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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/7/02

Beauty and the Beast
Platinum Edition - 1991/2002 (2002) - Disney (Buena Vista)

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/A-

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film (3 Versions)
Original Theatrical Version - 84 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (21 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Special Edition (2002 Version) - 90 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, audio commentary (with producer Don Hahn, directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale and composer Alan Menken), "sing-along" track, theatrical trailers, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Work in Progress Version - 84 mins, NR, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (21 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Materials
NR, full-frame (1.33:1), A Tale as Old as Time documentary (also accessible in a total of 34 featurettes, by theme: Origins of Beauty and the Beast, Development, Story, Music, The Characters, Production Design, Animation, Tricks of the Trade, Release & Reaction and The Broadway Musical), The Story Behind the Story (also accessible in 7 segments), 3 interactive games, 2 music videos, 2 theatrical trailers, animated film-themed menus with music, languages: English (DD 2.0)

In 2001, Disney launched the Platinum Edition series on DVD, which plans to showcase what they call their ten finest animated films. The first of this group was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and what a release it was. For 2002, they bring us Beauty and the Beast, which is even more of a must have. The plethora of extras is fitting for such a remarkable film.

The tale may be as old as time, but I'm sure there are still a few readers who don't know what it's about. In a brief prologue, we learn that a cruel Prince has been transformed into a hideous beast (and his servants into household objects) by an enchantress, after the oddly un-named Prince refused to offer shelter to an old woman.

But the film proper opens as Belle (voice of Paige O'Hara) walks through her small provincial town on her morning errands. She is headstrong and book smart, traits that the townspeople can't understand. When her father, on his way to an inventor's festival, gets lost in the woods and is captured by the Beast Prince, Belle sets out to find him. Fearlessly, she meets with the Beast, and takes her father's place as his prisoner. At first, she is very unreceptive to the Beast attempts to be kind, but soon warms up to when she begins to view him as person and not a beast, and he actually begins to transform from a Beast to a Prince, if not physically, but in his heart.

Beauty and the Beast is quite possibly the most complex Disney animated film created. The majority of the fairy tale films (Snow White, Cinderella) are quite clear on who will end up with whom, and that there will be a happy ending. This tale is a bit more unpredictable compared to the other stories. In fact, when Belle and the Beast first meet, it's not clear at all that these two characters are meant to be together.

This is also one of the more complex Disney films technically. First of all, it uses the multi-plane camera system (a technology invented by Walt himself) more than any film since Sleeping Beauty. Almost every shot features characters walking through multiple layers of drawings, and shot-wise, it's one of the more impressive and sophisticated Disney films. Also, though not the first Disney film to use computer graphics in an animated feature (that honor goes to The Black Cauldron), it is the first to create an entire environment that couldn't have been created with hand drawn techniques.

The sequence I'm referring to is during the Beauty and the Beast song, with Belle and the Beast dancing in the ballroom. It was so complex, that the directors didn't think that it could be pulled off, so they even created an alternate version of the sequence, with the same character plates, but with a black background and a spotlight (referred to as the "Ice Capades" version). They had also planed on using computer graphics in the final fight sequence, but it was decided to paint it traditionally due to money and technological issues.

Though Disney films in the past have had quite memorable songs, Beauty and the Beast is really the first film to rely so heavily on its musical score. Due in part to the amazing work of Alan Meinkin and Howard Ashman, the songs appear when a major plot twist arises. And though they won an Oscar for the memorable Beauty and the Beast, their toughest song would be Belle, a song that sets up the whole movie, Belle as a character, what the town thinks of Belle, what Gaston thinks of Belle, what Belle thinks of Gaston, what the town thinks of her father and what Gaston thinks of her father. When the song eventually climaxes, it swells and really draws the viewer into the rest of the movie. Of all the songs, I believe it has the most satisfying payoff. But also memorable, most certainly, are the showstopping Be Our Guest and the ode to manhood, Gaston, which features the immortal words, "I use antlers in all of my de-cor-at-ing."

Beauty and the Beast is a testament to animation. It was a film that Walt worked on adapting for years, but it was so complex that the art form hadn't matched the stories requirements. Even in rough form, it famously wowed critics at the New York film festival, The film would go on to gross over $100 million at the U.S. box office, and become the first animated film to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture. Even more impressive, it become the first, and so far only, animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture (eventually losing to The Silence of the Lambs). It did win two Oscars for Best Score and Best Song, with three additional nominations, including Best Sound.

Though some impressive films, such as The Lion King, Toy Story 2 and Shrek, have come since this film's release, none have managed to hit this pinnacle. With it's jaw-dropping artwork, pitch-perfect voice casting and beautiful musical score, Beauty and the Beast is unqualified the best animated feature ever created in my opinion. Needless to say, Walt would be proud.

Now, onto the disc review... the video quality is at once wonderful and bothersome. The three versions of the film are packed onto the first disc, along with two audio tracks, a commentary and a few extras. As a result, MPEG-2 compression artifacts are a-plenty on all versions. While the work in progress version can get by with a not-so-stellar transfer, the original theatrical version and the Special Edition really needed the space. The original theatrical version suffers more than the Special Edition, but both exhibit noticeable artifacting due to the lower than ideal video bit rates.

At the same time, the picture is colorful, vibrant and free of print-related defects. The Special Edition, thanks to the slightly higher bit rate and changes created for its release, is the most impressive. This may be due to the restoration that used the Computer Animation Production System (the same system used to restore Snow White last year). Each element of the picture is scanned and composited in the computer. The Special Edition was further modified to create more detail in the background plates for the large IMAX format.

Don't get me wrong - it was a really great idea to include both final versions of this film on DVD, as well as the work in progress version. But the limitations of the format really called for either an additional disc or for one version to be excluded. Personally, I think this should have been a 3-disc set.

Perhaps due to the limited space, the 5.1 surround tracks supplied for all three versions seems to lack energy. They don't take advantage of the surround channels as much as you might expect. Still, all of the provided tracks offer enormous clarity. Every element, from the dialogue, to the music and effects, are subtle when they need to be and are never mudded, always perfectly balanced. Stereo separation is great with effects panning from side to side, and voices coming from the appropriate speakers. Except for the seemly absent ambiance, this track receives high marks.

Let's talk extras. I want to point out first, that there is less of the "Disney back patting" here that seemed to be a little overdone on the Snow White DVD. I mean, do we really need Ming-Na to tell us all about the company's purchase of the Anaheim Angels on a set about Snow White? NO! Thankfully this set is absent of those types of featurettes for the most part. But like the Snow White set, all of the extra are accessible through either text menus or creative animated menus.

With the first disc basically eaten up by the three versions of the film, most of the extras can be found on Disc Two. But the first disc does give us an audio commentary, which you can hear only on the special edition. It features producer Don Hahn and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale. It's great to hear these friends and collaborators talk about this film. Full of terrific information, and never too self-congratulatory, this is a fun commentary. There even seems to be a good amount of sarcastic humor towards what's happening on screen, yet it's always respectful. Alan Menken joins the trio during the Human Again sequence, to comment on the history of the song.

There is also a subtitle track, encoded as a "sing along track." Also included the sneak peeks section of the first disc are trailers for Jungle Book 2, December's The Lion King IMAX re-release, the Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted Christmas: Special Edition, Lilo and Stitch and (two words: Hor-rah!) the Sleeping Beauty: Special Edition.

On to Disc Two... the extras are split up in three sections. The first is Cogsworth & Lumiere, which is filled with material the DVD fanatic will love. To start with, you get A Tale as Old as Time, a 52-minute documentary on the making of the film. It goes quite in depth on the history of the film with Disney, how a lot of the animation was accomplished, casting the voices, background on the Broadway show and more. It's a really well put together program, which you can view as a whole or in sections by subject. You can also view the documentary, cut in half, in the Mrs. Potts section of the disc.

While viewing the documentary in sections will take a little navigating, the sub-menus where these links are available also contain featurettes not in the documentary. There's the Early Presentation Reel, which was originally presented to Disney heads for approval of the film. Alternate versions of Be Our Guest and Human Again are here, as is the music for the Beast's transformation sequence. Under Animation, you'll find animation tests, roughs & clean-ups, a pencil version of The Transformation and an early CGI camera move test. Under Release & Reaction, you'll find the Beauty and the Beast music video and seven still galleries, which include narration. Finally, you'll find the original theatrical and Special Edition trailers, presented in full frame with 2.0 stereo.

Next up is the Mrs. Potts section, which begins with the aforementioned abbreviated version of Tale as Old as Time, retitled The Making of Beauty and the Beast (my advice: skip this for the expanded version in the previous section). It's here where you will also find The Story Behind the Story, which includes some really interesting background information on seven Disney films. While at first it seems like another shameless plug, like the Disney Through the Years featurette on the Snow White disc, there are some interesting tidbits and newsreel footage.

There is also the Mrs. Pott's Personality Profile game, which asks you some questions about yourself and then tells you what Beauty and the Beast character you're most like. Also accessible here is the same Beauty and the Beast music video you can access in the Cogsworth and Lumiere section.

For the kids, there is Chip's section, which includes a Disney Animation Magic featurette that explains the basics of animation. Anyone over the age of thirteen will find the fast pace and stupid camera tilts annoying, but there is some good information hiding behind the gloss. There is also another Beauty and the Beast music video, preformed by Jump 5, a teen pop group. It too is rather annoying, but I suppose that's just musical taste. Also, here is the Chip's Musical Challenge game, and the Break the Spell game, which actually begins on the first disc, in the Maurice's Workshop game. Much like the game on the Harry Potter DVD, the puzzles aren't difficult at all, and rely on the player's knowledge of the film.

With its impressive library of extras and the fact that this is Beauty and the Beast, this DVD is definitely a must have. Not to be content with the merits of this release on its own, this set should definitely boost the anticipation for the next planned release in the Platinum Edition line, due in November 2003... The Lion King.

Graham Greenlee

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