|Discussion Boards | Reviews | News | Trip Planning | Shop | Travel | Site Map|
|Home Theater & Entertainment||
|Kevin Krock, editor|
For its second release in their Platinum DVD line up, Disney chose one of its most highly praised feature films from its new generation of animators, Beauty and the Beast. Please raise your hand if you have not seen this movie. Well, I do not see any hands out there, so I will not belabor the nitty gritty plot details of this classic fairy tale turned animated musical. However, for those of you that may have forgotten what it is all about, here is a quick summary: Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara), a beautiful, strong, book-reading brunette, discovers that her missing father is trapped in the castle of the Beast (voiced by Robby Benson). Upon reaching her father, she decides to trade her freedom for her father’s, and during her time with the Beast, falls in love with him, ultimately releasing him and all the castle residents from their transfiguration curse. Then, like any good Disney-fied fairy tale, everyone lives happily ever after.
While the story of Beauty and the Beast seems to be your basic fairy tale fare, the concept had been kicked around the Disney Studios since Walt’s time, yet nobody could figure out how to get it to work. Then, in the late 1980s, the story resurfaced, and things started to fall into place. After Disney’s hit with The Little Mermaid, they knew that they needed to pull out all of the stops to keep the new generation of animated family movies going strong. The production team for this movie included most of Disney’s relatively young but experienced story people, animators, artists, sound technicians, and composers. Working together as a team for the first time, they put together a lushly animated Broadway-style musical with the perfect balance of humor, romance, tension, and villainy.
The result was a huge box office success, and it is also the only animated film ever nominated for an Academy Award for best picture. In fact, it ended up earning six Academy Award nominations and won two Oscars, for best song "Beauty and the Beast" and best score (1991). It was a one-of-a-kind opportunity for Disney feature animation, and the movie looks, feels, and sounds like things were clicking right into place during its extremely short, two-year production schedule (animated films usually take 4 to 5 years to produce).
The movie was so popular and structured so much like a Broadway musical that it was expanded into a full-blown stage production (and a pretty darn good one at that). Four additional songs were added to the movie’s score, and the plot was fleshed out a bit more. Then, during planning for the movie’s tenth anniversary in 2002, Disney decided to take one of the songs from the musical and rework the movie to fit it in. In January 2002, Beauty and the Beast was re-released theatrically for the large screen format, like IMAX, with an additional song, "Human Again," which describes how much the castle objects are looking forward to returning to their human state. It is a catchy tune that blends seamlessly with the original animation and story.
Talk about your packed collections - Disc 1 alone almost demands that you watch the movie three and a half times to catch everything.
First, you must watch the special edition to see the spectacularly restored movie with the new musical number, "Human Again." Then, you must listen to the audio commentary by the always well-prepared, interesting, and enjoyable team of producer Don Hahn and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale (Atlantis, Hunchback of Notre Dame). Filled with funny stories and a ton of fascinating tidbits, this commentary, recorded specifically for the DVD, is well worth taking the time to listen to, and, to top it off, there are even a few comments by special guest commentator Alan Menken, the musical composer of the film.
After watching the special edition twice, you are now ready to compare the new with the old. Start with the work-in-progress edition to see how this movie came together a mere couple of months before its theatrical debut. This version gives a wonderful behind-the-scenes view of how an animated feature is constructed. Finally, watch the last half of the original theatrical release to catch all of the subtle changes in the backgrounds and castle environmental scenes that were made in the special edition because of continuity issues that arose from "Human Again." You will have to carefully listen to the commentary to find them, though.
The last bonus item on Disc 1 is a little trivia game, but the catch is that the completion of this game is the only way to access the West Wing area on the second disc. When you finish the fairly easy questions, you are given a three-character code that you use to access the adventure game on Disc 2. Honestly, neither the trivia nor the adventure games are particularly enthralling, and the adventure game turns out to be somewhat frustrating but not impossible. The payoff for completing these games is a letdown, and it is nothing that you cannot see by simply watching the end of the movie. It is a cute concept, but in this case, the end does not justify the rather protracted means.
Moving on to Disc 2, it, too, is chock full of treats. The disc is divided into four themed areas targeted for different audiences. I spent most of my time in the Cogsworth and Lumiere area, as it is for film fans, but the other areas have some items of interest. Fortunately, if you don’t want to go searching through the themed areas, you can go directly to the magic mirror and see a simple list of all of the bonus material on the disc.
If you are a film fan or Disney DVD collector, go to the Cogsworth and Lumiere area in Disc 2 as I did. Your best bet is to start with the "Play All" option to view all of the featurettes at once. Their total playing time is about 50 minutes, and they cover every aspect of the movie’s production in excellent detail. If you don’t have the time to watch them all at once, you can access these featurettes individually. To access all of the additional bonus material, such as galleries, presentation reels, alternate scene versions, animation tests, and trailers, you will have to visit each of the 10 animation production sections to find the corresponding features.
One particular favorite is the early story development information contained in the "Origins of Beauty and the Beast" and "Development" sections. These give you a good idea of where the story came from, why Walt’s folks gave up on trying to adapt the fairy tales, and how Don Hahn and crew solved the story problems. Another neat section features all of the character development efforts. The thought and effort that goes into developing characters always amazes me, and sifting through the dozens of sketches brings home how much work needs to be done before the animation starts.
Finally, the computer animation section is interesting to watch because of the rudimentary tools used to create the beautiful ballroom scene. I was mesmerized watching how little technology they had to use relative to recent computer-animated movies, but how they were able to create a visually stunning scene that sets itself apart from the rest of the movie. It is all great, great stuff, and none of it should be missed.
The Mrs. Potts area has less for movie fans, but the "Story Behind The Story" featurettes are interesting to watch. Disney celebrities Paige O’Hara, James Earl Jones, David Ogden Stiers, Robby Benson, Jodi Benson, Ming-Na, and Angela Lansbury discuss the background stories behind several Disney classic movies. The featurettes are relatively short, but are fun to watch at least once. In addition, there is a personality profile game, much like the one in the Beauty and the Beast room in the Disney Animation exhibit at Disney’s California Adventure park. You answer several personality questions, and Mrs. Potts tells you which Beauty and the Beast character you are most like. I am apparently most like Lumiere, but without the French accent.
Also in this section is "The Making of Beauty and the Beast" hosted by Celine Dion. Don’t be fooled; besides the introductory remarks by Celine, the body of the documentary is assembled from the featurettes in Cogsworth and Lumiere’s area. This assemblage is a bit shorter, but you can escape having to deal with Celine by just watching the "real" documentary in the other section in the first place. Finally, if you do like Celine, then you can watch the "Beauty And The Beast" music video staring Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. I skipped it, and I do not think I missed anything.
The third area to visit is Chip’s, and this is mostly for children. The "Disney’s Animation Magic" featurettes appear to be taken directly from the Disney Channel, and they feature the young stars of the Disney Channel’s show, "Even Stevens." It is basically a less involved description of the animation process for younger viewers, and while young children may enjoy it, I did not particularly care for it much. Chip’s Musical Challenge Game and the "Beauty And The Beast" music video by Jump 5 also fall into the category of "interesting for children, but probably nobody else." I think it is nice to have content that is applicable to a wide range of audiences, and fortunately, the balance between adult and child content works pretty well in this case.
The final area is the West Wing, and the only thing in this area is the "Break The Spell" adventure game. As I previously described, it may be worth struggling through once but don’t expect much for your effort.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
I have to jump ahead of myself a bit before talking about the video transfer. Disc 1 contains three different versions of the film: the October 1991 "Work in Progress" version, the original theatrical release version, and the January 2002 "Special Edition" large format theatrical release version. In order to make all this video fit on a single, double-layer disc, the video has to be more digitally compressed than if only one version were put in the same amount of disc space. From what I could tell, those with higher-end equipment may notice some occasional and subtle digital artifacts, but for the vast majority of folks, the video is fantastic. In exchange for the large volume of special video, I’ll take a little extra compression, especially since it appears that Disney was careful to strike a balance between all of the material crammed onto Disc 1.
As for some of the other video aspects, the colors are saturated, evenly balanced, and just plain beautiful throughout the movie, and the details are typically sharp and clear. Thanks to the fully digital transfer, the special and theatrical versions are absolutely spotless, and while the in-progress version has its film defects, they are completely expected and even desired for this type of behind-the-scenes version. As for the video on Disc 2, it is equally pleasing and should play well on any home theater system.
By the way, the layer switch on Disc 1 (1 minute and 47 seconds into chapter 12 on all versions) did not freeze my Pioneer DV-525, as the layer switch in Monsters, Inc. did. This also introduces an interesting question about how the disc was authored. Since all three editions share the same layer switch, they all must share some common feature. From a quick check, I noticed that Disney uses the "angle" feature to tie the three versions together, but the user is not allowed to switch between versions of the movie without first going to the main menu. There are two angles: the in-progress version is on one, and both the special and theatrical versions share the other angle. My guess is that all versions share a single audio track, but the chapter stops are organized in such a way that only the special edition includes the audio for the catchy new song, "Human Again."
This conveniently brings me to the audio. On Disc 1, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 (DD 5.1) surround sound track is simply wonderful. The music, voices, and sound effects are all very clean, well balanced, and spread all around the soundstage. There are plenty of surround sound effects, starting from the menus and carrying through the whole movie. In addition to the English language track, there is also a French language track which, for one of the few times on a Disney DVD, can be selected during the movie without having to go all the way to the disc setup menu. The audio on Disc 2 is also acceptable, and the menus are in DD 5.1, which makes it fun to listen to the voices and environmental sounds coming from all around. The supplemental material is mostly in basic stereo, which is pretty standard. It all works out to be a very nice audio package.
For those of you who remember the "immersive" experience of the Snow White DVD, you can expect a similar interface on both discs. All of the menus and transitions involve some sort of 3-D animation, and the sound is in DD 5.1, so you do feel like you are part of the experience. It is very well-executed, and it serves as the perfect environmental touch to get you into the world of Beauty and the Beast.
My only critical comments are that Disc 1 has "forced" previews... yes, you read correctly. Look forward to seeing ads for the Lilo & Stitch DVD, the Jungle Book 2 and Lion King theatrical release, the Sleeping Beauty Special Edition DVD (a nice confirmation that it will appear in 2003), and the Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas Special Edition DVD. Fortunately, you can select Menu at the first sign of the offending material and jump right into the good stuff.
The Final Evaluation
For the $20 or so you will pay at your local warehouse store for this set, I think Chip put it best, "You guys got to try this thing." Simply don’t miss adding this set to your collection.
This one now makes back-to-back winners for the Platinum DVD collection, and I look forward to a "threepeat" next fall when Lion King gets the Platinum treatment.
Disc 1 Goodies
Three versions of the film:
Disc 1 Technical Specifications
Disc 2 Goodies
Disc is divided into four areas:
MRS. POTTS – FUN FOR ALL AGES
CHIP’S – PERFECT FOR THE YOUNGER ADVENTURER
COGSWORTH & LUMIERE – FOR THE ULTIMATE FILM FAN
WEST WING – THE FORBIDDEN WORLD
is not associated in any official way with the Walt Disney Company, its
subsidiaries, or its affiliates. The official Disney site is available
This MousePlanet Web site provides independent news articles, commentary,
editorials, reviews, and guides primarily about the theme park resorts
of the Walt Disney Co. All information on this site is subject to change.
Please call destinations in advance to confirm the most up-to-date information.