Beauty and the Beast appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the disc includes three separate versions of the movie, this section of the review will only discuss the “special edition” cut. Disney almost never botches the transfers of their prime properties, so I expected something special from this DVD. For the most part, I got what I anticipated via the positive picture quality of this disc.
Sharpness appeared immaculate. The movie always came across as crisp and well defined, as I noticed no signs of softness at any point. Never did the detail waver during this accurate and distinct image. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws seemed totally absent. At no point did I discern any specks, grit, marks, or other issues during this clean and fresh presentation. Some minor compression artifacts appeared, which made the film looked slightly noisy at times, but those remained fairly small.
Beast employed a varied and vivid palette, and the tones seemed terrific from start to finish. The colors always appeared vibrant and lush, and they displayed excellent clarity without any bleeding, noise, or other issues. Black levels also were wonderfully rich and dense, while shadow detail presented clear low-light sequences that lacked any excessive opacity. Overall, Beauty and the Beast looked very good.
The moderately subdued Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Beauty and the Beast didn’t quite compare with the visuals, but it worked well for the material nonetheless. The track usually featured a forward emphasis, though this broadened during logical sequences. Music showed excellent stereo delineation, and quite a few isolated elements appeared in the side channels during production numbers. Effects also created a nice sense of atmosphere, and bits such as carts or other moving pieces panned smoothly from one side to the other. Overall, the various elements blended together quite cleanly.
As for the surrounds, they usually did little more than generally support the music and effects, but a few exceptions occurred. Most of those happened during the movie’s action climax, as the surrounds kicked into gear more compellingly. The wolf attacks also brought noticeable dimensionality from the rear speakers, and we even got some decent and accurate split-surround material at times. Nonetheless, this mix remained fairly heavily oriented toward the front, which seemed appropriate for this sort of film.
Audio quality appeared generally solid. Speech came across as distinct and natural, and I noticed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects sounded clean and accurate for the most part. They never displayed any signs of distortion, and they usually boasted positive dynamics, though I occasionally felt that bass response appeared slightly boomy. Music sounded bright and clear, and the songs offered fine range and delineation. Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast won’t be your demo soundtrack, but it worked just fine for this film.
As the second entry in Disney’s “Platinum Edition” series, Beauty and the Beast provides scads of extras, most of which show up on DVD Two. However, the first platter includes some interesting features, not the least of which comes from the three – that’s right, three! – different versions of the film itself. In addition to the original 84-minute theatrical release, we get the 2002 “Special Edition” cut that includes the number “Human Again” as well as the 84-minute “Work-In-Progress” version. To generate some buzz for the flick. Disney ran the unfinished Beast at the New York Film Festival about six weeks prior to its theatrical opening. This attempt worked, and the “WIP” became a sensation in its own right. In fact, the “WIP” appeared on laserdisc before the finished film made it onto video. I can’t imagine I’d want to frequently view the “WIP”, which features a lot of rough work due to its incomplete state, but I applaud the inclusion of the alternate version here; it definitely adds to the value of this package.
The SE differs from the older two mainly due to “Human Again”, though some of the art after that song alters the material seen in the original; the servants clean the house during “Human Again”, which meant the animators needed to tidy up things from the decrepit state seen in the original movie. While some small differences appear in that regard, not all of the theatrical cut shows up as seen in 1991. For example, blood was added for the SE after the wolves attack the Beast; it also shows up in the theatrical and “WIP” editions. In addition, the sound of the Beast smashing household items after Belle leaves to find her father should only exist in the SE but it pops up for all three. However, some of the cleaned-up parts of the house in the SE looked messy in the other two, so the changes are inconsistent. For instance, when the Beast bathes before his big dance with Belle, the SE shows a fixed background mirror, while it’s smashed in the original two releases.
Some controversy about the encoding of this DVD exists. Apparently Disney claims that disc one includes three totally separate versions of the film; they state that they used no seamless branching for the different presentations. I can’t absolutely confirm whether or not this is true, but the bitrates on the different versions seem low enough to support the claim. In addition, the compression artifacts I saw during the movie make more sense considering how tightly packed this disc appeared to be. Although the film still looks quite good, this decision means that it almost certainly could have presented stronger visuals with less compression, so Disney’s choice seems moderately disappointing.
Next we find an audio commentary from directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, producer Don Hahn, and composer Alan Menken. Their thoughts appear solely alongside the Special Edition cut; you can’t listen to them during the theatrical or WIP versions. Currently, lots of DVD producers like to offer alleged group commentaries during which not all of the participants actually sit together. For example, on Hart’s War, we’re meant to believe that Bruce Willis recorded his remarks alongside the director and writer, but it’s not true. Instead, Willis’ separate statements were deftly edited into the piece to create the illusion of a group session.
The same thing seems to occur for Beast. Clearly, Hahn, Trousdale and Wise sat together, and this is a good thing. The veterans of commentaries for Atlantis: The Lost Empire and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, they appear quite comfortable with the format and each other, and this track lives up to the highs of those other efforts. The three cover many aspects of the production. From casting to story changes to animation challenges, you’ll learn tons of details about Beast, and due to their light and engaging style, you’ll have a lot of fun along the way. I liked the earlier tracks and really dug this one as well.
As for Menken’s contributions, he adds some useful details. He covers the creation of some songs and also provides cool notes like the direction that late co-composer Howard Ashman gave to Paige O’Hara for her “There’s Something There” vocals. Although I enjoyed Menken’s remarks, I still don’t understand why the DVD’s producers tried so hard to create the illusion that he sat with the other three. Maybe I’m wrong and he really did tape his comments alongside that trio, but I strongly doubt it. Why bother to try to fool us? It seems odd and pointless, but this remains a terrific commentary.
Beast provides something called a Sing-Along Track. This provides subtitles for all the movie’s songs. With this feature activated, they pop up when any of the tunes appears. It does nothing for me, but it seems like a fun extra.
The Maurice’s Invention Workshop Game offers a trivia contest that ask questions about the movie. They’re not too tough for fans of the film, and even if you make a mistake, you get extra chances. Successful completion rewards you with a code to use on the second disc to continue through a “Break the Spell” piece.
DVD One also includes the usual complement of ads at the start of the disc. When you pop the platter in your player, you’ll find promos for The Jungle Book 2, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, Lilo & Stitch, Sleeping Beauty, and The Lion King. In addition, the Sneak Peeks domain features all of those trailers as well as additional ads for Walt Disney World and Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year.
Now we move to the meat of the extras on DVD Two. The disc splits into four different areas, three of which are led by different characters from the film; the fourth goes to the mysterious west wing and completes the “Break the Spell” game begun on the first disc. (There’s also an option to select the “magic mirror” and examine all the components in one place.)
I decided to go through the sections as split, and I started with the west wing and Break the Spell. Note that I had to select the appropriate icon twice before it let me advance; initially, I was told that the area was forbidden, but the second attempt gave me the chance to enter the code I got from DVD One. This gives us another game to complete. Actually, it consists of a series of mini-games. These alternate between Dragon’s Lair style direction selection contests and others that require matching and other choices. As a reward, you’ll see… a scene from the movie. I went through all of that for a snippet of the film??? What a waste!
Once we finish with “Break the Spell”, we go back to the main menu. Initially I opted to enter the Chip domain, the shortest of the three. It starts with its most substantial element, Disney’s Animation Magic. Hosted by Shia LeBouef and Christy Carlson Romano of the Disney Channel’s Even Stevens, this 14-minute and 24-minute program provides a hyperactive and breezy look at the creation of animated films. We see movie clips and behind the scenes material, and hear sound bites from talent like directors Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff, John Musker, Ron Clements, producer Don Hahn, special effects animation supervisor Dave Tidwell, and Walt Disney Feature Animation President Tom Schumacher. Animation fans will already know all of this info, and they probably will have seen the behind the scenes clips on other Disney products, but the piece seems quick and informative for newbies. Oh, and Romano’s a babe, which doesn’t hurt.
Chip’s Challenge offers a “musical memory game”. This plays song snippets. You have to remember them and play back all seven by the end; this first has you recall one part of the sequence, then two, and so on until you’ve gotten to all seven. The slow pace makes it easy. The contest offers no real reward for completion.
”Chip” ends with a contemporary music video for “Beauty and the Beast” by Jump 5. Yet another bland teen pop group, these kids offer their insipid rendition with the requisite perky attitudes. The four-minute video combines lip-synching and dancing with some snippets from the movie. Skip it.
Now that we’ve finished with “Chip”, we move to the Mrs. Potts domain. That area starts with Tale As Old As Time: The Making of Beauty and the Beast, a 28-minute and two-second documentary bookended by comments from Celine Dion. In addition to the usual complement of movie clips and production materials, we get interviews with producer Don Hahn, film historian Paula Sigman, animation historian John Canemaker, Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, Disney Vice Chairman of the Board Roy E. Disney, film historian Robert Osborne, directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, story person Brenda Chapman, head of story Roger Allers, story person Chris Sanders, screenwriter Linda Woolverton, former Disney Studios chairman Peter Schneider, composer Alan Menken, Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, animator Andreas Deja, head of clean-up animation Vera Lanpher, animator Glen Keane, animator Nik Ranieri, Disney Animation president Thomas Schumacher, and animator Will Finn.
”Time” offers a decent general look at the creation of the film. It hits most of the important issues, though it remains fairly superficial most of the time. It also includes way too many moments of back patting, as we hear lots of praise for the film and its participants. Overall, “Time” provides an enjoyable but fairly average documentary.
For Mrs. Potts’ Personality Profile Game, you answer a few questions and the DVD tells you which character you most resemble. This splits into “Monsieur” and “Mademoiselle”, and each category includes three different possible personalities. It’s a cute but inconsequential extra.
The Story Behind the Story resembles the “Disney Through the Decades” feature found on last year’s Snow White DVD. In this 25-minute and 36-second program, a series of celebrity hosts lead us through discussions of seven different Disney flicks: Cinderella, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Jungle Book, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. We hear from Celine Dion, Paige O’Hara, James Earl Jones, David Ogden Stiers, Robby Benson, Jodi Benson, Ming-Na, and Angela Lansbury.
These discussions mostly feature tellings of the different stories. The narrators then relate some details about the creation of each movie. Since these segments go by very quickly, we get little depth, and most of the material will seem familiar to Disney fans. Still, it’s a reasonably brisk and entertaining look at some Disney history, so it merits a look.
Finally, we get the music video for the pop version of “Beauty and the Beast” performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson. It starts with a modern 25-second introduction from Dion and then launches into the four-minute clip. As with most videos for songs from movies, it simply combines some lip-synched performing with scenes from the film. It’s a syrupy rendition and a dull video.
Lastly we go to the Cogsworth and Lumiere section of the disc. Entitled Be Our Guest, this area offers a collection of 16 featurettes about the creation of the film. All in all, they last 51 minutes; they can be viewed separately or together via the “Play All” option.
If you already watched “Tale As Old As Time” in the “Mrs. Potts” domain, then this program will look very familiar. That’s because it’s simply an extended version of “Tale”, albeit one without the bookends from Celine Dion. The new edition adds eight new topics: “Vocal Heroes” about voice talent, “The Stage Is Set” about visual design, “Animating With Computers”, “A High Profile Preview” about the New York Film Festival debut of the “Work In Progress”, “Awards”, “In Memoriam” about Howard Ashman, “Broadway Bound” about the stage musical, and “The Special Edition”. Obviously, we hear from all the folks who appeared in the abbreviated “Tale” and we also find comments from actors Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers, head of layout Ed Ghertner, and head of background Lisa Keene.
The additional 23 minutes of material helps flesh out the subject, but it still doesn’t make “Tale” into a great documentary. Clearly the program seems more complete now, but it remains somewhat glossy and it still includes too much praise. Nonetheless, the added segments seem good. The Ashman piece provides a nice touch, and the visits with the voice talent appear entertaining. The extra looks behind the scenes are also quite fun to see. “Tale” doesn’t remotely compare with the excellent documentary created for Atlantis, but it offers a breezy and watchable piece.
Also within the “Cogsworth and Lumiere” area, you’ll find a mix of additional features. Oddly, the DVD kind of hides these. If you watch “Tale” via the “Play All” feature, you’ll not know they exist. You need to check them out individually through the separate sections.
Within “Development” we find one feature: Early Presentation Reel. After a 38-second introduction from Don Hahn, we get the two-minute, 14-second combination of music and rough art. The product doesn’t bear much resemblance to the final film, which makes it interesting to watch.
Inside “Story”, we get a few components. First up is an Alternate Version of “Be Our Guest”. Hahn provides a 73-second introduction before we see the three-minute, 42-second piece. A mix of pencil animation and storyboards, the house staff performs for Maurice instead of Belle, which creates the main difference. This means some different gags as well – they treat Maurice more comically than Belle, who also wouldn’t be allowed to drink beer – but much of the piece stays the same. Nonetheless, it’s very cool to check out the original conception of the number.
Next we get a 47-second intro from Hahn for the six-minute and 57-second Deleted Song “Human Again”. This alters the version seen in the SE. Instead, it offers a very early storyreel rendition of the number. It combines filmed storyboards with temp voices and a basic take of the song. Some of its elements show up in the SE’s versoin of the song, but others appeared elsewhere in the theatrical cut. It’s another cool glimpse of the film’s early concepts.
As we move to “Music”, we get three new components. Alternate Score: The Transformation starts with a 25-second introduction from composer Alan Menken. After that we see the film’s climactic change shown with rough pencil animation and different music. The 98-second clip doesn’t seem tremendously different, but it’s still good to get.
The “Music” area also offers a repetition of the Deleted Song “Human Again”. The only change here comes from the 40-second introduction from Menken, who adds his own comments about the piece.
Within “The Characters”, we get only one extra piece, but it’s a big one. The Character Art Galleries breaks down into nine different thumbnailed collections of drawings: “Belle” (31 images), “Beast” (43 stills), “Lumiere” (17), “Mrs. Potts and Chip” (20), “Cogsworth” (17), “Gaston and Le Fou” (48), “Maurice and Phillippe” (36), “The Townspeople” (22), and “Other Enchanted Objects” (41). These offer the usual insightful and compelling glimpse at character development.
In addition, the DVD provides an “Audio Guided Tour”. When you see a little rose in the thumbnail, click on that item and you’ll hear a little audio information about it. The details are a little sparse, but this is still a fun and interesting addition. This extra appears for 32 of this area’s 275 stills.
More of the same shows up in the “Production Design” domain. Concept Art & Design features 72 images of those elements; eight of them also come with the “Audio Guided Tour” comments. Layouts & Backgrounds provides 69 examples of those pieces created for the film; these also toss in eight audio notes.
“Animation” features another three subsections. Animation Tests, Roughs and Clean Ups runs four minutes, 55 seconds. Hahn narrates the piece, which shows early incarnations of some material. It’s fun to see the material, but Hahn’s insight makes the short piece especially useful.
The Transformation: Pencil Version starts with a 65-second introduction from Hahn. We then see the early rendition of the film’s climactic sequence. The four-minute and 20-second piece seems quite rough, but it offers a very compelling look at the basic product prior to much clean-up work.
In A Transformation: Glen Keane, we get a 194-second chat with the animator of the Beast. He discusses his work on the film’s climactic segment and gives us some useful notes about the topic.
Only one extra feature appears in “Tricks of the Trade”. The Camera Move Test begins with a 41-second introduction from Hahn before we see 86 seconds of the computer camera test for the ballroom scene. It’s another good look at the animation process.
“Release and Reaction” provides some additional publicity materials. Trailers & TV Spots begins with the requisite 34-second introduction from Hahn. We then find two trailers. One came from the film’s original 1991 release, while the other accompanied the 2002 “large format” release. In addition, we get four TV ads, all of which appeared back in the early Nineties.
Next we get two galleries. The Original Release Publicity Gallery consists of 14 posters and ads; three of them offer audio comments as well. The Large Format Publicity Gallery gives us 12 images from the 2002 “Special Edition” release; it tosses in two more audio segments.
More ads appear in “The Broadway Musical”, which launches with Broadway Musical Publicity Gallery. It provides 43 images, most of which show shots from the production; a smattering of promotional bits show up as well. The Costume Design Gallery includes nine sketches for those elements of the production. Neither of these areas includes an audio tour.
One nice touch: I believe that most of the voices heard on the DVD’s menus come from the original voice talent. Only Chip apparently needed a new voice, since Bradley Pierce would be a teenager now. Otherwise, it sounded like Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers and Jerry Orbach all provided the work for their characters. That’s a nice element that makes the package more likable.
Finally, the package includes a nice little booklet. This provides an introductory note from producer Don Hahn as well as notes about the DVD’s features and whatnot. It’s a good piece that helps make the set more accessible.
Beauty and the Beast provides another excellent DVD from Disney. The movie remains one of their best. I probably prefer the original theatrical version to the new “Special Edition”, but since this set includes both, I won’t complain. The DVD offers very good picture marred only slightly due to the packed nature of the disc, while audio quality seems positive for a film of this vintage. The extras appear quite comprehensive; not only do we find three versions of the movie, but also we get an audio commentary and many other components. Overall, Beauty and the Beast is a winner that belongs in your collection.