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.
The audio delivers a true 7.1 Surround mix with every channel having something to offer. Dialogue nearly surrounds the viewer in its placement and it is always clear and understandable, even the loud, subwoofer-rumbling exclamations from Beast. Sounds take up position in the soundfield and sometimes move through it. The rears contribute to an immersive experience.
Like the previous Platinum Edition on DVD, the film can be viewed three ways. The Special Extended Edition was released in 2002 and included the song “Human Again.” The Original Theatrical Release is self-explanatory. The Original Storyboard Version is the OTR version paired with a picture-in-picture window that runs in the upper left corner. It is comprised of finished scenes, pencil drawings, and storyboards. I see only the most hardcore viewer watching it and it needed to be in a bigger window to be better appreciated.
A large assortment of Bonus Features covering two Blu-ray discs is included with this collection. There is an extremely informative and entertaining commentary track, only available on the SEE version, delivered by producer Don Hahn and co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale.
Under “Backstage Disney,” “Beyond Beauty” is a massive feature running over two and half hours providing a thorough examination of its creation. “Composing a Classic” presents Hahn, composer Menken, and Disney historian Richard Kraft discussing Disney and music. “Deleted Scenes” offers two such scenes, an alternate opening and one with Belle in Beast’s library. Both were rightly excised.
“Classic Bonus Features” are features from previous releases of the film. “The Story Behind The Story” has celebrities comparing Disney films with their source material. A “Beauty and the Beast Music Video” features Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. “Early Presentation Reel” finds Hahn and Menken talking about alternate music that didn’t make the film.
“Disney Family Play” contains two games, Enchanted Musical Challenge and Bonjour, Who Is This?; a “New Beauty and the Beast Music Video” starring American Idol Season Six winner Jordan Sparks; and “Broadway Beginnings” about how the story makes its way to the stage.
There is also a DVD that includes the three versions of the film and a reduced number of Bonus features.
The Beauty and the Beast on Blu-ray is a must-have for your collection because of its reference-quality A/V specs and the overwhelming extras. It may well ruin you on lesser-quality discs.