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Blu-ray Reviews
Blu-ray Disc reviews by Tim Salmons of The Digital Bits

Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

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Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition
1991 (2010) - Disney
Released on Blu-ray on October 5th, 2010
Also available on DVD


Film Rating: A+
Video (1-20): 20
Audio (1-20): 20
Extras: B+

When young Prince Adam is visited by a beautiful enchantress disguised as an old beggar woman in the middle of the night and offered a rose in exchange for shelter, he coldly dismisses her and her gift.

By way of punishment, she reveals her true form and transforms his servants into animated household items and the prince himself into a ferocious beast. This spell can only be broken when he learns to love and be loved in return before the last petal of the beggar's rose falls.

And so begins Disney's re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast. The animators at the Disney studios worked diligently for 3 long years developing and executing the project. The original version of the film was scrapped and rewritten from the ground up with a new director and the song writing team of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman (the latter of who's contributions were so indelible to the creators of the film that he was given a memorial in the closing credits). Using traditional animated techniques and a newly incorporated computer animation system, the team produced one of the most memorable animated films in the Disney canon, as well as one of the greatest films of 1991. It's just as intensely popular today as it was when first released, holding up much better than many of its predecessors or even its descendants. A masterpiece of storytelling and technique, it's also considered one of the greatest animated features of all time.

The restoration team at Disney have done themselves proud with the A/V quality found on this release. The digital clarity of the images is absolutely outstanding. Not a spec of dirt, debris or other nuisances are to be found. Colors are vibrant and crisp, animation is solid, backgrounds are lush and well-defined, and the contrast is high without going overboard. This release was created from the high definition master tapes in the Disney Vault, and great care has been taken to produce pristine imagery without overt and heavy-handed digital nonsense. This is a massively beautiful presentation and deserves our highest rating. For the audio portion, there are 3 options: 7.1 English DTS-HD, 5.1 DEHT French, and 5.1 DEHT Spanish. The master audio DTS track is just as remarkable as its video counterpart. Completely enveloping from start to finish, it's one you'll want to crank. Not just for the sonic booms, but also for the subtleties, particularly the quite moments in the Beast's castle. It's a massively pleasurable aural experience. Subtitles are also included in English SDH, English ESL, French and Spanish. You may also toggle the disc's screen saver on or off plus set its delay timer.

On the other hand, the navigation of the discs themselves can be a bit of a head-scratcher. Even though all of the material contained within is spread out over the 2 discs, a single menu is designed with everything that both discs have to offer with pop-up text to inform you that an option you might select is on the opposite disc. It can be a bit tedious at times, especially when you select one of these options without realizing it and a blank screen pops up asking you to insert the other disc to see it. Having separate menus shouldn't be that big of a deal, as it makes the exploration infinitely simpler. While scrolling through the options, a 3-D tour of the castle plays in the background while you navigate. It's a really nice touch and would have been great had the navigation itself been a little more linear and not quite so cumbersome.

As for the extras, they aren't too extensive as they lean more heavily toward family-friendly. First of all, Disc 1 features 3 different versions of the film: the original theatrical version, the special extended version with the song "Human Again" edited back in, and the storyboard version of the film which utilizes the picture-in-picture option. There's also an audio commentary by the film's directors Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale and co-producer Don Hahn. Additionally, there's a Sing-Along subtitle track and Disney's exclusive FastPlay option, which allows you to customize the features you would like to see in your own particular order. There's also an option called Recommended Feature, which will pick an extra at random and display it on the main menu. The Backstage Disney portion of Disc 1 contains the featurette Composing a Classic: A Musical Conversation with Alan Menken, Don Hahn, and Richard Kraft. Two deleted scenes can also be found in this section, both with introductions. In the Family Play portion, you'll find another featurette: Broadway Beginnings, and also a music video for Jordin Sparks' cover of the "Beauty and the Beast" title song. There's also the Sneak Peaks (which, unfortunately, also open the disc), a Digital Copy segment and a BD-Live option.

On Disc 2, the Backstage Disney section contains the awesome documentary: Beyond Beauty: The Untold Stories Behind The Making of Beauty and the Beast. At certain points during the documentary, there will be a points of interest option that pops up on the screen that will allow you to toggle seamlessly to additional material related to the topic at hand. There's also an index contained within that keeps track of what you've already seen (which isn't accessible from the main menu). The Family Play section contains two games: Enchanted Musical Challenge and Bonjour, Who Is This?, the latter of which is powered by BD-Live. Also on Disc 2, is the Classic DVD Bonus Features section, which includes only some of the extras from the previous Platinum DVD release. Included is The Story Behind the Story featurette, the "Beauty and the Beast" music video by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson, the early presentation reel, an alternate version of "Be Our Guest," alternate score for The Transformation scene, the deleted song "Human Again," an Animation sub-section containing Animation Tests, Roughs & Clean Ups, The Transformation: Pencil Version, and the short featurette: A Transformation: Glen Keane. There's also a Camera Move Test bit and a Trailers & TV Spots section.

Disc 3, the additional DVD, contains a lot of the same things as Discs 1 and 2: all 3 versions of the film, the Sing-Along track, the audio commentary, and a brief segment: Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray Is Suite! The soundtrack for the film itself contains 5.1 DEHT English and French tracks with English and French subtitles.

What you will NOT find included from the original DVD release are all of the interactive games (Maurice's Invention Workshop, Mrs. Potts' Personality Profile, Chip's Musical Challenge, Break The Spell Adventure Game), the "Beauty and the Beast" music video by Jump 5, various featurettes on the making of Beauty and the Beast, audio-guided tours of various galleries including Art & Design, Layouts & Backgrounds and Poster & Ad Designs. Also not included are the demo recordings of the songs from the film. It's a real shame that Disney went to the trouble of only including a portion of the previous video-based extras. For myself, I would have happily paid for a 4 Disc version with everything included, and I'm sure many of you would have too, but I suppose one should just be happy to have a high definition version of the film and a great documentary to complement it. However, those of you who currently own the Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition, I recommend hanging on to it if you want to hang on to the extras that didn't carry over, but definitely upgrade for the new restoration and the fantastic documentary.

The bottom line here is that Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition could have been a spectacular package had everything from before been included and the menus were a little easier to navigate, but as is, it's still a marvelous release. The quality upgrade is reason enough to pick it up, along with the new extras. The film itself is a triumph of animated storytelling and one that will be with us for generations to come, but next time around, let's hope we get the complete package.

Tim Salmons

Alice in Wonderland: 60th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Disc)

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Alice in Wonderland: 60th Anniversary Edition
1951 (2011) - Disney
Released on Blu-ray on February 1st, 2011
Also available on DVD

DTS-HD Master Audio

Film Rating: A-
Video (1-20): 19
Audio (1-20): 19
Extras: A+

"I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!"

Disney's 1951 version of Alice in Wonderland is one of the most beloved titles in the Disney animated catalogue.

Based on the Lewis Carroll's children's novels "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass," it's also one of the most whimsical of all of Disney's animated features. I've always felt that the story itself was a bit uneven, but I believe the film was aimed more directly at kids rather than families - much like the original stories. We meet one silly group of people after another, rather like The Wizard of Oz, without much explanation or juxtaposition. I'm not complaining really because it all works in the confines of the story itself. It's a very cerebral exercise set in this fantastic little world called Wonderland, even though upon its initial release it was derided by critics and fans of Lewis Carroll. None of that matters, of course, as it has stood the test of time and is still a much beloved film.

The presentation on this Blu-ray release is just as fantastic as one would expect. Disney is really pulling out all the stops with these BD releases. Colors are deep, lush and extremely vibrant. Everything from Alice's dress, the Caterpillar's smoke and the red of the painted roses are positively bursting with rich color. The film itself is almost completely free of debris and grain, although I noticed some small but brief weak points in the print, but they're so miniscule that you'll actually have to freeze frame to see them more carefully. Overall, this a wonderfully detailed and sharp image, especially for a fifty year old animated film. For the audio options, you get an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, as well as French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks. The most important track though, in my opinion, is the restored original theatrical soundtrack in mono. I prefer seeing a film not just the way it was meant to be seen, but also how it was meant to be heard. Don't get me wrong though. The DTS track does a great job, but I prefer the original mono mix. Both are very satisfying and should leave very little room for complaint. There are also optional subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. You may also toggle the disc's screen saver on or off plus set its delay timer.

As for the extras, this is really a marvelous package. Essentially everything from the original DVD release has been carried over. The only things missing are a couple of interactive games and two sing-along songs. Things begin with the Disneyview option, which allows you to watch the film with artwork placed in the blank spaces on each side of the screen. I have to say, I really love this option and hope that they continue to implement it with their classic full screen features. There's also an option called Recommended Feature, which will pick an extra at random and display it on the main menu. In the Backstage Disney portion, a fantastic documentary called Through the Keyhole: A Companion's Guide to Wonderland plays side-by-side with the main feature. Also here is Reference Footage: Alice and the Doorknob, as well as the Pencil Test: Alice Shrinks segment. It's also worth nothing that all three of these extras are introduced by Alice herself, Kathryn Beaumont. In the Family Play portion, you'll find the Walt Disney Color TV Introduction to the film, which was used when it was aired on television in 1954. Also look for the Games & Activities sub-heading, under which you'll find the Painting the Roses Red game.

The Classic DVD Bonus Features section includes all of the following: the Reflections on Alice featurette, the Operation Wonderland archival featurette, "I'm Odd," Cheshire Cat song that was cut from the final film, Thru the Mirror, a Mickey Mouse animated short, One Hour in Wonderland, which was featured on The Wonderful World of Disney TV program, An Alice Comedy: Alice's Wonderland animated short, the original theatrical trailers, both of Walt Disney's TV introductions to the film from 1954 & 1964 (the one from 1954 now in black in white), an excerpt from The Fred Waring Show featuring performances of some of the film's score, deleted materials, and finally an interactive art gallery. Additionally, there is a Digital Copy segment and some Sneak Peeks (which also opens the disc).

On the DVD that's included, you get two audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 and the original theatrical soundtrack (mono), as well as subtitles in French and Spanish. The extras include one of the deleted scenes featured on the BD: Pig and Pepper, the Reflections on Alice featurette, and a Virtual Wonderland Party interactive game (carried over from the original DVD release).

This is a really well put-together little package, and dare I say, the best of the Disney BD packages thus far. The ones before it tend to be light on including previously released extras or featured troublesome menu schemes, but with Alice in Wonderland, they got it absolutely spot on. This is a terrific release, and one that kids and adults alike will have a great time with. Highly recommended.

Tim Salmons

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