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Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Blu-ray & DVD Review - Page 2

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)

 
BONUS FEATURES: BLU-RAY DISC 2

Disc Two has its own Backstage Disney and Family Play sections, joined by another heading, Classic DVD Bonus Features (supplements carried over from the 2002 Platinum set in standard definition).

A very pompous and aristocratic Gaston preens for the viewer in concept art from the character development video gallery. Broadway, television, and film legend Angela Lansbury (the voice of Mrs. Potts) weighs in with her thoughts on Disney's musical influence in "Full Circle to Broadway."

Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition (all presented in high-definition)

By far the most expansive supplement on this or any other Disney home video release is "Beyond Beauty: The Untold Stories Behind the Making of Beauty and the Beast". This feature is the first of its kind, a highly interactive documentary that takes somewhere in the neighborhood of four hours to complete. The main course is an all-new and truly excellent documentary covering Beauty and the Beast from conception to release.
The documentary is divided into six "acts", each devoted to a particular aspect of production.

Occasionally, a window appears at the bottom of the screen, inviting viewers to explore an ancillary gallery or featurette. Through the magic of Blu-ray, selecting the window (and you better do it fast, because it doesn't stay there long) starts a countdown clock, at the end of which the documentary quite seamlessly transitions into the new option you've chosen, as if it were part of the documentary all along. The featured speakers literally keep on talking like you've never pressed anything on your remote, and yet here you are, exploring a whole new subject. When you're done, the video transitions right into the next act of the main doc (sometimes seamlessly, sometimes not). The effect is really quite remarkable.

That said, the presentation isn't without problems. For one, there's no way to access a runtime or to easily find how much time is left in any given piece. There's also no way to rewind or fast forward (you can still pause). If you want to access any particular featurette, you'll have to do it from within, as there's no separate listing for them on the main menu. And then there's the sheer amount of time you have to devote to this thing to really explore it all -- four hours is quite the bonus features session.

Fortunately, "Beyond Beauty" does have its own menu, which you can access by starting the feature and then pressing your remote's Popup/Title Menu button. The cool thing is that the menu keeps track of which segments you have and haven't seen and provides general runtimes for most of the components. That means that you could actually watch the feature on its own and then go back and visit all the sub-featurettes and galleries later. Once you're done with everything, you have the option of clearing your viewing history and starting fresh.

So what's in "Beyond Beauty"? A whole, whole lot. If you want a closer look, the rest of this section will give you just that, listing each part in the order it appears. Along the way, a cavalcade of Beauty VIPs show up in slick HD interviews. Just a few of the speakers are: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Angela Lansbury, Robby Benson, Paige O'Hara, Alan Menken, Don Hahn, Andreas Deja, Tony Baxter, Jodi Benson, Stacia Martin -- the list goes on and on. There are several dozen people on hand here, all of them with something really valuable to say. Even the late Howard Ashman is present in the form of demo recordings of "Les Poissons", "Part of Your World", "Under the Sea", "Disneyland" (from the Broadway show, Smile), and more.

People have accused Disney of taking liberties with their fairy tales, but few deviations seem as radical as Little Red Riding Hood having a boyfriend, a dog, and a plane in Walt's 1922 Laugh-O-Gram short. "Act II: Struggling with the Beast" looks at how a year of pre-production was scrapped to start fresh with a research trip to France. Late composer Howard Ashman shares his thoughts on writing Disney music in "Ever a Surprise."

Within "Act I: Beyond Beauty - The Untold Stories Behind the Making of Beauty and the Beast" (7:05) is a featurette called "Disney: A Fairy Tale" (8:04), which examines a close correlation between Disney and fairy tales that predates even Mickey Mouse. That's immediately followed by a Laugh-O-Gram Fairy Tales gallery, which assembles four of Walt Disney's earliest short films: Puss in Boots (10:56), Little Red Riding Hood (6:18), Cinderella (7:23), and The Four Musicians of Bremen (8:27). While none of these 1922 cartoons command attention for their full run, they are each very special as the earliest Walt Disney creations we have. They're making their Blu-ray debut here and in fact, of the four, only Cinderella had previously appeared on a Disney DVD (that of the 1950 feature of the same name).

Inside "Act II: Struggling with the Beast" (9:22) is "Full Circle to Broadway" (9:56), which actually has very little to do with Beauty on stage. Instead, it looks at the ironic impact Menken and Ashman had on the Broadway form after they'd been essentially rejected by Broadway prior to their run at Disney. After that is "The Purdum Reel" (18:54), which is just Disc One's "Alternate Scene Open". I suppose it's relevant here but putting such a long video on both discs seems unnecessary.

"Act III: "Something There" (15:00) houses "Ever a Surprise: A Portrait of Howard Ashman" (13:25), easily the most candid and comprehensive Howard Ashman tribute I've seen from Disney. After that is a Deleted Scenes gallery, with three videos: "Alternate 'Be Our Guest'" (4:14), in which the song was originally sung to Maurice (with differently gendered lyrics); "Belle in Library" (9:01), which is just a frivolous repeat of Disc One's deleted scene; and "'Human Again' Reel" (7:37), which reveals the music and early animation planned for the originally lengthier song sequence.

A rather rhinoish Beast endorses Chiquita Banana in this piece of concept artwork. "Frame by Frame" breaks down the animation process, here focusing on actor Richard White's vocal work as Gaston in the film's opening musical number.

"Act IV: Casting A Spell" (5:49) offers two image galleries and two video galleries. Storyboard Art contains 73 images under one heading. Character Design presents 30 images for Beast, 32 for Belle, 9 for Gaston, and 18 for the enchanted castle objects.
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Character Development Video Gallery is actually a grouping of eight featurettes, the first five of which let the supervising animator for a particular character expound on their design and development. Those are: "The Beast" (3:48), "Cogsworth" (2:51), "Lumiere" (2:48), "Gaston" (3:11), and "Mrs. Potts" (2:13). Beyond those, "New Digital Horizons" (4:20) looks at the CAPS system, "Will vs. Nik" (3:13) reveals the real-life animosity between Lumiere and Cogsworth's supervising animators, and "Acting As a Team: Bringing Belle and the Beast to Life" (6:43) lets Robby Benson and Paige O'Hara reflect on their work together. The last gallery is called Cartoons, marking the Blu-ray debut of two of Walt's Silly Symphonies: 1934's China Shop (8:54) and 1935's Music Land (10:23). Finally, there's also a quick excerpt of the Doorknob scene in Alice in Wonderland (2:12), the idea being that this and the Symphonies helped Beauty's animators bring inanimate objects to cartoon life.

"Act V: A Fairy-Tale Ending" (12:25) brings us "Frame by Frame: A Thumbnail Sketch of the History of Animation" (13:56), which is just what it sounds like: a quick historical overview. After that, we have two more art galleries: Visual Development (58 images) and Backgrounds (30).

Act VI: "Classic Beauty" (3:34) doesn't have any sub-features within it. With this closing piece, we have approximately 217 minutes of video, galleries and still images not included. Talk about a bonus!

"Enchanted Musical Challenge: A Disney Quest Game" somehow links hide and seek skills, a CG version of the (non-political) West Wing, and Belle and the Beast's romantic fate.

Family Play

Here's where the obligatory virtual games come into play (no pun intended).

"Enchanted Musical Challenge: A Disney Quest Game" has nothing to do with Enchanted or DisneyQuest, I'm afraid. With your remote control and 1 to 4 players, you'll have the opportunity to very slowly explore Beast's castle... and by explore, I mean lift up random and oddly placed objects to see if an improbably-sized character is hiding there. You see, Belle and Beast can't fall in love until everyone and everything on an arbitrary list has been found. Without love, Beast will never be human again (wait, didn't that already happen in the movie?).
To be honest, this is among the more impressively rendered home video games I've ever seen, and there are enough levels and rules to keep play going for awhile. If you have multiple players, there are also some silly prompts for group fun. I'm just not sure that a love that depends on a successful hide & seek game is really worth preserving.

"Bonjour, Who Is This?" is an interactive game available only through BD-Live, meaning you'll need to have an Internet connection and a Blu-ray player that supports it. The game literally requires you to wade through various privacy warnings involving your phone number and the standard rates that may apply before you can begin! You need between 2 and 8 players for this and each person needs their own phone line (cells work too). Each person calls a Disney-provided phone number (don't worry, it's toll-free) and enters a given code. The Blu-ray automatically recognizes your phone line and displays the last four digits of each player on the screen. At that point, you're supposed to receive a secret character on your end of the phone (so don't put it on speaker) and proceed with the game... but I couldn't get any further than that. It's possible that gameplay hasn't yet been activated, as the product hasn't yet hit store shelves. The concept seems cool but like all such virtual games, I feel certain that getting through it will be more hassle than it's worth.

Paige O'Hara, voice of Belle, gives a brief recap of Cinderella and its history as one of several Disney celebrities telling "The Story Behind the Story." Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson appear in soft-focus, big-haired glory to perform their pop rendition of "Beauty and the Beast." This early presentation reel contains several pieces of concept artwork including this one of Belle and her prince in a wolf-free forest.

Classic DVD Bonus Features (all presented in standard definition)

In "The Story Behind the Story" (25:41), Celine Dion introduces us to Beauty and the Beast's story origins and then opens the platform for a parade of other celebrities to do the same with several other Disney animated classics: Paige O'Hara (Cinderella), James Earl Jones (The Lion King), David Ogden Stiers (Pocahontas), Robby Benson (The Jungle Book), Jodi Benson (Sleeping Beauty), Ming-Na (Mulan), and Angela Lansbury (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). This was always one of my favorite supplements on the Platinum Edition. I'm happy to see it carried over here.

Next is the music video for 1991's hugely successful "Beauty and the Beast" pop single, performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson (4:31). Dion turns up to introduce this, the song that more or less made her a household name.

Don Hahn then appears to introduce us to an "Early Presentation Reel" (2:51), prepared with concept art and designed to give the Disney team an idea of the movie project they'd be working with.

Then we get "Alternate Version: 'Be Our Guest'" (4:55), which begins with an older introduction from Don Hahn but is otherwise identical to the one included in "Beyond Beauty".

Alan Menken introduces "Alternate Score: 'The Transformation'" (2:01), which uses concept art and the final dialogue to show us how the important ending scene could have felt had Menken's original, more emotional score been used instead. I have to say, the alternate score is really effective, perhaps even more than the original.

The prince (who may or may not be called Adam depending on who you ask) makes his big reveal to Belle in this pencil test of "The Transformation." Legendary Disney animator Glen Keane discusses the underlying themes of the Beast's transformation sequence. Raving color purists get a quick glimpse of the fuzzy, contrasty version of the film they dearly remember in this original TV spot.

That's followed by a concept art version of the original, lengthier rendition of "Human Again" (6:58) -- the same thing we already saw in "Beyond Beauty". The only differences here are two separate introductions, one from Don Hahn (0:46) and another from Alan Menken (0:42).

Four animated supplements are grouped together. "Animation Tests, Roughs & Clean Ups" (4:54) finds Hahn providing some interesting commentary while the tests play. "The Transformation: Pencil Version" (5:24) is just what it claims to be. In "A Transformation: Glen Keane" (3:13), Beast's supervising animator explains how the transformation sequence is a testimony of the Christian faith.

"Camera Move Test" (2:06) looks like a computer program out of the '80s, which is basically what it is -- a look at some early models that helped the filmmakers plan its use of the camera.

Finally, we have a gallery of trailers and TV spots. The line-up contains an introduction by Don Hahn (0:35), the original trailer (1:57), the IMAX trailer (2:35), and a total of four TV spots (1:56 in all). Color cultists and fanboys everywhere will cherish the original trailer and TV spots' glimpses at some very VHS-like coloration.

BONUS FEATURES: DVD DISC 1

After far too many paragraphs on the Blu-ray bonuses, I can sum up the DVD's in one paragraph. First is a sing-along track. That's followed by the feature-length audio commentary. Then there's "Learn How to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go" (1:02). Finally, there is one DVD exclusive: "Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray is Suite!" (4:44), a fun advertisement for Disney Blu-ray. Everything else is on this combo a Blu-ray exclusive... no, that's not a joke.

WHAT'S MISSING FROM the BLU-RAY?

Even with a Classic DVD Bonus Features section, a number of supplements have been dropped in the upgrade from Platinum to Diamond. Here's a list of omissions:

Cogsworth and Lumiere's Library documentary (a lengthy making-of feature that has been replaced by "Beyond Beauty")
"Mrs. Potts' Making of Beauty and the Beast" featurette (an abridged version of the above documentary)
"Maurice's Workshop Game" (another virtual game -- no loss)
"Chip's Musical Challenge Game" (ditto)
"Mrs. Potts' Personality Profile Game" (ditto)
Audio commentary that was available on a number of images in the various galleries (some of them were pretty cool)
Publicity Gallery and its audio commentary (a real shame, as the Diamond Edition is really lacking in its publicity coverage)
Broadway Musical publicity gallery (ditto)
Broadway Musical costume design gallery (ditto)
"Disney's Animation Magic" (A really fun look at how animation is made hosted by Shia LaBeouf and Christy Carlson Romano, then stars of "Even Stevens" -- there's no reason for its being left out)
Jump5's "Beauty and the Beast" music video (a great cover song -- again, there's no good reason for leaving this off, even with the two music videos included on the Diamond)
A gallery of outdated Sneak Peeks, replaced here by new ones

Also worth noting is that the David Ogden Stiers-hosted documentary from the laserdisc has again been dropped (it wasn't on the DVD either). As for other things that were on neither the Platinum nor the Diamond but should have been, some coverage of the movie's representation in the Disney Parks and its two direct-to-video sequels would be nice.

Disney really went all out with this dazzling main menu for the DVD disc. Enjoy three versions of "Beauty and the Beast", none exactly true to its billing.

MENUS and PACKAGING

The Blu-ray's menu scheme instantly calls to mind the early Platinum Edition DVD menus. Funny how something like that can already make you nostalgic. Lumiere is your host through this "Be Your Guest"-themed tour of the Beast's castle. The CGI walk-through takes you into all the key rooms, showing off some impressive visuals. The same menu scheme is used on both discs.
The main menu screen randomly suggests a bonus feature each time you start up (and this sometimes seems to prevent the menu from loading all the way) and that same suggestion annoyingly pops up as soon as the movie's end credits begin. The DVD's menu screen is amusingly simplistic in comparison, a barely-animated view from the West Wing accompanied by an instrumental loop of the theme song.

Disney is releasing two editions on the same day. Both containing the same two Blu-ray discs and one DVD, but one (the "DVD + Blu-ray") does so in a standard black DVD keepcase, while the other (the "Blu-ray + DVD") uses a standard Blu-ray case. Both versions have essentially the same cover art too, complete with embossed and sparkly cardboard slipcover. This is light-years ahead of the Platinum DVD's cover art in terms of attractiveness. Inside the DVD case sent for review is a nice map of the contents, an ad booklet, and a Disney Movie Rewards code (currently worth 125 points). On November 23rd, Disney will release a new two-disc, DVD-only edition at the studio's standard $29.99 list price.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD are equipped with Disney's FastPlay. On the former, this is Disney's first attempt at customizable FastPlay, which allows you to set up the various components that will play automatically. The system's kind of burdensome and I can't help but wonder why anyone would go through the trouble instead of just using the regular menu screen. There's also a Blu-ray screensaver that dims the screen at a certain point (you can set the delay time yourself).

When inserted, the first Blu-ray disc automatically plays the following ads: Tangled, the "Our Family Scrapbook" Blu-ray promo, Bambi: Diamond Edition, and Toy Story 3 on Blu-ray and DVD. Disc One then offers a Sneak Peeks reel (7:39) that ends up being pretty awesome. Unfortunately, none of the previews are individually selectable from the menu, though they are chapter-skippable once you hit Play. The included previews are: Disney Movie Rewards, an embarrassingly overdramatic anti-piracy ad in which Hook and his gang rob Pixie Hollow of its beauty just like bootleggers do to movies, The Lion King: Diamond Edition (it's rare that we'd get previews for two upcoming Diamond Editions on one disc!), Fantasia: 2-Movie Collection, Alice in Wonderland: Special 60th Anniversary Edition (coming to both Blu-ray and DVD), Dumbo: The 70th Anniversary Special Edition (also coming both Blu-ray and DVD), 2009's A Christmas Carol, and Disney Parks' "There is a Place" promo. After that, the reel immediately flows into the same reel that plays automatically when the disc starts up (this second reel runs 6:04 and is also chapter-skippable and in HD).

The DVD's sneak peeks are for promos for Disney Movie Rewards and "Genuine Disney Blu-ray and DVD"; trailers for The Lion King: Diamond Edition, Alice in Wonderland: Special 60th Anniversary Edition, Dumbo: The 70th Anniversary Special Edition, A Christmas Carol, and Playhouse Disney's new DVDs with Mickey Motes; the Disney Parks promo, Tangled, "Our Family Scrapbook", Bambi: Diamond Edition, and Fantasia 2-Movie Collection.

Out in the snow with Belle, the Beast finds a blue bird.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

If you own a Blu-ray player or plan to in the future, Beauty and the Beast's Diamond Edition is a no-brainer. With flawless, stunning video quality, improved coloration and framing, a wholly immersive high-def surround soundtrack, and hours upon hours of rich supplemental material, this is an easy contender for the title of Disney's all-time best home video release. The only things holding this back from a perfect score are the mildly offensive tampering with the original theatrical cut and the needless exclusion of some cool Platinum Edition bonus features. Those detractions notwithstanding, this is an unquestionable upgrade over the film's 2002 DVD.

If you're only interested in DVD and already own the Platinum Edition, this new release doesn't offer much for you. The bonus features and menus are absurdly sparse and the video suffers from too much compression. The improved color palette might still tempt you to put this beside the Platinum on your shelf, but you'd be much better off waiting for Disney's new 2-Disc DVD release in November.

The bottom line is that you simply must own Beauty and the Beast in some form, preferably in high definition. At age nineteen, the history-making masterpiece has already earned its status as a classic and remains one of Disney's greatest.

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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; others taken from 2002 Platinum Edition DVD.