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Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas Blu-ray + DVD Review

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas Special Edition Blu-ray + DVD cover art - click to buy combo pack from Amazon.com Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
Movie, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Director: Andy Knight / Writers: Flip Kobler, Cindy Marcus, Bill Motz, Bob Roth

Voice Cast: Paige O'Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Bernadette Peters (Angelique), Tim Curry (Forte), Haley Joel Osment (Chip), Frank Welker (Phillippe, Sultan), Jeff Bennett (Axe, Poke), Jim Cummings (Various), Kath Soucie (Enchantress), Paul Reubens (Fife), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts)

Songs: "Deck the Halls", "Stories", "As Long as There's Christmas", "Don't Fall in Love", "As Long as There's Christmas (Reprise)", "A Cut Above the Rest", "Enchanted Christmas", "As Long As There's Christmas (End Title Version)"

Video Premiere: November 11, 1997 / Running Time: 71 Minutes / Rating: G

Blu-ray: 1.78:1 Widescreen, DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Portuguese)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish; Most Extras Subtitled
DVD Movie and Most Extras Closed Captioned
Release Date: November 22, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in DVD Packaging ($39.99 SRP) and as Standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP)

Buy Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD • New DVD • Blu-ray + DVD in DVD Case

When Disney decided to get into the direct-to-video sequels market, they were in the midst of a hot streak, the hottest their animation department has ever experienced. Naturally, they turned to their hottest properties to be the first for sequel treatment. Blockbuster Aladdin sparked The Return of Jafar in 1994 and Aladdin and the King of Thieves in 1996.
Sales of those were strong enough to get the ball rolling on other projects, including a no-brainer follow-up to The Lion King and a new Winnie the Pooh movie (Winnie the Pooh's Grand Adventure) capitalizing on the Hundred Acre Wood gang's enduring retail success. At the same time, things were taking shape on not one but two new Beauty and the Beast movies.

The first one released, 1997's Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, was actually conceived and produced as a feature film. This movie gives us a look at the holiday implicitly celebrated during Belle's time as a castle captive. The opening scene has the Beast's staff, more recognizable and charming as the enchanted household items they were formerly cursed to live as, celebrating Christmas and remembering back a year earlier. Then, winter arrived just as Belle was warming to her beastly host. If you think, however, that means an entire film of holly jolly Christmas, think again.

Belle is excited to introduce Chip to the magic of Christmas in this seemingly cramped frame. The villain of "The Enchanted Christmas" is crudely CG-animated church organ Forte (voiced by Tim Curry).

Conflict is in high supply here. The catalyst of that is Maestro Forte, one of two prominent newly-introduced characters here (the other being the benevolent flute Fife, voiced by Paul Reubens). Forte (voiced by Tim Curry), a court composer turned immobile organ, is evil and does not want Belle to break his master's spell. The organ has his reasons, well, really just a hatred of humanity.

Belle (Paige O'Hara) is excited to observe Christmas, a holiday she teaches Chip the teacup (voiced by future Academy Award nominee Haley Joel Osment of The Sixth Sense fame) about. Others have their reservations about recognizing the occasion, not due to any religious objections, but to the retconned fact that Beast hates Christmas,
it having been the day when he as a bratty, petulant prince was cursed to live in his present state of hideousness. Nonetheless, the Beast can't forbid Christmas, they reason, and contact angel tree-topper Angelique (Broadway legend Bernadette Peters) to commence with the decorations she oversaw in human form.

Of course, Beast (Robby Benson) can forbid Christmas and with the hateful Forte feeding him lies, the temperamental master does just that. The debate on whether or not to celebrate Christmas persists, unfolding often through song. Then, there is something of an action climax, as Belle's search for a tree is misinterpreted and results in more than one character falling through apparently thin ice. Enchanted Christmas goes to surprisingly dark places, ones that Disney's typically toothless and tot-oriented sequels would generally avoid in the future. Of course, it's no spoiler to say that everything ends well and in just a little over an hour.

It is easy to recognize The Enchanted Christmas as one of the earlier entries in the class of what are disparagingly referred to as "cheapquels." The production studio credited here as Walt Disney Television Animation, later called DisneyToon Studios, just wasn't putting in the time and effort that would come to be expected during last decade's boom of such efforts. It is tempting to criticize the storytelling, a rudimentary journey of conflicts and resolution. The script, attributed to four individuals who have a grand total of one theatrical credit to their name, is absolutely unimaginative, but less so than some of the plain twist designs of other sequels (like Lady and the Tramp II and The Little Mermaid II).

More glaring than the writing deficiencies are the visual ones. The character of Forte is computer-animated and though this was done after the iconic Toy Story changed the medium as we know it, the CGI here is remarkably crude and disjointed from the 2D world around it. In addition, characters are off-model much of the time, their movements jerky and all over the place. I especially enjoyed Belle's lips randomly getting plump now and then. Even if you don't recognize and verbalize the specific shortcomings of the animation, you sense something amiss. Disney's animated features take time and craft, two things used sparingly here. Though the movie's cast returns where possible (including David Ogden Stiers as clock Cogsworth and the late Jerry Orbach as candelabra Lumiere), even the singing voices are occasionally unpleasant. It's as if a deadline overshadowed all other concerns. This is especially noticeable on Belle's big show-stopping number "Stories", in which Paige O'Hara is far from her best. "Good enough", someone must have said, well aware that videocassettes had to be on store shelves by Veteran's Day.

The Beast is surrounded by devilish, winged neon green babies during Forte's hateful song "Don't Fall in Love." "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" opens with Cogsworth and Lumiere in their less recognizable and charming human forms.

DisneyToon output would unquestionably improve technically, but that is almost immaterial to your enjoyment of their sequels. That comes down to the circumstances of your first viewing. Did you first see The Enchanted Christmas in 1997, with the original movie a fond not yet sacred memory? Were you still in elementary school and largely immune to cynicism? Or maybe you went through a Disney sequel phase later, when it seemed like a new entry was being released every few months? On these films, which do not receive the love and care of the theatrical endeavors, circumstances are crucial; form an attachment at a young and not terribly discerning age and you're bound to keep a soft spot in your heart.

This recent Blu-ray debut marked my very first viewing of Enchanted Christmas, so I entered with neither disgust nor nostalgia. Like many of Disney's fans, I'm not too crazy about the DTV sequels. But I'm not consumed with resentment over them. For over seven years now, I've typically watched them, written a review with measured enthusiasm at best, and then never revisited them or had any urge to. There are a couple of exceptions; the two Lion King sequels may have had more to live up to, but I enjoy them and only the first of those could be chalked up to a naοve and forgiving viewing state.

So, without any lingering hostility over the latter part of Michael Eisner's term and without any warm fuzzy memories of wearing out a tape with open clamshell nearby, what did I think of Enchanted Christmas? It's okay. My estimation of the original Beauty and the Beast, Best Picture nomination and all, is less than many Disney fans. For me, it doesn't resonate nearly as strongly as the other three in the so-called Big Four (a class that requires overlooking The Rescuers Down Under chronologically). Sacrilege, therefore, is not a huge concern. Yes, this is much shorter on artistry than its predecessor, but it isn't meant to be an animated classic enjoyed all the world over. It is meant to keep children diverted for the 65 minutes until the credits roll. For what is essentially TV animation, it does an okay job at that, certainly no better but also no worse. You probably won't love the movie, but you also won't be appalled by it.

Though Enchanted Christmas premiered in DVD's first holiday season, Disney had not yet made the leap to that format back then. The movie still became one of the first animated Disney DVDs available when it was released well in time for Christmas 1998. The movie got an upgrade in 2003's Special Edition DVD, released in the wake of its predecessor's Platinum Edition DVD debut. Now, a little over a year after the original Beauty came to Blu-ray and in between its Blu-ray 3D and theatrical 3D releases, Disney revisited The Enchanted Christmas in this Blu-ray + DVD combo pack also branded a "Special Edition" and promised to be available for a "very limited time."

Castle decorator turned angel tree-topper Angelique is still charged with livening up the place. In one of her many moments not entirely on model, Belle talks with the apparently Jewish axe with whom she intends to cut down a Christmas tree.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Enchanted Christmas no doubt looks better on Blu-ray than it ever has before. That said, the film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, which is not likely its original aspect ratio. Previously appearing in the old television standard of 1.33:1 and almost certainly not animated for anything wider than 1.66:1, the movie is probably matted to fill screens in the new standard 16:9. I noticed one shot that supported such a claim, in which Forte's eyes were oddly cut off at the top of the frame.

Like any film enthusiast, I'm a big believer in preserving original aspect ratio, no matter what that ratio is. Is the issue less important on a direct-to-video movie from the late '90s than it is on Citizen Kane? Theoretically, no. But in truth, I can't muster getting worked up about the possibility that we're getting less picture than what was intended. That was definitely bothersome on King of Thieves, made a year earlier. And yet, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, made a year later, was evidently produced in 1.66:1.
Illuminated Rotating Disney Tree Topper
The Ultimate Disney 50-Character Tabletop Christmas Tree
The difference between 1.66:1 and 1.78:1 is small enough to forgive, since you're not far from the typical overscan loss and everyday practice of framing 1.85:1 movies at 1.78:1. IMDb doesn't list a native aspect ratio. It's safe to say that the film's director did not approve this HD transfer because Andy Knight died in 2008 of a brain aneurysm.

Apart from the framing uncertainty, the presentation is perfectly spotless, although the colors do seem a bit pale. And, of course, it has to be said that this isn't the most handsomely animated film, nor does it seem to have been created with the foresight that it'd one day be seen in such great detail.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is also an update, but somehow a more agreeable one. The robust remix offers lots of great channel separation and a lively representation of music, dialogue, and sound effects. The last element is particularly effective, as noticed in a scene in which the wintry wind has great impact.

The DVD presentation is satisfying in its own right. There is some faint compression ringing around lines and the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't as powerful, but if you're watching The Enchanted Christmas more than once, chances are you're pretty easy to please. Exclusive to DVD is an unadvertised Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese dub.

Mail lady Inez (Cyndi Vicino), Jennefer (Jennefer Jesse), and Belle (Lynsey McLeod) all learn a few things about persistence in the "Sing Me a Story with Belle" episode "Stick to It (Don't Give Up)." The Blu-ray version of Enchanted Environment gives you fewer options for customizing this animated fireplace scene.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Extras begin with "Stick To It (Don't Give Up)" (22:57, SD), a complete episode of the 1999 live-action ABC TV series "Sing Me a Story with Belle." In the mold of "Pee-wee's Playhouse" but infinitely less manic, the series centers on Belle (Lynsey McLeod) at her bookshop which houses some living objects (puppets) and is frequented by human children.
As the title implies, this episode's theme is persistence and it is applied to a girl learning to play trumpet (Jennefer Jesse), pooped mail carrier Inez (Cyndi Vicino), the 1947 Pluto cartoon Mail Dog and 1950 Casey Jones short The Brave Engineer, which Big Book and Belle alternately narrate and sing over. What an appropriate inclusion and one never before released to DVD, let alone Blu-ray. Aside from the kids' fashions, it's not too dated either. Disney Channel could easily find a timeslot for this 65-episode run (it's a lot more watchable than some Disney Junior fare), but that would make this the oldest thing on their schedule.

Enchanted Environment is merely a computer animated scene of the castle fireplace (which you'll recognize only by the glass-encased rose on top). Snow falls outside the windows at the edge of the frame, while the melodies of familiar Christmas carols (such as "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Carol of the Bells", to name just two) play. I suspect it will run as long as you let it, but I didn't endure the full 27-hour, 12-minute runtime my player displayed and the songs start repeating 15 minutes in. Though there isn't much to see and it probably won't be your go-to Yule Log video, it's pleasant enough.

Swedish girl band Play has holiday fun in thee music video for their "As Long As There's Christmas" cover. Assistant animator Lisa Harlton explains her duties in a gift-wrapped detour from the behind-the-scenes featurette.

Next comes a music video for "As Long As There's Christmas" (3:20, SD) performed by a teenage girl group called Play. Apparently, they are from Sweden, though they don't sound or look like it. Shockingly, though you'd expect such a young pop band to be short-lived and they did indeed dissolve in 2005, they partially reunited in 2009 before breaking up again this past May. At least, their work is preserved here, which isn't always the case with Disney music videos. After a long intro from the movie, the girls rock out around a Christmas tree, often sharing the screen with Enchanted Christmas animation.

An untitled behind-the-scenes featurette (15:53, SD) is unexpectedly thorough and substantial. It's a promotional piece seemingly designed for electronic press kits, but it still shows us way more of the creative process than virtually any other direct-to-video Disney movie has. It shows voice actors recording lines, the orchestra recording their songs, also dealing out a wealth of cast and crew comments. It has been adapted from an interactive design, as a mouse head outline appears on screen before briefly delving into some topic with no action required.

Disney's Song Selection isolates the film's musical numbers with plain white subtitles of the lyrics above them. The "Play All" feature strings them together for a 14-minute, 12-second all-musical version. This is always a simple but welcome inclusion and this presentation gladly doesn't end most of the songs too abruptly.

Sing Along with the Movie simply displays those same lyric subtitles over the musical numbers as part of a viewing of the complete film. Again, this is something easy to offer and easy to never care about or activate.

The Blu-ray's extras come to a close with three standard items barely worth mentioning: Timon and Pumbaa's Blu-ray 3D pitch, an unwarranted digital copy explanation, and a legal disclaimer marked "Info."

Only on DVD will you experience the music lessons of Forte's Challenge. The DVD's main menu is like the Blu-ray's, but with more space for menu listings.

The DVD included here is the same one concurrently issued also labeled a Special Edition. It has all of the Blu-ray's bonus features plus one additional game. Forte's Challenge asks you to stop Forte's evil plan and save Christmas by playing the right organ notes on three different, familiar, and increasingly challenging holiday melodies
This requires you to be able to read piano sheet music, albeit some of the simplest there is and you can get a brief tutorial. Too many wrong key selections and you lose. If you win, though, you get to hear the whole short melody and what follows it, the cherry on top of your sundae of music pun encouragement/putdown at every right/wrong move.

In addition, the DVD lets you customize the Enchanted Environment to some degree, letting you choose between two different views and to play only music, only sound effects, or both. Furthermore, its presentation of the featurette employs the "click the mouse" interactivity at about six points to render detailed detours branching segments. Finally, in lieu of Timon and Pumbaa's Blu-ray 3D promotion, it features the older pitch for plain old two-dimensional Blu-ray featuring former Disney Channel stars Dylan and Cole Sprouse and their "Suite Life" mom Kim Rhodes.

The Blu-ray and DVD both open with promos for Disney Studios All Access, Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition, Brave, and Treasure Buddies. The Sneak Peeks listing repeats them, followed by ads for Disney Movie Rewards, Disney Parks, Cinderella: Diamond Edition (why do they always revoice this movie in ads?), and the delayed, retitled next Tinker Bell film, Secret of the Wings. The DVD's second string also slips in ads for last month's DVD-only releases of Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World and Prep & Landing. What a missed opportunity to promote January's 3D theatrical engagement of the original Beauty and the Beast, a release that is sure to underperform.

On both discs' menus, snow falls and the "Stories" instrumental theme score plays as we look inside the castle deck as a creeper might. Typical for the studio, the Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resume playback, though it remembers where you left off if you were unable to finish the film in one sitting.

This combo is available in DVD and Blu-ray packaging, less for semantics than for strategic retail positioning. My review copy was the slimmer, side-snapped Blu-ray case, which holds two inserts (a Disney Movie Rewards code and another promotional booklet) and is topped by an embossed, gift-tagged cardboard slipcover.

Jolly doesn't come easily for the temperamental Beast, not even at Christmastime.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas isn't especially enchanting.
It doesn't approach the heights of its predecessor nor does it bottle enough holiday magic to invite seasonal revisitation. Still, it's Disney animation that offers the chance to spend more time with characters who remain true enough to themselves in appearance and sound. For many, that is enough to enjoy the movie.

While I doubt The Enchanted Christmas ranked highly on anyone's list of titles they must upgrade from DVD to Blu-ray, this set certainly offers improvement over the out-of-print DVD in picture, sound, and bonus features. Apart from the questionable aspect ratio issue that won't bother too many, this is a nice package assembled for the film and the nicest it can really be said to deserve.

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Reviewed December 22, 2011.