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Beauty and the Beast: Platinum Edition

Buena Vista Home Video

Starring the voices of Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson,
Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, and Angela Lansbury

Written by Roger Allers and Linda Woolverton
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

Sure, Disney's Beauty and the Beast provoked all kinds of hyperbolic ballyhoo when it became the first animated film ever to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture in 1992. The critical acclaim awarded the film, in addition to the immense popularity it gained with the moviegoing public, is also credited with kick-starting a renewed interest in animated features, leading to Disney's resurgent and prolific form in the 1990s with a string of cartoon blockbusters.

But all of that really misses the point of what made Beauty and the Beast such an enormous treat to audiences with no particular affection for the painted cell. Beauty and the Beast, for a fleeting moment that not even Disney could sustain, resurrected the grand movie musical in the tradition of MGM's song-and-dance spectacles three decades earlier. While even Broadway had mostly departed course from the traditional, romantic yearnings of Rodgers and Hammerstein in favor of melodramatic pop-and-rock-opera bluster (with erratic Andrew Lloyd Webber leading the way), there hadn't been a decent orchestral movie musical since 1965's classic The Sound of Music. Almost four decades had passed without a new wholesome show-tune humming through their transom, creating the popular perception that show-tunes were the exclusive domain of bluehairs and their hairdressers.

Beauty and the Beast changed all that, at least for its 90-minute running-time (multiplied by generous repeat viewings). Howard Ashman's clever lyrics and Alan Menken's soaring score revived the best of the old-fashioned musical genre. Based on the classic French fairy tale about a young woman (wonderfully voiced by Paige O'Hara) who discovers hidden beauty behind the frightening facade of a cursed monster (former teen star Robby Benson), Beauty and the Beast is perfect material for the musical paradigm with its simple morality play magnified by the swelling emotional lilt of grand overtures and sweet romantic melodies toward its unambiguously affirming climax.

However, despite the quality of their film and its triumphant music, Disney showed no faith with tradition. Not only did they undermine the power of Menken's and Ashman's title love theme with an antiseptic pop rendition by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson to run over the end titles and break into the Top 40, but they followed Beauty with a string of multicultural mediocrities pawning pop P.C. platitudes.

In addition to the music, the grand animation in Beauty and the Beast is ravishing and luminous, and all of the characters are brought to vivid life by the gifted vocal performers, including Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, and Jerry Orbach. The lyrics were Ashman's last: he died little less than a year before the film was released.

*          *          *

Disney's two-disc "Platinum Edition" of Beauty and the Beast contains not one, not two, but three feature-length versions of the film, including the original 84-minute Original Theatrical Release and an expanded Special Edition (90 min.) including the song "Human Again," which was originally cut from the film (it doesn't add much) but later worked into the Broadway stage adaptation. The third version of the feature is the Work-in-Progress Edition, exhibited two months before the film's official release, with several scenes incompletely animated and substituting, at times, line drawings, paintings, or unpainted moving sketches in their place. Using a new high-definition transfer technology, the film is presented in a bracingly crisp and colorful anamorphic digital transfer (1.85:1) with new Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes. The Special Edition includes a lively audio commentary by unpretentious producer Don Hahn and directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise. Disc One also includes Maurice's Invention Workshop game, which begins the Break the Spell adventure continued on Disc Two.

Disc Two is loaded with extra materials, split into four sections. The first area, Cogsworth & Lumiere's Library, includes nearly an hour (51:01) of interviews spanning topics from the origins of the fairy tale to the creation of this DVD set.

Chip's Fun and Games is dominated by two fairly annoying DisneyTV items: a gratingly enthusiastic Disney's Animation Magic featurette (14:24), and an equally insipidly cheerful music video for the Beauty and the Beast theme song by the sugar-fed tweenie dance group Jump 5 (4:03). Chip's Musical Challenge Game is a slow-paced exercise of concentration.

In Mrs. Potts' Engaging Treats, Celine Dion is omnipresent as the host of The Making of Beauty and the Beast (28:02) and a performer in the official Beauty and the Beast music video featuring the sincere French-Canadian songstreuse and Peabo Bryson. Dion also introduces The Story Behind the Story (25:37), a series of storytime versions of Disney film plots (including Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and, everyone's favorite, Mulan) read by likes of James Earl Jones, Ming-Na, and some Beauty cast members. Mrs. Potts' Personality Profile Game cruelly pigeonholes viewers into specific character types depicted in the film.

And locked away in the forbidden west wing is the Break the Spell adventure game, which involves simple (but somewhat tough to navigate) obstacle courses.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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