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Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World - 2011 Special Edition DVD Review

Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World - 2011 Special Edition DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Bob Kline / Writers: Richard Cray, Carter Crocker, Alice Brown, Nancy Greystone, Sheree Guitar

Voice Cast: Robby Benson (Beast), Paige O'Hara (Belle), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), Jeff Bennett (Crane), Jim Cummings (Webster), Gregory Grudt (Chip), Rob Paulsen (Laplume), Kimmy Robertson (Fifi), Anne Rogers (Mrs. Potts), Frank Welker (Sultan), April Winchell (Chandeleria), Jo Anne Worley (Wardrobe)

Songs: "Listen with Our Hearts", "A Little Thought"

Video Premiere: February 17, 1998 / Running Time: 92 Minutes (Special Edition) / Rating: G

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio) / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Most Extras Captioned and Subtitled
Release Date: November 22, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Black Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on Instant Video
Previously released as Special Edition DVD and DVD + Rose Purse Gift Set (February 25, 2003)

Buy Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World on DVD from Amazon.com

How exciting it must have been for the Disney employee who had the idea to salvage episodes created for an animated TV series that wasn't going to materialize by stringing them together as a direct-to-video feature film.
Sure, it would be one of the very worst movies Disney put their name on, but how could you even know that? "Bad reviews" sounds like a reasonable answer, but if the primary audience for the studio's DTV efforts read reviews before buying, sales wouldn't have been nearly so strong out of the gate. Besides, this was early 1998 and the most criticism a typical person might have been exposed to were the always forgiving customer comments on Amazon.com. Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World presently carries a seemingly respectable three-star rating there and the four people who have taken the time to review the latest Special Edition DVD, released Thanksgiving week, have all given it perfect 5 out of 5 ratings. I'm here to tell you that Belle's Magical World is a far from perfect production.

It's tough to say why a Beauty and the Beast cartoon series didn't make it to the air. True, the animation and writing are abysmal by the standards of Disney's theatrical output. But TV standards are much lower; kids taken on a new adventure in an interesting universe every Saturday morning or weekday afternoon aren't likely to fuss about off-model frames. Perhaps the proposed Beauty series was considered one too many, with "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin" already claiming airtime on CBS and in the syndicated Disney Afternoon block. Both of those extensions of Renaissance musicals inspired ample fandom that persists a little even to this day. What we see in Belle's Magical World seems reasonably comparable. It is a mystery how production could have progressed enough for three episodes to be converted into a movie and a fourth later added.

The parts that comprise Belle's Magical World would seem innocuous enough alongside the likes of "Goof Troop" and "Bonkers." Separated from that landscape, though, and judged like a feature film worthy of following Disney Animation Studios' only Best Picture Oscar nominee, they are bound to raise some ire. How can they not? Consider all the passion, inspiration, and imagination poured into virtually every entry in Disney's now annual feature animation canon. Now, imagine taking four random installments of a mass-produced, farmed-out cartoon series and calling them the same thing. Only, you don't have to imagine because that's precisely what Belle's Magical World does and why it offends. It's like a Saturday morning lineup you wish had more variety and more commercial breaks. Let's face it; even the most fondly recalled animated children's TV show is better enjoyed in moderation than in mass.

After their well-intentioned apology forgery becomes known, Crane, Laplume, and Webster are banished to the winter snow. Fifi's folly is mistaking Belle and Lumiere's anniversary preparations for romance.

After opening with the plainest title sequence imaginable, a brief black card of white text, Belle's Magical World pulls a book from a crude CGI library bookshelf and proceeds to supply one would-be episode after another, with nary an effort to link or unify them. Like The Enchanted Christmas, the genuine feature DTV sequel this followed by just three months, these stories take place during Belle's time as castle captive, with the Beast's staff cursed to live as household objects: a candelabra, a tea cup, a gravy boat, and such.

"The Perfect Word" finds Belle and Beast bickering over dinner. When pen Laplume, paper Crane, and dictionary Webster take it upon themselves to forge an apology note from Beast, all is better, until the truth comes out and further enrages the stubborn master.
In addition to advocating contrition (also between Lumiere and hearing-impaired Chandeleria), the segment seems designed to build vocabularies.

In "Fifi's Folly", the female feather duster is looking forward to the fifth anniversary of her first date with Lumiere. Belle helps Lumiere find the right words to convey his feelings and has him take her through the beats of their first date. Fifi misinterprets their planning as a new romance, unleashing her jealous side and an attempt to strike back with Cogsworth.

Third segment "Mrs. Potts' Party" was added for the movie's 2003 Special Edition DVD debut. How bizarre that there were a compatible 22 minutes to drop in here. In this, the bad weather has Mrs. Potts (not voiced by Angela Lansbury) feeling blue, so the rest of the gang decides to throw her a surprise party to cheer her up. But, they have trouble deciding on exactly what food and music the shindig should include. Talk about enchanted staff problems!

Finally, "Broken Wing" has Belle secretly aiding an injured bird. Naturally, when he finds out about, testy Beast does not agree with his captive's compassion and wishes to cage the bird over Belle's objections. There just might be another lesson learned.

A depressed Mrs. Potts catches Lumiere dropping roses intended for her surprise party. Belle shows this itty bitty injured bird some compassion with a splint.

At 92 minutes, the extended cut is one of Disney's longest DTV sequels and it certainly tests one's threshold for this sort of thing. The only transition between the episodes are music videos for some generic original Belle songs that play after the first and third segments.

The original Beauty and the Beast does less for me than its fellow Renaissance features, so perhaps that keeps me from liking Belle's Magical World better. On the other hand, if you really love and respect these characters, you might be even more disheartened to see them bickering over trivial misunderstandings and tidily resolving their issues in 22 minutes. Beast is especially incorrigible here, his outbursts tough to reconcile with his more redeemable film personality.

Unable to think of a more creative moniker, this new release of Belle's Magical World is confusingly branded a Special Edition just like the old one was. The movie clearly must not be the biggest seller in the studio's DTV canon. Unlike The Lion King sequels, Bambi II, The Fox and the Hound 2, and the concurrently reissued "predecessor" Enchanted Christmas, Belle's Magical World does not get a Blu-ray combo pack option. That probably means you won't see a hi-def physical media release of this movie until the next time the franchise, which is going into the "Disney vault" in the coming months, returns to retail, likely no sooner than 2017.

Lumiere thinks it's lovely weather for a gravy boat ride together with Fifi. The wrath of Beast is directed at Cogsworth and elsewhere in "Belle's Magical World."

VIDEO and AUDIO

There is no getting around it: Belle's Magical World is one ugly-looking movie. The animation is as bad as any bearing the Disney name, as characters grapple throughout with facial amorphousness. In one of the more glaring missteps, Belle's skin inexplicably varies from her usual fair tone to a burnt sienna, in no relation to environment.
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In addition to their artistic shortcomings, the visuals also deal with technical ones. The 1.33:1 full screen presentation -- presumably true to the original aspect ratio, which seems believable based on the TV origins even if other sequels from this period have been released widescreen -- is plagued by interlacing and, more troublingly, print debris -- specks and scratches appearing regularly. One assumes there is a digital version of this film somewhere, but this transfer clearly doesn't stem from it. Nor does it strike me as a new remastering, displaying these woes unusual for a 2011 DVD. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (the original DVD's DTS mix does not resurface) is okay, but somewhat unextraordinary. You can clearly identify it as a remix, and the elements are stretched a little thin by the channel separation. It's a satisfactory feature presentation for 2003, but less so today at a time when 1080p is prevalent.

The two random, detached musical numbers are thankfully presented with lyric subtitles for you to sing along with. Webster is one of three characters you've got to find in the first round of Belle's "Delightful" Dinner Game. Snow does little to deter birds' chirping in the sound effects-enabled version of the Enchanted Environment.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Extras begin with a Music & More section that merely presents the usual Disney's Song Selection feature. It lets you watch either or both of the film's two musical numbers (3:44) with or without plain italicized yellow subtitle lyrics over them for sing-along purposes.

Two items are listed under Games & Activities. First, there is the two-part Belle's Delightful Dinner Game. You look around four of the castle's rooms for Crane, Laplume, and Webster. When you've rounded them all up, you then answer multiple-choice trivia questions about the movie to light Chandeleria for dinner. The latter questions change order, but otherwise play is the same each time. Of course, the longer you wait after watching the unmemorable movie, the harder those questions become.

The other thing is neither a game nor an activity. It is an Enchanted Environment, which displays in full 16:9 what looks like part of the opening shot from the original Beauty and the Beast through different seasons, or rather snow and no snow. You can watch this scene with just music, just sound effects (birds chirp even in the snow), or a combination of the two. It's nice to look at for a minute, which is how long it takes to see the loop complete.

Hai, Kitty! Hai, Belle! Egomaniacal Gaston (Wolf Bauer) needs to learn "What's Inside Counts" in this "Sing Me a Story" episode. Red and blue oven mitts disagree to an egg beater's concern on the DVD's animated main menu montage.

Next, by far best, and the only new inclusion is "What's Inside Counts" (22:59), a complete episode of the 1999 TV series "Sing Me a Story with Belle." This didactic live-action series starred Belle (Lynsey McLeod) as the owner of a Parisian bookshop, home to a talking cat and book, and frequented by unsupervised children. It's on the order of "Barney & Friends" and remains pretty watchable today.
This episode emphasizes the importance of inner beauty to image-obsessed bookworms Lewis and Carroll and the ever-egotistical Gaston (the poorly pompadoured, Tommy Wiseauish Wolf Bauer), whose widely-anticipated Gaston Day party creates a conflict for the magic show that Crysta (Crysta Macalush) and Jacob (Jacob Chase) have been working so hard on. The episode includes narrated excerpts of the 1936 Mickey and Minnie short Mickey's Rival and 1935 Silly Symphony The Cookie Carnival.

The listed bonus features conclude with two standard inclusions, the longest cut of the Sprouse brothers' now-dated pitch for Blu-ray (5:57) and an explanation of digital copies (1:03), neither of which apply to this title.

The disc opens with ads for Disney Studio All Access, Lady and the Tramp; Diamond Edition, Brave, and Treasure Buddies. The menu's sneak peeks listing repeats those before getting to those trailers relegated to a post-FastPlay viewing of the film. The second string promotes Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Prep & Landing, Cinderella: Diamond Edition, and Secrets of the Wings.

The main menu plays a scored montage of clips bordered by listings and sidebar art.

The black keepcase holds a Disney Movie Rewards booklet and another promotional pamphlet. It's topped by a gift-tagged, extensively embossed cardboard slipcover.

Belle tries to reason with Beast in "Broken Wing." Good luck with that! "We're not in Disney Animation Studios anymore, Toto." Cut-rate Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, and Cogsworth look out the castle window in despair.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Belle's Magical World is strictly for Disney and Beauty and the Beast completists. What's here is not without interest in the vein of any movie-adapted TV series, but packaged as a sequel to one of the most respected animated films ever, it begs to be judged harshly. This new DVD doesn't really add much aside from the "Sing Me a Story with Belle" episode, which admittedly is a nifty inclusion, but not likely enough to get you to buy or -- gasp! -- rebuy this movie.

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Reviewed January 11, 2012.