Wednesday, September 21, 2016

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: Walt Disney Signature Edition Blu-ray (Walt Disney Home Video)

It is, I think, no overstatement to afford Walt Disney the considerable ‘screen credit’; that the classical European fairy tale today survives, is best remembered, and most fondly thrives as a renewable source of inspiration to millions the world over, primarily because of Walt’s clairvoyant ability to re-imagine what had been, at least in his own time, short stories of the fantastic, tinged in truths presented as parables about the human condition. In whatever form, the fairy tale illustrates our hearts’ desires; to experience something miraculous in the everyday; to be endowed with an intangible, heightened sense of realism and magically teleported into unimaginable circumstances where we are meant to ‘star’ as the hero/heroine of the piece, but also feel a sincere contribution made along the journey. The fairy tale is therefore, at once, strangely a life lesson grounded in a basic understanding of humanity, and, a whimsical journey into this wondrous and highly experimental form of self-discovery. And while it is nevertheless certain the fairy tales of yore continue, and will likely endure to satisfy each new generation as yet to rediscover them, as sure as the sun rises in the east, the genre’s modern renaissance owes virtually everything to Walt Disney.   
Walt’s inspiration derived from his honeymoon trip to Europe, amassing a small library of collected works by the vintage fairytale authors of their age. Throughout the next four decades, Walt would create an empire based on these time-honored masterworks. But one cannot dismiss Walt’s contribution to the fairytale. His versions are not mere translation. Indeed, perusing the pages of any of the renown classic fairytales today is likely to leave the novice reader, weaned on the oft discounted ‘Disney-fied’ versions, wanting for something more: character development – for starters; to say nothing of the immeasurable art of animation and the scores of vocalists, musicians, lyricists and song writers who have, each by their own unique craftsmanship, augmented and texturized the classic fairytale into an art form the likes of which no ancient authorship could have imagined; certainly, none so definitively visualized and disseminated en masse as with the advent of the motion pictures. Further still, it takes a visionary to see the proverbial ‘forest for the trees’; to massage and morph one media into another, and, a mogul of Walt’s formidable caliber to tickle the various talents ultimately responsible for seeing his overriding arc and vision through to the screen. While Walt was always fond of saying “…we should never lose sight all this was started by a mouse…” I think it is as vital today to recall none of what follows would even have been fathomable without Walt Disney.
To suggest the studio’s animated version of French author, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast (1991) resurrected Disney animation from its self-imposed mediocrity is perhaps a bit much. Truth told; the studio had already taken valiant steps to re-establish its prominence with The Little Mermaid (1989). Yet, in retrospect, the technique exhibited on ‘Mermaid’, while arguably tinged with the elusive spark of genius, equally lacks refinement, something of the effortless artistry exemplified in the very best of Walt’s illustrious back catalog. Of all the movies made after Walt’s death, ‘Mermaid’ bears the most striking resemblance to having been expressly created with the serialized Saturday morning, cost-cutting, kiddie cartoon in mind. Permit us to be both frank and fair when suggesting by the time Beauty and the Beast had its world premiere on Nov. 22, 1991, the industry perception was the studio’s greatest achievements (Fantasia, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, et al.) were a part of its past. Twenty-five years on, this now appears to be the case with Disney Inc.’s second animation renaissance that began ‘under the sea’ and ostensibly ended in a belfry at the Notre Dame.
In the intervening decades, the custodians of Walt’s legacy have shown great resilience for morphing live-action into cartoons and vice versa; even able to concoct viable film franchises out of Disneyland theme park attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, The Original Country Bear Jamboree and Tomorrowland. (Aside: I am still waiting for It’s A Small World – the musical to hit theaters…note, the sarcasm). But seriously, I for one miss the ole magic typified by Walt’s tutelage, and, to a lesser extent, its clever reconstitution forged under Michael Eisner; who in 1984, assumed leadership of a company virtually on the edge of extinction. It is not overstating things to submit that when Eisner became CEO of Walt Disney Enterprises, together with company president, Frank G. Wells, the fantasyland of Walt’s youth had suffered a series of near-devastating artistic hiccups and was in grave danger of being shuttered for good. The outside world may not have realized the precariousness of the situation; and not only for The Walt Disney Co.; after Walt, at least maintaining the façade and Teflon-coating of an untouchable force of nature – surviving the deluge that effectively splintered Hollywood’s autonomy and, by the late 1970’s, had made a scorched earth of all its once vital dream factories, now at the mercy of devastating corporate takeovers and selloffs. Alas, Disney Inc. was not immune to these prevailing winds of change. Audiences shied away from ‘wholesome’ family entertainment and the few awkward attempts made under the Disney banner to expand its repertoire into more ‘adult-themed’ fare (The Black Hole, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Black Cauldron, etc. et al) had miserably imploded at the box office.
Immediately following Walt's death, Disney Inc. valiantly put on a brave face and trudged onward, though only occasionally with financial success. For the most part, 'post Disney' product lacked Walt's personal investment and inimitably ginger-light touch of guidance to generate the necessary sparks of inspiration. Worse, the studio was facing the inevitable exodus of its original staff; the so-called '9 old men' who had given virtually every Disney classic until The Sword and the Stone (1963) their peerless imprint of fineness. We should also point out that 1959’s Sleeping Beauty marked the ‘unofficial’ end to Disney’s ‘classic animation’ style. With the introduction of Xerox technology on One-Hundred-And-One Dalmatians (1961), capable of reproducing the animator’s original hand drawings without the intermediary step of having to be hand-traced and cleaned up by another skilled artist in the ‘ink and paint’ department, the finesse and meticulous attention to every last detail ‘literally’ had gone to the dogs, along with the awe-inspiring discipline and fluidity achieved in hand-colored line drawings. The feature films that followed all share in this homogenized look, adopting a more crude ‘aesthetic’ owing far more to the then contemporary strain trademarked at UPA Studios than the uber-sophisticated and luxuriating appeal of every Disney cartoon feature made since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938). 
Fast track to 1986, a year in retreat; as newly appointed studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg made the fortuitous decision to ‘relocate’ the animation department to a series of ‘off the lot’ construction trailers. Ever since Walt made the move from the old Hyperion to the Burbank Studios in 1939, the Animation Department had been ensconced in a campus-like setting on 51 acres of prime real estate. Indeed, in Walt’s time, the animator remained king, or at least, treated as such, afforded comfortable offices and plenty of green space in which to let his creative juices and imagination run wild. In hindsight, time has proven Katzenberg as no Disney. And yet, his nullification of the animator as anything more or better than ‘mere employee’ collecting a paycheck but to which the company now seemingly owed nothing – a move that just as easily might have led to absolute devastation of its creative core, if not the total dissolution of the company – mercifully, instead portended to nothing less than a rebirth of the organization’s bread and butter.  Arguably, no one was more surprised by this turn of events than Katzenberg – whose glorified bean-counting made sense of the picture business solely from the perspective of producing ‘winners – and ‘live action’ ones at that, generated from pre-sold and all but ironclad ‘safe’/marketable properties.
While The Little Mermaid will always remain the picture that impressed Katzenberg enough to green light future projects, marginally altering his preconceived notions about the validity of maintaining an animation department (though he never fully understood it), ‘Mermaid’ equally penetrated through a decade long/company-wide spiral into oblivion, resurrecting Disney Inc.’s image as the purveyors of sweetness and light, while introducing a whole new generation to its heavily branded hallmarks in ‘family entertainment’. But with the advent of new and improved technologies, Beauty and the Beast is, at once, both a sincere attempt to turn back the clock to 1959, yet, also, advance the art of animation even further into the next millennium with its striking use of computer-generated schematics, seamlessly blended into the tradition of hand-drawn cell animation, meant herein to add yet another uncanny layer of verisimilitude to the visual experience. It works, primarily because co-directors, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise know precisely how best to utilize ‘the new’ without solely relying on it to serve their point and purpose. The ballroom sequence, as example; set to the movie’s title track is among the greatest achievements in any Disney movie, a magical swirling spectacle, sweetly sung by the tea kettle, Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) while our protagonists whirl about; the camera seemingly freed to swoop and rise from the intricate parquet floors to an exquisitely vaulted-ceiling, complete with candle-flickering crystal chandelier and frescos depicting winged cherubs, responding to the unlikeliest of grand amours below, between a lowly country girl and the hideously disfigured creature, presumably from the netherworld.
In and of itself, there was nothing ‘new’ about this technology; it having been ‘tested’ during the climactic ‘Big Ben’ sequence from The Great Mouse Detective (1986); an otherwise rather tepid and uninspiring reworking of the Sherlock Holmes formula.  But its implementation in Beauty and the Beast makes all the difference to two pivotal sequences in the picture; the aforementioned ballroom ‘money shot’ and the exuberant ‘Be Our Guest’; a sort of ‘supper club’ floorshow put on by Lumiere (voiced by Jerry Orbach); a Maurice Chevalier-inspired boulevardier, reconstituted herein as a candelabra, Mrs. Potts, and, the reluctant participation of the infinitely more officious Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers) – a mantel clock. Interesting, it should have taken Disney almost fifty years to turn Beauty and the Beast into an animated feature.  Indeed, the project had always been in Walt’s afterthoughts, almost from the moment his consignment of European fairytale books arrived state’s side. But for one reason or another, it never materialized, despite illustrator, Kay Nielsen verve for the project. Arguably, the war years had interrupted – even stifled - Walt’s most ambitious and fertile creative period. After the war, Walt became inveigled in several passions that steadily eroded his commitments to feature animation; entrusting most of his fifties output to a select group of his most competent staff; overseeing the work on a semi-casual basis, yet infrequently stepping aside to pour more effort into his foray into television and, of course, the creation of Disneyland.
Beauty and the Beast is practically perfect as the ‘official’ inaugural, or perhaps, reintroduction of feature animation at the studio.  Alas, it would prove as bittersweet an occasion as an overwhelming success for all concerned; in hindsight, the only Disney feature to date to be nominated in the Best Picture category at the Oscars; a year that bestowed the coveted award on Johnathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, but also featured some heady competition from Barbra Streisand’s The Prince of Tides and Oliver Stone’s J.F.K.  What was generally unknown at the time of pre-production, was Howard Ashman (the brilliant playwright and lyricist who, along with his equally as talented songwriter/composer, Alan Menken – the duo having immeasurably contributed to the return of musicals as viable mainstream entertainment with their score for The Little Mermaid) was gravely ill with AIDS. While Menken would remain productive throughout the gestation of Beauty and the Beast, even contributing several songs, eventually to wind up in the studio’s upcoming Aladdin (1992), he would not live to see the fruits of either of these labors. In gratitude, Beauty and the Beast features a heartfelt dedication in memoriam: “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful. Howard Ashman 1950–1991.”
I cannot believe it has been 25 years since Beauty and the Beast first premiered. Where has the time gone? I can, in fact, clearly recall the theater and the actual seat I occupied in it for the opening night premiere, crowding into the full-to-capacity auditorium with four cousins and two tubs of popcorn between us to partake of what was almost instantly a crowd-pleaser, grabbing hold of my imagination as a truly memorable night at the movies. I have had far too few of these watershed moments in the intervening decades since and virtually none devoted exclusively to the art and craft of hand-drawn animation in the last ten years – not even from Disney. But what audience and critics alike were to happily rediscover with Beauty and The Beast in 1991 was a burgeoning epoch, paying homage to the past while never slavishly devoted to its artistic integrity. For a decade thereafter, The Walt Disney Company seemed on the verge of another full blossom. And while Disney Inc. has since reinvented itself yet again, this time with a live-action resurrection of its time-honored animated classics, at least a part of the ‘intangible magic’ that was ‘hand-drawn/hand-painted’ cell animation, is gone – or perhaps, merely retired for the time being. At least, that is my sincerest hope.
In altering the ending of Leprince de Beaumont’s fable (in the original, the beast dies after knowing true love), directors, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise reintroduced children of all ages to Disney alchemy of the highest order. Purists continue to poo-poo the studio’s meddling with traditional fables. To this we heartily confess: nothing bad ever happens in a Disney fable – unlike a good many of the masterworks from which their inspiration hails. But at least this time around, Trousdale and Wise give us every indication something just might; the penultimate castle rooftop battle to the finish between the wounded beast (voiced by Robby Benson) and the boorish and musclebound village stud, Gaston (Richard White) giving pause as one of the most violently staged assaults and near-death experiences yet to be realized in a Disney animated feature. For sheer exhilaration I would sincerely place this moment on par with the penultimate dragon fight at the end of Walt’s own Sleeping Beauty; the picture that has remained at the forefront my personal favorite ever since I first saw it at the impressionable age of ten.
But Beauty and the Beast is, I think, a picture that goes well beyond the creative aegis and parts gone into its incubation; the Howard Ashman Alan Menken score, full of robust Broadway-esque tunes and routines, capped off by a poignant title track/ballad; the compendium of voice talents, many already mentioned, who brought it all to life, including Paige O’Hara, a rising star of the theater, having won the audition to ‘star’ as Belle; the formidable return to what producer, Don Hahn once referred to as “a ‘Doctor Zhivago’ kind of snow” - inspired majesty, translated to a heightened visual grandeur rarely seen in animation then and all but absent from it since. It is far too easy to merely cherry-pick out the ‘best’ or perhaps, mere ‘favorite’ parts of the show as overly simplified citations pointing to its greatness in totem as an artistic achievement. But to do so is to undermine the inspired kinetic sparks of energy coursing throughout the exercise, or perhaps, more aptly – and ingeniously – laid out as the sustaining arteries between the audience and the art of animation. Beauty and the Beast easily became one of the brightest and biggest money makers in the company’s history. More importantly, at least for posterity, it has remained a timeless part of the Disney canon of movies ever since; moodily magnificent in its storytelling, and quite simply one of its finest efforts to date.
The picture opens with a succinct prologue making exemplary use of the multiplane camera, effortlessly gliding past a series of glass plates depicting a dense forest, ascending to the topmost stained glass windows of a remote castle. We discover how the beast came into being; a handsome prince with a heart of stone, transformed by a beautiful enchantress, outwardly to reflect the hideousness of his vacant soul. The economy of this narration is offset by the sumptuousness in the visuals, keeping the ‘big reveal’ of the beast a secret until considerably later on. From here, we regress to a pastoral, ‘provincial’ French village; the locals, apart from a benevolent bookseller (Alvin Epstein), all considering Belle, a rather perversely headstrong and quixotic young lass. The muscular Gaston, very much tugging at the physical contents of the classically designed ‘Disney prince’, favors Belle also, much to her displeasure and the chagrin of a trio of absent-minded blonde bimbos who would have preferred him for their diverting romantic pleasures. Yet, Gaston, who outwardly possess every virtue of the idolized male paragon, inwardly is as mindless and grotesquely piggish as any swine in the pen; his one ‘friend’, Lefou (Jesse Corti) merely kept as the comparatively diminutive and unprepossessing straggler to fetch and carry; also, to be ruthlessly manhandled whenever Gaston’s testosterone-driven temperament gets the better of him.
Belle’s father, Maurice (Rex Everhart), cruelly teased by Gaston as ‘crazy’, is an inventor of a new automatic wood chipper; a device he sincerely hopes will win him first prize at the fair taking place in the next county. Alas, leaving too late in the afternoon, Maurice is caught unawares and, under the cover of a spooky night, loses his way. Driven deeper into the woods by a torrential downpour and a pack of wolves, Maurice gradually stumbles upon the ‘beast’s castle’; introduced to Lumiere, the candelabra and Cogsworth, the clock. They are congenial. But their momentary respite together is interrupted by ‘the beast’; inhospitable and threatening, choosing to imprison Maurice in a locked tower because he presumes the old man has come merely out of curiosity to laugh and leer. Meanwhile, back at the inventor’s cottage, Belle is forcibly goaded by Gaston to partake of a marriage ceremony he has already arranged without her permission, or even, without first proposing as any amiable young suitor ought.  She denies his claim on her and, in short order, finds a clever way to expel him from the house. While Gaston retreats in humiliation to the local bar, his rage seething, Belle discovers her father’s horse, Phillipe, having returned without him. Worried what has become of Maurice, Belle ventures deep into the woods and is taken to the castle by the horse. The beast yowls and terrorizes but to no avail as the headstrong Belle barters her freedom for her father’s release. Maurice is horrified. But the beast agrees to this exchange and sends Maurice packing in an enchanted coach taking him back into the village.
Meanwhile, Gaston plots with the rather villainous Monsieur D'Arque (Tony Jay); proprietor of the local asylum, to have Maurice committed unless he consents to force Belle to marry him. The unscrupulous D’Arque momentarily resists until Gaston produces a bag of money as his remuneration. Back at the castle, things to not go as planned. The enchanted rose, given to the beast long ago by the enchantress who transformed him, has begun to wither. If the beast cannot learn to love and be loved in return by the time the last of its petals falls to the ground then the beast will remain as such for all time. In despair, the beast lashes out at Belle, who tries to escape the castle. She is attacked by the wolf pack, but spared and protected by the beast, momentarily made unconscious from all the exertion and a rather severe wound to his forearm. Belle could so easily leave the beast to die in the snow. Instead, she affords him mercy and her gratitude, later tending to his wound near a roaring fire. This act of benevolence marks a turning point in their understanding; a friendship steadily grows as the beast learns to respect Belle and she comes to unearth a queer and burgeoning affection for his awkwardness. At an opportune moment, Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts concede the beast has run out of time. He must make a passionate play for Belle’s affections or risk remaining a beast forever.
The beast shares his magic mirror with Belle. In its glass she can see whatever she chooses and so she inquires to know what has become of her beloved father. In reply, Belle is shown Maurice, badly ailing from once again having lost his way in the forest in search of her. Sacrificing his own happiness, the beast encourages Belle to go in search of Maurice. What she quickly finds is Gaston and Lefou keeping vigilant watch over their cottage, lying in wait of Maurice’s return to commit him to the asylum.  Belle is mortified and stubbornly refuses to submit to Gaston’s demand to wed him. She informs the town her father’s story of a hideous beast lurking in the woods is true by using the magic mirror to show the skeptical townsfolk his image. Gaston decides to exploit the beast to his own advantage, raising the specter of a sadistic and blood-thirsty creature who will make off with their children and murder unsuspecting villagers in their beds, lest they raise a posse against it now and storm the castle by surprise to destroy the beast first. Belle is powerless to prevent the anxiety of the mob turned against her and Maurice. They are imprisoned in their basement cellar of their home while the mob, under Gaston’s leadership, march toward the castle with pitchforks and burning torches in hand; a moment, almost verbatim excised from the ole Universal cycle of classic horror movies; notably, Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
The mob charges the castle gates. Lumiere and Cogsworth inquire what is to be done. But the beast, believing he has lost Belle, no longer values his own life. He instructs his staff to do nothing, but rather allow the mob their vengeance he now also bitterly welcomes. However, Lumiere and Cogsworth are not about to take things lying down. Together with the other self-possessed inanimates, they stage a valiant assault on the mob; the villagers startled to be chased and hunted down by stoves, flatware, armoires, brooms, feather-dusters etc. et al. steadily retreating in waves of comedic fear. But Gaston’s cruelty will not be satisfied until he unearths the location of the beast, discovering it heart-sore and isolated in a tower room. Relishing the opportunity to prove his physical supremacy, Gaston attacks and pummels the beast, who refuses to protect itself until he spies Belle charging up the drawbridge, begging for his life to be spared. Realizing she has returned to him out of love rather than pity, the beast becomes invigorated and counterattacks Gaston. The two struggle atop the turrets and steeply sloped rooftops as a heavy rain begins to fall; the beast eventually seizing Gaston by the throat and suspending him over a ledge to his certain death. Gaston reveals his true colors, cowering like a frightened goat. Ever the compassionate, Belle would not see even Gaston destroyed. The beast, having discovered his own heart closely aligned to Belle’s, momentarily resists putting an end to Gaston, affording Gaston the opportunity to inflict what appears to be a fatal wound with his concealed knife. Unable to hang on, the beast releases Gaston from his clutches. He plummets to his death and the beast collapses on an adjacent balcony, weak and dying.
However, moments before he presumably expires, Belle confesses her love for the beast. The last petal of the enchanted rose falls to the ground as Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth look on with an air of tragedy. It is too late for salvation for any of them…or is it? As spectral shafts of light begin to fall from the sky, the beast’s unconscious remains rise up, wrapped in his cloak now resembling a cocoon. Magically, the beast is restored to his former self, the handsome prince, awakening from under the spell and revealing to Belle the beast she loves and he are one in the same. The rainstorm is brought to a magnificent end; the castle’s dark and foreboding exterior, complete with wicked/winged gargoyles, restored to its former glory; a glittery and palatial retreat. The inanimates, Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts et al. are restored to their former human forms; the scene dissolving into the predictable and prerequisite fairytale ending; the prince and Belle, newly husband and wife, sharing in a dance as the courtiers look on with admiration; the camera pulling away to reveal a new stained glass window depicting their story as the Menken/Ashman score reaches its crescendo; immediately followed by Celine Dion and Peobo Bryson’s melodic pop-tune rendition of the title song (a chart-topper in its own right for some time thereafter).
Beauty and the Beast is an exuberant movie; yet one occasionally belying the studio’s as yet cost-cutting anxieties. The aforementioned set pieces are all executed with a highly stylized visual aplomb. And yet, it is the connective tissue in between them that can sometimes appear slightly ‘less than’ or, perhaps, less ‘tricked out’ by direct comparison. It is perhaps grossly unfair to compare any of the renaissance Disney classics to the ones made under Walt’s creative aegis; the latter, having the luxury of time and Walt’s meticulous planning; also, the great advantage of skilled draftsmen like Marc Davis and Ollie Johnston to ‘breathe life’ into these still drawings. In and of themselves, the character designs created for Beauty and the Beast are some of the most engaging as yet in any Disney movie. However, in execution they occasionally tend to feel much ‘looser’ in their movements than anticipated; the beast in profile, as example, frequently looking as though the perspectives of his facial features are in grave danger of falling apart. Ultimately, the mastery in the storytelling, Linda Woolverton’s screenplay (ably assisted by almost a dozen story editors and idea men/women) and the superb pop chart-topping score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman goes a long way to conceal these ‘imperfections’. And indeed, comparatively speaking, if I had to list my favorite Disney movies based solely on the studio’s repertoire of ‘classic fable-inspired’ stories; Beauty and the Beast would come in at #2, right after my all-time favorite, Sleeping Beauty (although, I think it fair to explain, that if we are speaking of the entire Disney animated canon, then Beauty and the Beast falls to #8 in the list of my all-time greats, at least, in my estimation; preceded by Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, Bambi, Fantasia, the animated The Jungle Book, and, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, closely followed up by Pinocchio, The Rescuers, Dumbo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Aladdin, The Lion King, and, The Aristocats).
Shortly before work on the final clean-up animation began, the executive decision was made to jettison ‘Human Again’; a Menken/Ashman tour de force depicting the aspirations of the inanimate objects, who dream of being fulfilled once more in their former human entities, should the romance between Belle and the beast work out to everyone’s advantage. In hindsight, this decision seems to have been made mostly to keep production costs in check, although, at the time it was suggested more to conform to the traditional run time of approximately 90 minutes. Whatever the case, it would take another six years before ‘Human Again’ was reinstated into the movie for the re-release of Beauty and the Beast: The Special Edition into theaters, followed by a deluxe 2-disc Platinum DVD. One of the fascinating, and oft overlooked aspects of the picture is it had a very unusual ‘sneak peek’; the entire movie presented in select theaters almost a whole year ahead of its theatrical release as a ‘work print’ – showing progress made up to that point, with incomplete sequences substituted with pencil tests, hand-drawn animation looking very rough on paper and even still images. The ‘work print’ edition eventually surfaced on LaserDisc as a ‘standalone’ release and later became part of the Platinum Edition DVD and earlier marketed Blu-ray.
But now we have the reissued Walt Disney Signature Collector’s Edition. One would sincerely expect all of the archival goodies featured on the previously released DVD and Blu-ray would have found their way to this re-release. But no: once again, the Walt Disney Company under its present-day management have their hands on the proverbial ‘chicken switch’ when it comes to satisfying their hardcore – even their new generation – fan base. For although this Blu-ray advertises 3 versions of the movie for one’s consideration (the original Blu-ray contained the original theatrical cut, the aforementioned ‘work print’ edition, and finally, the ‘extended version’ with Being Human reinserted), this new to Blu incarnation only contains the theatrical cut and the extended cut. The ‘work print’ has been inexplicably replaced by a ‘sing-a-long’ version that I easily could have done without. I mean, what would have been so wrong with merely providing an edition with subtitles?!? Worse, virtually all of the classic Blu-ray extras, as well as those originally featured on the Platinum Edition DVD have been discarded; Disney Inc. giving viewers the opportunity to go online with a special activation code to access all of this discarded footage without the ability to actually download it for themselves and keep a legitimate ‘hard copy’ in their personal archives. Personally, I think this is a gross oversight on Disney’s part; the company still eager to give us a DVD copy of the movie as a ‘second disc’. Psst, fellas – DVD is dead, or will be very shortly. What a waste of a good ‘second disc’ of possibilities. I would have much preferred the ‘second disc’ contain all of the aforementioned extras from the original release – even in DVD format!
So, what is here? First off: all ‘3’ versions are housed on a single Blu-ray. Image quality is virtually on par with the previously issued Blu-ray and I suspect this is where Disney Inc. has come under the greatest scrutiny since the advent of Blu-ray. In the bad ‘good ole days’ of VHS, the company could ‘retire’ its classic animated features, knowing that by the time they were reissued to home video a good four to six years again, a good many of the ‘tape versions’ had likely worn out and were, for all intent and purposes, in need of a better video master upgrade. The same could arguably be said of the old DVD reissues. But with Blu-ray, done properly, the quality will out for decades yet to follow, if indeed, ever to be in need of an upgrade. Those already owing Beauty and the Beast on Blu-ray Version 1.0 will seriously want to reconsider this V 2.0 because there is absolutely NO good reason to upgrade in terms of video/audio quality. The image, as before, is rich and robust in colors and textures, with exceptional contrast and refined detail. The DTS 5.1 audio is enveloping and gorgeous.
In place of the MIA extra features, Disney has added a few ‘new to Blu’ junkets that really are ‘poor cousins’ to the myriad of expertly produced features gone before them: including two brief featurettes: one with Paige O’Hara affectionately waxing about her career before, during and since Beauty and the Beast, the other, a sort of ‘love in’ between Alan Menken and ‘friends’, who spend a good deal of time simply reminiscing about what the movie has meant to them. There is also #1074: Walt, Fairytales & Beauty and the Beast; a compendium of audio sound bites from Walt, married to a voice over narrations and images that fleetingly cover the impetus for the movie’s creation without actually getting to the creation of the movie itself. For that, as previously mentioned, one has to go to the internet to access all the classic ‘bonus features’. The most superfluous of the new to Blu extras is 25 Fun Facts about Beauty and the Beast, hosted by a pair of Disney Channel (choke!) stars. While the previously released Blu-ray was arguably targeted to children from ages one to ninety-two, this reissue has sincerely limited appeal by comparison. Particularly, for a release advertised as a ‘signature’ edition, the absence of the old extras just seems silly to downright gauche and insulting to real diehard Disney fans. Sorry, but that’s the way I see it.  If you do not already own the original Blu-ray release, my sincere advice is to hunt it down and pay whatever a third party Amazon seller is asking for it, because it really is the better deal. This reissue is simply lacking. For shame, Disney Inc. Another grand opportunity utterly squandered. Bedknobs and Broomsticks…anyone?!?!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



Travisman said...

Great review Nick and thanks for the synopsis of Disney's animation history. May I correct you on one point though? This film was not the only Disney movie nominated for best picture. Mary Poppins also received that honor for the 1964 academy awards.

Nick Zegarac said...

I stand corrected. I ought to have said only 'animated' feature to be nominated in the best picture category, which is really what I meant. But thanks for reading and helping the cause along. Best.