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Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Blu-ray & DVD Review

Beauty and the Beast (1991) movie poster Beauty and the Beast

Theatrical Release: November 22, 1991 / Running Time: 84 Minutes (SE: 92 Minutes) / Rating: G

Directors: Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale / Writers: Linda Woolverton (animation screenplay); Howard Ashman, Alan Menken (songs); Brenda Chapman, Burny Mattinson, Brian Pimental, Joe Ranft, Kelly Asbury, Christopher Sanders, Kevin Harkey, Bruce Woodside, Tom Ellery, Robert Lence (story); John Sanford ("Human Again" story supervisor), Roger Allers (Special Edition story)

Voice Cast: Robby Benson (Beast), Jesse Corti (Lefou), Rex Everhart (Maurice), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), Paige O'Hara (Belle), Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), Bradley Michael Pierce (Chip), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth, Narrator), Richard White (Gaston), Jo Anne Worley (Wardrobe), Mary Kay Bergman (Bimbette), Brian Cummings (Stove), Alvin Epstein (Bookseller), Tony Jay (Monsieur D'Arque), Alec Murphy (Baker), Kimmy Robertson (Featherduster), Hal Smith (Philippe), Kath Soucie (Bimbette)

Songs: "Belle", "Gaston", "Be Our Guest", "Something There", "Human Again" (Special Edition only), "Beauty and the Beast", "The Mob Song", "Beauty and the Beast" (end title duet)

Buy Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition (2 Blu-ray Discs, 1 DVD) from Amazon.com in...
Blu-ray Packaging Deceptive DVD Packaging / New Standard 2-Disc DVD (available November 23)

 
By Aaron Wallace

If you've paid attention to Disney's ad campaign this month, you've probably seen commercials calling Beauty and the Beast "the most acclaimed animated film of all time." That's not really true, but the 1991 hand-drawn feature is the only one of its kind to receive a nomination for the Best Picture Academy Award.

Accepting the movie's elite Oscar status isn't easy for the Disney fan. On the one hand, the film is eminently worthy not only of the nod, but a win. On the other, it's no more so than a dozen other animated classics that haven't been so recognized, including a few released that same decade. Characteristically, the Academy's track record with animation has as much to do with timing and politics as it does the movies themselves, but there's undeniably something especially Oscar-esque about Beauty and the Beast.

"Oh, isn't this amazing?" Belle wasn't singing about her Blu-ray transfer, but she could have been. Fight! Fight! Fight! Sorry, Maurice, my money's on the Beast.

Fairy tales are simultaneously the cause and the cure of our biggest complaint about Hollywood: retread. If most of today's romcoms and adventure stories are derivative, the fairy tale is the source from which they are derived. One might expect, then, that we'd grow weary of the original stories after decades of seeing them turned on their heads. On the contrary, a visit with these age-old dramas can be heartily refreshing. The important thing is that they be treated with respect.

Beauty and the Beast masterfully realizes the reverence due its source, a "tale as old as time".
That the movie's anthem dedicates itself to that lyric demonstrates how intent on timelessness the filmmakers really are. Everything about the film is epic, rich, and classy.

Belle is a remarkable protagonist, an unnervingly bold young woman determined to get more out of life than she's supposed to. Unlike her princess predecessors, she is the philosopher, the rescuer, and the moralist. In the movie's grand opening, we see her thoughts taking her outside the box and away from the provincial life that would confine her. When her father befalls peril, her decisive bravery and swift action leads her on a journey toward the very kind of adventure she's determined to have, though she doesn't know it at the time. Those actions are guided by her instinctive and selfless love for her father and, later, for the castle dwellers and the Beast.

She's the kind of hero we can all aspire to be. She challenges herself, does the right thing, and does it when it counts. Walt Disney famously said, "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." Belle is the literal embodiment of that idea. When her father's steed barrels in just as she's singing, "I want so much more than they've got planned," she stops talking, mounts the horse, and sets off into the woods without a moment's hesitation. As it turns out, her instinct to put her strong personal character into action in that moment will radically change her life. That's truly inspiring.

Cogsworth and Lumiere play charades ("Burning the midnight oil"). Poor Lefou... when does he get a theme song? Noooo ooone's short like Lefou, a cohort like Lefou, no one's bullied but still a good sport like Lefou...

And that's what makes Beauty and the Beast so terrifically epic: its dramatic engagement with themes of love, morality, and sacrifice. I suspect those are the very themes that made it so appealing to the Academy, which routinely honors that kind of thing at the expense of any other filmmaking objective. But the movie owes its greatness to more than just its refined and intelligent script.

The animation is extremely lavish in detail, evidencing the real strides that had been made even since The Little Mermaid, released just two years prior. The characters are not only fully realized and incredibly believable, they're also unforgettably lovable.
Clip from film's musical number "Be Our Guest":
The voice cast is up to the challenge of these lively roles, with Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, and the late Jerry Orbach earning extra notice for their very special work in making a teapot, a portly little clock, and a candelabra so endearing.

And then, of course, there are the songs. Alan Menken employs an appropriately classical style in his score, reemphasizing the film's timeless qualities. Together with Howard Ashman, he wrote several of the all-time greatest movie musical songs for Beauty and the Beast, an Oscar winner and two other nominees among them. From the tangible yearning in "Belle" and the go-for-broke grandeur of "Be Our Guest" to the dark commentary in "The Mob Song" and the haunting poignancy of "Beauty and the Beast", each of the movie's seven songs move both the story and the audience in a way that few musical numbers can. The soundtrack has been one of Disney's most successful and the movie is among the studio's higher earners at the box office and on home video.

Beauty and the Beast made its DVD debut in 2002 as Disney's second Platinum Edition, a deluxe line of limited-time-only DVDs that were once reserved for the studio's ten most popular in-the-vault titles. The Platinum Edition went out of print just three months later, in January 2003. In the seven and a half years since then, the DVD has become next to impossible to find for anyone not willing to pay sky-high prices on eBay or Amazon Marketplace. At long last, the movie returns to home video next week, making its Blu-ray debut with a DVD copy in tow, as the second release in Disney's new Diamond Edition line.

Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc & DVD Details

1.78:1 (Anamorphic) Widescreen
BD: DTS-HD MA 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (French, Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Blu-ray-only: English ESL, French
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: October 5, 2010
Three single-sided discs (2 BD-50s & 1 DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Also available in Deceptive DVD Packaging and, starting November 23rd, New 2-Disc DVD
Previously Released as 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD

DIFFERENT VERSIONS of the FILM

Like the Platinum DVD before it, the Diamond Edition presents three different versions of Beauty and the Beast (on both the Blu-ray and DVD). The first is the original theatrical cut, which isn't exactly that. A few of the minor changes made to the movie upon its IMAX re-release are unfortunately applied to the "original" cut on this release, just as they were on the Platinum Edition. The good news is that whereas the Platinum Edition had "corrected" a bit of audio in which the Beast stumbles over the line, "you wanna stay in the tower?," the Diamond Edition has reinstated the stutter. Otherwise, the bad news is that it looks increasingly likely that the public will go on robbed of the truly theatrical version in the future. At least Disney has included both versions on the DVD, but by the same token, if you're going to release two different editions, why not keep one of them unchanged?

After that is the Special Extended Edition, created for the 2002 IMAX release. The Special Edition sports some reworked background animation and the addition of a musical sequence, "Human Again", originally written for the movie but not used until the 1994 stage musical. I'm among the few Disney fans who embrace the song's addition as a meaningful glimpse into the castle characters' collective anxiety, but it isn't without its problems. During that scene, the characters clean up the dilapidating castle and restore it to glittering brilliance. That meant all of the background animation from that point on had to be reworked for the Special Edition to reflect the manor's new polish.

I'm not sure "Human Again" is the best time to play with a classic piece of art. In 1991, Beauty and the Beast was previewed in New York as a work-in-progress. Apparently, in 2010, the progress continues with all-new manipulations for the Blu-ray!

When the Platinum Edition DVD came around, Disney used seamless branching to switch from the theatrical cut to the new "Human Again" sequence. Immediately following that is a scene with Belle and Beast in the West Wing where the altered backgrounds are on display. With the next chapter, though, the DVD branched back to the theatrical cut and the original backgrounds, resulting in a continuity gaffe that few are likely to notice. Despite a lot more breathing room, the Blu-ray uses exactly the same maneuver.

The third version is similar to the Platinum Edition's Work-in-Progress version. Shortly before general theatrical release and before the film was finished, Disney screened Beauty at the New York Film Festival.
Producer Don Hahn's introduction to the Blu-ray's
work-in-progress picture-in-picture presentation:
This rough cut uses mostly unfinished/unpainted animation, pencil tests, and concept art, occasionally mixing in sequences that had already been finalized. In fact, more of the movie was complete than was even shown in New York; to round out the experience, the animators actually went back and substituted some of this rough work for a few of the finalized sequences. On DVD, the Work-in-Progress cut fills the whole screen. On Blu-ray, this edition of the movie is called the Original Storyboard Version. It's the same idea, but the final cut now fills up most of the screen instead, while the storyboard version plays picture-in-picture. The downside to this is that the storyboard cut is much smaller and thus harder to see, but it's easy enough to reference whenever you'd like while still enjoying the feature presentation. I did notice at least one fleeting instance early on where the Storyboard Version and the Work-in-Progress version used different art but unless you're watching side-by-side (like I did), I doubt you will notice or care.

The whole "human in love with a beast" thing seems a little less special once you find out Belle's a vampire. Screencap from 2002 Platinum Edition DVD. "There may be something there that wasn't there before." Screencap from 2010 Diamond Edition Blu-ray's DVD copy.

Screencap from Beauty and the Beast's 2002 Platinum DVD

Same frame from 2010 Diamond Edition Blu-ray's DVD copy

In all three versions, the original blue castle Walt Disney Pictures logo has been replaced by the newer, longer computer-animated fireworks intro, after which the Steamboat Willie-inspired Walt Disney Animation Studios logo has also been added. It's a shame that the original logo wasn't left in tact for at least the Theatrical Edition. It should also be noted that in preparation for the Blu-ray, Disney has gone in and made a number of new enhancements to the background animation in both the theatrical and Special Edition cuts. Disney is hardly the only studio touching up its backgrounds for Blu-ray, but that practice is harder to overlook in animation. Still, you're unlikely to pick up on most of the changes -- among the more notable is the addition of Belle's reflection in the window as she descends the stairs toward the ballroom.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray presents the movie in 1.78:1 widescreen, which differs from the 1.82:1 transfer (billed "1.85:1") used for the Platinum DVD. Neither of these are technically accurate -- the movie was animated in the 1.66:1 ratio -- but the new transfer comes closer. So close, in fact, that the difference isn't really worth quibbling over.
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For those who insist, both the 1.78:1 and 1.82:1 transfers are just mattes of the original 1.66:1 frame. The directors reportedly approved of the 1.82:1 matte back in the day and the packaging claims that "the film's creators" assisted in this new restoration too.

The Blu-ray offers a mind-blowing 1080p and AVC-encoded transfer that really puts the "Beauty" in Beauty and the Beast. Without a doubt, this is the best traditional animation has looked in a high definition release. The image is flawless. Colors are astoundingly full and vivid. The level of detail is mesmerizing. Prepare to admire the molding on cabinets, the weaving in rope, and the texture in tile. In addition to proving how much Blu-ray really has to offer traditional animation, this transfer pays a huge compliment to Disney's animators, whose immaculate work can now be appreciated on a whole new level. There are absolutely no imperfections in the print whatsoever. No edge enhancement, no unwanted grain, and not one single, solitary visual artifact.

So dazzling and wonderfully colorful is this new transfer that one can't help but wonder whether it's entirely faithful to its source. An insert inside the Diamond Edition case explains that the restoration team found "extensive white dirt and water spots on the hand-painted backgrounds" that needed to be cleaned up for a high-def release. The film's creators joined the restoration team in "the meticulous process of cleaning up this beloved classic" in order to restore it "beyond its original brilliance".

In this version of Sleeping Beauty, the fairies battle over "pale yellow" and "VHS gold" for the princess' dress. Still from Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition DVD - click to view screencap in full size. I'm always waiting for Belle and Beast to run into Rhett and Scarlett on their way down. Still from Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Blu-ray's Bonus DVD - click to view screencap in full size.

Screencap from Beauty's 2002 Platinum Edition DVD

Same frame from 2010 Diamond Edition Blu-ray's DVD copy

Comparing the new transfer to the Platinum Edition DVD, one finds a dramatic disparity in the color palettes. Generally speaking, the colors are much darker now. The skies are a crisp blue rather than a dull one (and in the opening number, the sky is strikingly orange), Belle's dress is a deep gold instead of pale yellow, and her hair is a darker brown with a noticeably redder tint. In fact, all of the reds now skew toward a much more candy-appled color. For instance, during "Something There", Belle's robe now looks like Christmas attire as opposed to a Pepto-Bismol Snuggie. The Platinum's transfer just looks washed out in comparison.

I'm apt to believe that the new transfer gets us closer to what the filmmakers might have intended. I have a pretty good memory, but not one that can summon the precise shade of gold in Belle's dress in theaters 19 years ago. I do know that the biggest complaint lobbied against the 2002 Platinum Edition was that it wasn't dark enough, particularly in comparison to the VHS release. As the film's original home video format, the VHS set everyone's color expectations in stone, for better or worse. Over the years, a veritable cult of Beauty fans has arisen, demanding a return to the VHS palette of yore. That crowd should be a little happier now, as the new transfer is undoubtedly darker and moves closer toward the revered VHS, although it's not nearly that dark (and I'm not convinced it should be).

A scene often used as an illustration is the one where Belle first asks Beast to "come into the light". On VHS, the shadows were so dark that they quite effectively hid him from her view. On the Platinum DVD, he was clear as day the whole time. In the new transfer, you can still see him before Belle does but the shadowy effect is more effectively realized, the new transfer providing tremendous contrast between the light and the dark.

I think Beast was actually easier to see in the darkness back in the Platinum Edition days (that was SO eight years ago). Still from Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition DVD - click to view screencap in full size. Okay, that's not what you looked like on Match.com. Still from Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Blu-ray's Bonus DVD - click to view screencap in full size.

Screencap from Beauty's 2002 Platinum Edition DVD

Same frame from 2010 Diamond Edition Blu-ray's DVD copy

So heated is the debate on Beauty's coloration that Disney couldn't possibly satisfy everyone at this point. Without authoritative explanation from the filmmakers themselves, it's hard to say with any certainty which transfer really gets it right. It's important to remember that this movie was one of the first made with Disney's CAPS system and even the animators themselves might have had a hard time predicting the end result of each color.
Given that they were apparently involved in preparing this latest transfer, they may very well have guided the studio to a presentation here that's truer to their original work or intent. Ultimately, it's hard to make any definitive conclusions, but that won't stop the Internet grumblers from doing so.

What I can tell you is that watching Beauty and the Beast has never been as sensory an experience as it is now. Some may also question whether the picture has been digitally scrubbed clean at the expense of the original filmic qualities, but there is still original grain to be seen in the element, particularly in darker scenes and with darker colors, where the grain is actually pretty consistent. I feel fairly safe, then, in calling this transfer an unfettered win and an unquestionable upgrade over the Platinum Edition.

The Blu-ray's English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz/24-bit) surround soundtrack is similarly electrifying. Unfortunately, I had to review this using a 7.1 HD system with only 5 speakers and a sub attached. Even with that, though, I can't recall a more enveloping surround sound experience in my viewing life. Like a cartoon brought to life in your home, the music in this soundtrack seems to flow out of the speakers and carry you up in the air, where you float right in the middle of the ensemble-sung goodness. Every channel is perpetually active with dialogue, score, and effects. Directionality and channel separation are the order of the day. There's so much volume and clarity that you really start to feel you're inside the movie. I just can't say enough good things about it.

The DVD copy of this combo pack, Disc 1 of the downplayed and presumably underwhelming new two-disc DVD available on November 23rd, also presents the movie in 1.78:1 widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 displays. The transfer is the same one used for the Blu-ray, just in standard definition. Everything I've said about the Blu-ray's coloration applies to the DVD too, but the video quality is otherwise much less pleasing. With three versions of the movie crammed onto one single-sided, dual-layered disc, there's not enough breathing room for stellar video quality. Of course, that's all true of the Platinum transfer too. There is a noticeable (but just barely) level of grain that goes beyond what you find in the high-def presentation, creating a pervasive softness. Edge enhancement is also a recurring problem but it's much less pronounced than on the Platinum.

The DVD boasts a new Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix 5.1 surround soundtrack. Like most other DEHT mixes, this one is top-notch. There's not quite as much directionality as in the Blu-ray's DTS-HD track, but each channel is plenty active nevertheless. The Platinum's THX-certified Dolby Digital 5.1 mix was great but this new soundtrack is even better, particularly in its use of the rear channels. The movie really sounds terrific and you can't ask for much more on DVD.

Clip from new bonus feature "Composing a Classic":

BONUS FEATURES: BLU-RAY DISC 1

The Diamond Edition is a spoil of riches, its platter of bonus features arguably eclipsing any other. Curiously, the menu on each Blu-ray disc lists all of the bonuses for the whole set together. Fortunately, this review is a little more organized and will help you sort through it all! Unfortunately, there's such an enormous quantity of supplements that it's also going to require a lot of text to address everything in detail.

The first thing on Disc One is the audio commentary (access it by choosing Play and then choosing Modes). Featuring directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, producer Don Hahn, and composer Alan Menken, this is the same commentary track found on the old Platinum Edition DVD. That's good news because it's quite the fascinating and highly entertaining conversation. Keeping track of who's speaking can be difficult but that never matters much. The filmmakers share behind-the-scenes secrets, their inspirations for various sequences, their thoughts on the IMAX restoration, and their memories from the movie's mega-successful release. As an added bonus, you can still hear the old Walt Disney Pictures blue castle theme music at the start of their conversation.

After that is a Sing-Along Track (again, choose Play, then Modes), which is pretty much what you would expect. There's no bouncing teapot or highlighted words, but once this option is selected, the lyrics to each song will dutifully appear on the screen as they're performed.

Beyond the Play menu, Disc One's bonus features are divided into two categories: Backstage Disney and Family Play. The disc also supports BD-Live Interactivity.

Alan Menkens animatedly explains the songwriting process number by number to Don Hahn and Richard Kraft in "Composing a Classic." The radically different alternate opening (also known as "The Purdum Reel") features Belle, her father Maurice, her deleted sister Clarice, and a birthday gift that once belonged to her mother.

Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition

"Composing a Classic: A Musical Conversation with Alan Menken, Don Hahn, and Richard Kraft" (20:18, HD) is an absolutely enthralling roundtable in which producer Hahn and Disney historian Kraft quiz Menken on the creative process that led him and Howard Ashman to write Beauty's iconic music. Along the way, Menken performs abridged versions of nearly every song in the movie, acoustic piano style. This is, by far, the best bonus on Disc One.

Next up is a Deleted Scenes gallery with four video items inside it. First is an "Introduction to 'Alternate Scene Open' by Peter Schneider" (0:32, HD). Schneider, the first president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, gives a quick prelude to the very lengthy "Alternate Scene Open" (18:24, HD). The early animation here shows us nearly a quarter of a decidedly more European-feeling, Cinderella-esque version of Beauty and the Beast -- an approach that was later scrapped wholesale. Paying attention for nearly twenty minutes is a challenge, but the chance to see this is a real treat.

The deleted scenes continue with "Introduction to Deleted Scene by Roger Allers" (0:36, HD). The Beauty story supervisor sets up "Belle in the Library" (8:27, HD), a roughly animated scene in which Belle meets four new enchanted castle characters. While it's definitely cool to find brand new personalities who have theoretically been living in the castle all along, the scene goes on way too long and the movie is certainly better off without it.

From Ren Stevens to Belle, Christy Carlson Romano has held diverse lead roles for the Mouse House. She speaks of her latter in "Broadway Beginnings." Jordin Sparks is the latest in a long line of artists who've recorded covers of "Beauty and the Beast", though her music video budget seems noticeably higher than her predecessors'.

Family Play

"Broadway Beginnings" (13:06, HD) interviews a variety of big name celebrities who at some point have been a part of the Beauty and the Beast Broadway cast or crew.
Clip from new bonus feature "Broadway Beginnings":
Those interviews include a very mumbly Nick Jonas, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Donny Osmond, Ashley Brown (in her Mary Poppins dressing room!), Alan Menken, Christy Carlson Romano, Deborah Gibson, and Andrea McArdle. There's also some brief promotion of the NETworks-produced 2010 tour.

The nondescript "Music Video" (3:26, HD) is for "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks' cover of the movie's title song. Sparks has a fantastic voice and the vocals here are quite good. Unfortunately, the arrangement is a just-barely reworked version of Jump5's cover for the Platinum Edition (a video that has sadly been dropped on this new release). Jump5 really made the song their own, but with a drastically reduced tempo and totally generic production, this new recording is a lifeless R&B dud. The video is simple but pleasant, with Sparks appearing inside real-life castle locales.

"Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go" (1:04, HD) is not really a bonus feature, but an ad/tutorial for DisneyFile Digital Copy. For those who actually care about digital copies (I don't), the video only serves as an in-your-face reminder that this Combo Pack doesn't include one.

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Reviewed October 1, 2010.


Screencaps of film and common bonus features are taken from 2010 Diamond Edition Blu-ray's Bonus DVD, unless otherwise indicated.