*½/**** Image A Sound A- Extras B
screenplay by Linda Woolverton
directed by Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise
This review was popular for its contrarianism, but to my current thinking it's insubstantial and hurries through the movie to get to the DVD; I'd like to take another crack at it someday.-Ed. (6/14/17)
by Bill Chambers Disney solidified the comeback of 2-D animation after the success of The Little Mermaid with Beauty & the Beast, a throwback to the fairytale reimaginings that defined the studio in its heyday. Uncle Walt himself had, in fact, kicked around the idea of adapting the "song as old as rhyme" during his reign but threw in the towel when he couldn't figure out a way to sustain kiddie interest in what is, in its classical tellings, the story of a monster and a hottie who dine together in the evenings.
Leave it to the hacks of the current regime to impose an hourglass device on the material by way of a rose in a jar whose falling petals represent how much time Beast has left to find a mate (in order to return to human form). A beautiful sorceress wearing a hideous disguise--in a plot to prove and punish the shallowness of men--transformed a handsome prince into a hulking Wuzzle, see, and to finish the job, she imprisoned his servants in household objects appropriate to their names/personalities. Cogsworth became a clock, Chip (such a ye olde name, that) a cracked teacup, and so on.
Belle, the titular "beauty," is the archetypal freethinking Disney heroine nonetheless given an ultimatum: this dude or that dude. She doesn't care to end up with Volvo-chinned Gaston because he wants a slave for a wife; meanwhile, she falls for a hot-tempered manimal, but is it any coincidence that he showers her with gifts the whole time? Disney's Beauty and the Beast is about a superficial woman rejecting one superficial man for another who happens to be ugly enough to ennoble her decision. Gaston is the only character honest with himself in this corrupt, self-righteous enterprise, which rewards Belle's patience by having Beast revert to a chiselled Aryan in the denouement. The animation's slick, but so is that of Gerald Scarfe, and Beauty and the Beast is just another brick in the wall.
The second release in Disney's "Platinum" DVD series, a collection that will eventually be ten titles long if the format can sustain itself for a decade, little regard for timelessness appears to have gone into preparing this 2-disc set, what with trailers galore for upcoming Buena Vista theatrical and DVD product clogging up the first platter. Disc 1 contains not one but three versions of Beauty and the Beast: this year's IMAX-ready re-release featuring the smoothly-integrated new musical number "Human Again"; the 1991 theatrical cut, recipient of an unfathomable, precedent-setting Oscar nomination for Best Picture; and the quickly tiresome "Work-in-Progress" mishmash of sketches and half-painted cels that was shown at the 1991 New York Film Festival and premiered on LaserDisc long before Beauty and the Beast proper.
Technicians have gone back and monkeyed with the colours to identical effect for all three renditions, and though vibrant, the goal seems to have been to erase evidence of manual labour (with the obvious exception of the WIP print)--which is too bad, as there's a lot of charm in brushstrokes, and Belle's hair used to and should be darker, unless my mind's playing tricks on me. Sharpness and contrast are above reproach, on the other hand; I've had difficulty confirming this, but I believe that the (THX-approved) 1991 and 2002 transfers are one and the same, with "Human Again" omitted from the former via seamless branching. A crisp and powerful yet unenveloping Dolby Digital 5.1 mix accompanies the trio of Beauty and the Beasts. I'm also obliged to mention a follow-the-bouncing-ball-style sing-along track.
Trailers for The Jungle Book II (another masterpiece violated), The Lion King's 2003 IMAX engagement, Lilo & Stitch, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Special Edition, Sleeping Beauty - Special Edition, Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year, a commercial for Disney World, introductions to Disc 2's "Break the Spell" game (including the starter puzzle "Maurice's Invention Workshop"), and a screen-specific commentary round out Disc 1. Producer Don Hahn, co-directors Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale, and, arriving late, co-songwriter Alan Menken huddle together to discuss the extended Beauty and the Beast, the centre of conversational gravity being the "Human Again" sequence, probably because its freshest in their minds. Note that throughout, the late lyricist Howard Ashman, Menken's legendary collaborator, receives far more credit for the picture's success than does wunderkind executive Jeffrey Katzenberg; here we learn that Ashman was instrumental (no pun intended) in developing the film's greatest asset, the anthropomorphized utensils and whatnot.
Though "Hieroglyphics" is not among the advertised attractions of Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition, clicking on stain-glass symbols is a trial-and-error pre-requisite to accessing any of the second platter's supplements. Under the Rose icon you'll find the forbidden "West Wing"--click on it like a bastard to resume playing "Break the Spell." As for the others:
Maurice + Cogsworth
Elsewhere called "The Making of Beauty and the Beast" (see Mrs. Potts), contained herein are several brief clips that can be viewed as a 51-minute compilation, probably the best way unless you have a specific agenda. Animation historian John Canemaker, a fixture of Disney's deluxe DVDs, pops up with regularity, we fast grow sick of the condescending Hahn, and the "Early Presentation Reel" is fascinating for how contradictory it is in look and tone to the final product. I'd be remiss if I didn't single out the moving Ashman tribute within or his rough recording of "Human Again," which joins pencil tests for the once-deleted/now-restored bit. A note on the Broadway adaptation of Disney's Beauty and the Beast closes the doc, while audio guided tours of "Concept Art & Design" and "Layouts & Backgrounds" (interfaced like a literal art gallery), two Beauty and the Beast trailers and four TV spots, and "Beauty and the Beast"'s music video, with Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson butchering the tune, cap off this sub-section.
Disney's Animation Magic (14 mins.)
Again you can watch this piecemeal if you'd prefer; I'd recommend skipping it entirely. The unbearably smug stars of Disney Channel's "Even Stevens" explain animation to us in a "hip," less-than-respectful overview that plays out as an extended advert for Hahn's new book on Disney. I did appreciate seeing the initial Tinkerbell designs, however.
Eighties refugees: remember that memory tester "Simon Says"? This is that, but with dishes and far less complicated.
"Beauty and the Beast"
A hip-hop, boy/girl-band cover of the main theme by Jump 5. Yeah, there's something you want to preserve.
Déjà vu! "The Making of Beauty and the Beast" recycled but with segments deleted and Celine Dion-hosted interstitials added, bringing it in at twenty-eight minutes. Also on board: "Mrs. Potts' Personality Profile Game", a simple trivia quiz that determines which of Beast's servants you most resemble; and "The Story Behind the Story" (26 mins.), hosted by Dion, wherein celebrity vocal talent of Disney films past (such as James Earl Jones and Robby Benson, still putting on a voice of erudition) illuminate the narrative and cinematic origins of Cinderella, The Lion King (whilst failing to cite the '60s TV series "Kimba, the White Lion", natch), Pocahontas, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Like good cockroaches, Celine and Peabo resurface here.
The Magic Mirror sub-menu provides a plain text table of the disc's contents, while an Easter egg links to pages upon pages of tech credits. To be honest, not one facet of Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition grabbed me--these annual collectibles ought to aim higher. Originally published: October 22, 2002.