which
was originally presented to Disney heads for approval of the film.
Alternate versions of Be Our Guest
and Human Again are here, as
is the music for the Beast's transformation sequence. Under
Animation, you'll find
animation tests, roughs & clean-ups, a pencil version of
The Transformation and an
early CGI camera move test. Under Release
& Reaction, you'll find the Beauty
and the Beast music video and seven still galleries,
which include narration. Finally, you'll find the original
theatrical and Special Edition trailers, presented in full frame
with 2.0 stereo.
Next up is the Mrs. Potts
section, which begins with the aforementioned abbreviated version of
Tale as Old as Time, retitled
The Making of Beauty and the Beast
(my advice: skip this for the expanded version in the previous
section). It's here where you will also find The
Story Behind the Story, which includes some really
interesting background information on seven Disney films. While at
first it seems like another shameless plug, like the
Disney Through the Years
featurette on the Snow White
disc, there are some interesting tidbits and newsreel footage.
There is also the Mrs. Pott's Personality
Profile game, which asks you some questions about
yourself and then tells you what Beauty
and the Beast character you're most like. Also accessible
here is the same Beauty and the Beast
music video you can access in the Cogsworth
and Lumiere section.
For the kids, there is Chip's
section, which includes a Disney
Animation Magic featurette that explains the basics of
animation. Anyone over the age of thirteen will find the fast pace
and stupid camera tilts annoying, but there is some good information
hiding behind the gloss. There is also another Beauty
and the Beast music video, preformed by Jump 5, a teen
pop group. It too is rather annoying, but I suppose that's just
musical taste. Also, here is the Chip's
Musical Challenge game, and the Break
the Spell game, which actually begins on the first disc,
in the Maurice's Workshop
game. Much like the game on the Harry
Potter DVD, the puzzles aren't difficult at all, and rely
on the player's knowledge of the film.
With its impressive library of extras and the fact that this is
Beauty and the Beast, this DVD
is definitely a must have. Not to be content with the merits of this
release on its own, this set should definitely boost the
anticipation for the next planned release in the Platinum Edition
line, due in November 2003... The Lion