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Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast on DVD

Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful film, almost as much a Broadway musical than a normal cartoon, and a timeless classic in the grand Disney tradition.

It’s also the only animated feature to have ever been nominated for a “Best Picture” Oscar and, in the wake of The Little Mermaid, it showed that Disney studios’ animation arm was back with a vengeance.

And the Platinum Edition DVD does the movie justice.

The story is well-known: in order to save the life of her father, the lovely Belle (Paige O’Hara) agrees to live out her life in the Beast’s enchanted castle - while the beast discovers that she could be his ticket back to human form. They have a rough beginning, but eventually fall in love and, in one way or the other, save each other’s lives and (naturally) live happily ever after.

Okay, that’s a pretty quick and superficial look at the classic fairy tale, the story of which really is beautiful and timeless. Plus, we get terrific animation, wonderful voice performances (especially O’Hara, Robby Benson as the Beast, and Angela Lansbury as “Mrs. Potts”) and another masterpiece of a musical score courtesy of the great Alan Menken and the late, great Howard Ashman - musical geniuses who also brought the wonderful scores for “Little Shop of Horrors” and “The Little Mermaid.” Once again their score soars, and once again they won the “Best Song” Oscar (for the title song) as they did with “Under the Sea” with “Mermaid” and "Lean Green Mother.." from "Horrors."

From the opening production number “Belle,” which sets the scene and the tone wonderfully (reminding one of “Consider Yourself” or “Who Will Buy” from “Oliver”), Beauty and the Beast draws you in and alternately thrills, excites and even frightens you. Frightens, because there are some pretty violent and vicious scenes that really put you on the edge of your seat, in the best Disney family film manner.

In all, it’s a marvelous achievement, a classic film that everyone can enjoy - in short, what Disney did first and best, then forgot how to do for a couple of decades but has now learned how to do again.

The DVD is a cornucopia of stuff, including three versions of the film. There’s the original theatrical version, the new “special edition” that includes the restored song “Human again” (which is another great production number!), and the “work in progress” version that came out on laserdisc many years ago and which is interesting to see but pales to the finished versions.

We liked the Special Edition best, and the “Human Again” number (which was apparently a big hit in the story’s Broadway incarnation) is a first rate production number that, despite the apparently heavy use of computers, fits with the overall look and feel of the original (which also used computers though not as extensively) very well.

Then there are the extras, which stretch over two discs. As with the Platinum Edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there’s so much stuff that Disney has seen fit to include a legend to help one navigate the cornucopia of goodies.

Unfortunately, many of the “experiential” extras seem there to take up space, or act as babysitters for the kids. Some are pretty interesting, like the many and varied inside looks at the making of the film, but some of the games would be better served as part of a games-only disc version.

But you don’t have to watch them - and they’re included in the mainstream price anyway, so it isn’t as if you’re getting ripped off.

The THX-Certified DVD incarnation of the movie is nothing short of spectacular. It’s presented in a new, digitally mastered (from a high definition video source) anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) edition that’s bright and sharp and colorful; it looks great! Audio is presented in an all new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack, and it’s also beautifully done, a real treat for the home theater.

A beautifully made DVD of a true family classic. We look forward to more Disney classics if they’re given this type of treatment - including some existing DVD titles (“Mermaid” and “Mary Poppins” come to mind) that need to be redone to fully exploit the DVD and home theater media.

Beauty and the Beast, from Walt Disney Home Video
90 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring the voices of Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury
Produced by Don Hahn
Written by Roger Allers, Linda Woolverton, directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise.


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Updated May 13, 2006