The 1980s were of bit of a lost decade for the Walt Disney Company in regards to their animated films. The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver & Company didn’t have the same appeal or success as the studio's previous classics. Then 1989 saw a return to glory with the release of The Little Mermaid, which began a ten-year run of successful movies referred to as the "Disney Renaissance." While some Disney films during that period performed better at the box office, the best film was Beauty and the Beast, a story Walt himself tried to produce since the 1930s.
Adapted from the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, the film opens with a prologue told through stained-glass windows of a young prince whose rude, selfish actions towards an old beggar woman result in his being turned into a Beast (Robby Benson). The only way to break the spell is to find love, but he has only until his 21st birthday or the spell becomes permanent.
Belle (Paige O'Hara) lives in a nearby village. She is a pretty young woman who loves reading and has no interest in the wooing she receives from conceited hunter Gaston (Richard White), who is not pleased with her rejection. After her father Maurice ends up a prisoner at the Beast's castle, Belle asks to take his place so he can go home and the Beast agrees, setting up the wonderful romantic tale that unfolds before us.
While the story may be simple and straightforward, it is extremely well told. There are scenes of both comedy and drama that are engaging and entertaining. The characters are very interesting and are brought to life by talented voice actors. The standouts are the Beast's servants Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) and Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers, who also is the narrator).
Lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken crafted an impressive score and collection of songs that earned them Oscars. For those who can't help but join in, the "Sing-Along Mode" option provides the lyrics on screen.
Beauty and the Beast is making a dazzling debut on Blu-ray that will surely be talked about as one of the best of the year. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer looks exquisite. The vibrant colors burst off the screen like a fireworks display in front of your eyes, and blacks are rich and inky. The line work shows good, sharp delineation. The images are free from defect, both physical and digital. This is not a complaint, but the high definition brings such clarity that there's a more noticeable difference between the hand-drawn animation and the computer animation in the ballroom sequence as the camera appears to move in 3-D space around Belle and Beast.