Never one to let a successful film stand by itself, in 1997 Disney released a direct-to-video a follow-up to their hugely successful 1991 film, Beauty and the Beast. Entitled Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, save for a frame, the story takes place concurrently to the original film. Think of it, perhaps, as a series of extended deleted scenes which occur after Belle tries to escape the castle but before Gaston attacks it in the original film.
Gaston, however, is not present here. Instead, evil is represented by Forte (voiced by Tim Curry), a pipe organ who would rather be a pipe organ than a conductor. Forte spends his time chained to the wall and trying convince Beast to do away with Belle and the magical rose which controls the Belle’s would-be love’s destiny.
In a mainly hand-drawn animated feature, Forte is computer generated and the difference is a terribly disconcerting one. Of course, Forte’s motivation, while briefly discussed, is not terribly believable either, nor is the fact that Beast actually—even momentarily—listens to Forte. Forte is, in short, a gross miscalculation on the part of the producers of the film. As it stands, the story is paper thin, and it’s thin to the point where even younger members of the audience notice.
There is unquestionably a story that could be told about the courtship of Belle by Beast (and vice versa) during Christmas time and it would be a better story for Forte’s not being in it. Particularly with this film taking place at the same time as the original, one isn’t quite sure why neither Gaston nor Belle’s father are not included in the tale either.
One could almost imagine this feature being made without a villain at all. It could simply be a tale of Belle and Beast learning more about each other and Beast’s overcoming his dislike of the holiday. There would still be enough of a character arc and storyline there to succeed, and the film is in fact at its best in this moments which dwell on the courtship, not the ones which dwell on the villain. That wasn’t done, and it is unfortunate.
Much of the voice cast from the original film reprise their roles here including Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts). Beyond the addition of Tim Curry as Forte, Paul Reubens and Bernadette Peters also voice characters here. It is a great voice cast and each actor gives it their all. It is the plot and animation which don’t live up to the voice work.
Speaking of that animation, whether the issue is due to the production itself or the HD release is unclear, but the visuals here are simply not what one would hope. While the animation of the characters appears good, they rarely look as though they are truly a part of the scene. The backgrounds are flat, static things which aren’t up to the same level as the characters in the foreground and this vast difference between the two is jarring. Additionally, black levels are not very good. In fact, it appears as though the brightness level has been turned up too high throughout nearly the entire film as there is something of a haze in most scenes, one which dulls the colors significantly. And, Forte, who probably shouldn’t have been computer generated to begin with, comes across with horribly pixilated (jagged) edges. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is better than the video, but it isn’t particularly outstanding – it simply lacks the issues of the video. Various minor sound effects are present, well-located, and sound good, as do the voices and the music. Everything is crisp and clear, but it isn’t always a terribly full sound field.
In terms of bonus features, the Blu-ray sports a DVD copy, a music video, sing-a-long mode, the ability to skip directly to the songs, and a decent behind-the-scenes featurette. There is also an “enchanted environment” which seems to just be a picture of a fireplace in the castle with some minor movement to it. There is also something entitled Disney’s Sing me a Story with Belle, in which a Belle (live action) talks to kids and teaches them valuable lessons. A quick check of IMDb indicates that what’s on the disc is an episode in a television series by that name… a television series best left forgotten.
There is nothing wrong with revisiting past successes and creating prequels, sequels, alternate timelines, etc., but Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is not one of Disney’s best attempts to expand the franchise. It is none-too-exciting even for younger members of the audience, although it may leave everyone with the desire to see the original once more.