Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Beaty and the Best: The Enchanted Christmas (1997)
Studio Line: Disney

All the enchantment of Disney's Academy Award winning film Beauty And The Beast, continues as this classic adventure casts its song-filled spell. This magical tale reveals a Christmas past when Belle vows to warm the Beast's castle with the spirit and hope of the season--despite the Beast's misgivings about Christmas. She asks all the Enchanted Objects to chip in, including reluctant Angelique--a beautiful tree ornament who was once the castle decorator. But Belle, Cogsworth, Lumiere and a host of new, enchanting friends must first undo the plans of Forte--an evil, plotting pipe organ--who gets wind of their plan. He will pull out all the stops to keep the Beast away from Belle's special gift of hope.

Director: Andy Knight
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
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English DD 5.1, French Digital Stereo; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; 17 chapters; rated NR; $29.99; street date 10/13/98.
Supplements: None.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B+/F

As I've noted in other reviews, I'm a huge fan of Disney's animated films, and have felt that way for a few years now. However, this interest applies solely to their theatrical offerings and I've never been able to get myself to watch their "direct to video" (DTV) titles (named that because they debuted on home video, not in theaters).

While there's no reason why these DTV movies have to be less compelling than their theatrical siblings, it seems likely that if the pictures were really good, they'd not make their bows on home video; the fact that Toy Story 2 was originally intended to be a DTV release but was bumped to the big time because the suits at Disney thought it was such a strong film supports the notion that only lesser movies premiere on video.

My first experience with a Disney DTV release came with their Lion King II DVD. This wasn't a positive experience, as anyone who has read my review will already know. Still, I thought I'd try some more, if just because I'm something of a completist and I'd like for DVD Movie Guide to ultimately offer a complete gallery of Disney animation reviews

BATB: TEC seemed to be somewhat promising, since it offered most of the original cast and came from such a terrific source, but it also had much farther to fall; the theatrical movie remains one of Disney's all-time best.

Interestingly, TEC isn't really a sequel to the first because most of the action takes place during the time frame depicted in the original film. The program starts with a Christmas celebration that appears to be the first after Belle and the former Beast have gotten together. During the gathering, they reminisce about the group's first Christmas, which occurred while the Beast imprisoned Belle in the first film.

The movie's biggest strength comes from the fact that almost all members of the original cast reappear here. You name them, they're in this picture: Robby Benson's Beast, Paige O'Hara's Belle, David Ogden Stier's Cogsworth, Jerry Orbach's Lumiere, and Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Potts. This list omits some names from the original, but that's almost entirely because those characters - such as Gaston or Belle's father Maurice - don't appear in the sequel.

The only character who has been revoiced is Chip, since Bradley Michael Pierce clearly was too old for the part in the new project; he was nine when they made BATB, so he would have been about 15 when BATB: TEC went into production, and one certainly hopes that his voice changed enough over that span to make it unusable. However, in a casting coup that later became significant, Haley Joel Osment took over the role for this film; he'd gain much more recognition in 1999 through his work in The Sixth Sense.

Actually, the cast of BATB: TEC really represents a step-up from that of the original since it features almost all of that film's performers plus it adds a few other strong actors in new parts. Tim Curry voices the villain of the piece, the jealous and possessive organ Forte, and he does so quite effectively; Curry tends toward hamminess, and that capability serves him well in this broad part. (It also made me realize something that will only make sense to visitors of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom: Curry provided the voice of "SIR", the robot we meet during the "Alien Encounter" attraction.) Paul "Pee-wee" Reubens appears as meek but ultimately heroic Fife; it's not much of a role, but it's always good to hear from Reubens. Finally, Bernadette Peters also appears as Angelique.

Unfortunately, this minor-star-studded cast is the extent of the positive aspects of BATB: TEC for the film itself is pretty weak. I didn't find it to be a terrible experience, but it offers at best a mildly entertaining knock-off of the original. Despite the Christmas theme, the plot provides nothing more than a general retelling of the first movie, but it does so in a much less compelling way; all the charm and grace of BATB vanish here.

It doesn't help that the quality of the animation for BATB: TEC seems extremely weak at times. I didn't really expect it to be on the same level as the work seen in Disney's theatrical releases, but I still found the awkwardness and sloppiness of the art to be startling. Belle herself - the only human character - suffers from this problem more than the others; her movements look very stiff and clumsy. No, the animation never quite sinks down to Pokemon level, but it's surprisingly bad nonetheless.

The DVD:

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; as such, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture looks quite good and only shows a few flaws that mar the presentation.

Sharpness generally looks quite adequate, with an image that usually seems crisp despite the crudeness of much of the animation. Unfortunately the weak artwork occasionally affects sharpness, as many smaller images (usually characters from a slight distance) look soft and ill-defined; this seemed more the fault of the original artwork than of the transfer, but the off-putting result is the same. Conversely, a bit of edge enhancement also seems present, though I noticed few jagged edges and no moiré effects.

The materials used for the transfer seem to be in good shape, and I detected no flaws of any kind. Colors look quite terrific, with a lush palette that seems bright and vivid. Black levels also are very good, and shadow detail seems just fine. Really, it's a nice transfer that falters only due to some odd softness at times.

Even better is the very strong Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. At first the audio seems somewhat wimpy and weak, with little activity and less bass, but things soon heat up and the track ultimately packs quite a wallop. The soundfield seems very well-defined, with lots of action in the front channels and surround usage that backs it up nicely; it's not a constantly-enveloping track, but it keeps you involved and interested.

Dialogue quality is a minor week link here; it seems clear and intelligible but also is somewhat sterile and flat. Still, it's reasonably effective, and the voices of the Beast and Forte actually make nice use of the ".1" channel; I don't have a subwoofer, but the speech from these two featured some wonderful low end. Ambient audio also really delivers the goods; the film features many different kinds of effects, and they come across realistically and broadly, with lots more excellent bass. Unfortunately, the low end disappears when we get to the music; the score and songs seem smooth and clear, but with the exception of the music related to Forte, they generally lack the bass that so nicely embellishes the rest of the production. Despite that, this soundtrack is a definite winner.

Much less pleasing is the array of supplements found on the BATB: TEC DVD. There ain't none! You'd think they at least could have tossed in a trailer for the original movie, but you'd think erroneously.

At times, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas offers some mild entertainment, but for the most part it seems pretty bland and it certainly doesn't live up to the classic original film. The DVD itself offers very strong picture and sound but doesn't feature any extras. This one's for BATB die-hards only, and even they may not care for it.

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