One of Disney's finest animated productions, Beauty and the Beast (1991) cemented the studio's return to form after The Little Mermaid's resounding success two years earlier. It's no sophomore slump when viewed as part of Disney's "Big Four" from that era---the other two being Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994)---and easily outshines anything else during the Disney Renaissance of 1989-1999. Beauty and the Beast smartly adapted Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve's fairy tale into a full-blown musical with songs by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman, and is also notable for being the first Disney animated film to use a screenwriter (Linda Woolverton) rather than storyboards during the initial development process. Yet perhaps its most memorable achievement was the Best Picture nomination---a first for animated films---that it lost to The Silence of the Lambs.
But all the objective analysis or trivia in the world doesn't measure up to the fact that I subjectively love this movie from start to finish. Beauty and the Best knocked my socks off in theaters (point of reference: I was 12 at the time), I watched it countless times on VHS, DVD, and now Blu-ray, and it's become one of the few animated films that has stuck with me through various stages of life; from surly pre-teen to proud father, I've never felt too young or too old to fully enjoy it. Intensely theatrical and just about perfectly paced, the film's also got one heck of a visual pedigree: serving up a mixture of hand-drawn animation with just a touch of tasteful CGI (the now-famous "ballroom scene", a fledgling Pixar contribution), it's as much a visual tour de force as it is a Broadway-quality musical.
Yet, for all its obvious visual and song-driven strengths, Beauty and the Best remains one of Disney's very best due to the pairing of its characters and voice cast. Paige O'Hara as Belle is the obvious standout: she brings authority and humor to the role (not to mention a terrific singing voice), and her character's journey from cottage to castle is a memorable one. Robby Benson's performance as The Beast isn't far behind: his menacing tone gradually softens, perfectly suiting his character's turbulent transition from youth to youth adulthood as he deals with a curse he brought upon himself 10 years ago. Supporting roles are filled by the likes of Jerry Orbach (Lumiere), David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth), Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts), Rex Everhart (Maurice, Belle's father), and more, with each one almost perfectly inhabiting their character...even if most of them don't even attempt a French accent.
I'll be honest, though: Beauty and the Beast's most overlooked secret weapon is actually its de facto villain: Gaston (voiced by Richard White), the initially harmless buffoon of a hunter whose unmet affection for Belle never goes away after she leaves her village. Together with his even more unwitting sidekick LeFou (Jesse Corti), Gaston seems like nothing more than comedy relief or an easy target for slapstick...at first. He's handsome and dashing despite his complete lack of self-awareness, a subversive swipe at traditional Disney villains that's not as obvious since The Beast is initially presented as Belle's biggest and most immediate threat. The film's gradual bait-and-switch is fully realized once our heroine finally leaves the castle to care for her sick father, and it's the successful third-act turn that makes us realize we're now rooting for both title characters as a unit instead of just one.
As a whole, Beauty and the Beast is much more than the sum of its parts: Disney obviously realized they had struck gold with The Little Mermaid and improved upon in just about every single category. It's a true "family film"---a rarity, even these days---in that adults and children can enjoy it in equal measure, even if you're just in it for the songs. It's also a title I could've sworn I reviewed already, but alas: I didn't start at DVD Talk until almost a year after the Platinum Edition DVD was released, and didn't get into Blu-ray until a year after the Diamond Edition Blu-ray. This new "25th Anniversary Edition", like most Disney double-dips, is more of a completely different package than a reprint: while the excellent A/V quality appears identical to the previous edition and both the theatrical and Special Edition cuts are included, there's an all-new slate of extras to dig through. It's not quite an essential purchase for owners of the older disc, but a decent silver medalist if you never got around to buying that one.
NOTE: As with the Diamond Edition DVD, there's a slight change to the theatrical version that appears to be the result of a small branching error: near the end of "Something There", a short dialogue between Mrs. Potts and Chip ("I'll tell you when you're older") uses animation from the Special Edition instead of the original shot, which ends a half-second or so too early and feels like a rough edit. I doubt this small issue will be addressed or rectified by the studio...but if there's ever some sort of replacement program, I'll be sure to post more information here.
Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that slightly opens up the original 1.85:1 image, this 1080p transfer of Beauty and the Beast appears more or less identical to the Diamond Edition Blu-ray (it may be encoded a bit differently, but any differences would be negligible). This is a clean and attractive picture with excellent image detail and textures that showcase the film's terrific character designs and illustrative backgrounds. No obvious digital issues---including excessive noise reduction, compression artifacts, or banding---could be spotted along the way. In fact, the only minor complaint is the color palette which, like the Diamond Edition, leans a bit warm; the separate and long out-of-print 3D Blu-ray reportedly doesn't, but I've never seen it. Either way, it's impossible to determine whether this "warmer" version is accurate or not, but I'd imagine only the most picky videophiles with notice or care.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and promotional photos on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
Equally impressive is the default DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix (also identical to the Diamond Edition), which offers crisp dialogue and sparse but notable amounts of surround activity without feeling overcooked. LFE and channel separation are quite strong at times, although most normal conversations are anchored squarely up front with only subtle background effects and music cues filling out the rest of the sound stage. It's honestly not all that different from the older 5.1 mix as far as overall presence goes, but the obvious boost in fidelity on this lossless track makes it a definitive effort in every regard. Optional French and Spanish dubs are included during the main feature (Dolby Digital 5.1), as well as English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles during the film and most of the extras.
Want more textless Disney posters? Boy, are you in luck!
Perhaps the only genuine improvement over the Diamond Edition Blu-ray is this disc's menu interface: it's smart and simple, devoid of the clunky navigation and annoying dialogue that bogged down the older Blu-ray. Playback, chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus feature access are all available on the main menu, and a handy "Resume" function lets you at least bypass some of the advertisements and logos. This two-disc release is packaged in a dual-hubbed keepcase; also included is a nice matching slipcover and a Digital Copy redemption code.
There's a decent mix of supplements here and, like Disney's recent double-dips, they're all new and nothing from the Diamond Edition Blu-ray has been ported over. Aside from the "all-new" Sing-Along Version of the film (basically, burnt-in karaoke subtitles during the songs), the bulk of this new material is a handful of short featurettes.
"Always Belle" (11 minutes, 32 seconds) is a short but very enjoyable conversation with Paige O'Hara, who talks about her early life, introduction to singing, odd jobs, her passion for painting, working on Beauty and the Beast, and her recent work as a vocal coach and supporter of community theater. O'Hara is very candid and appreciative, and it's easy to see why this Disney Legend has been so successful. Also included are vintage photographs, memorabilia, and videotaped footage of her voice over work as Belle, which is re-used a few times in the other featurettes.
"Menken and Friends: 25 Years of Musical Inspiration" (19 minutes, 5 seconds) serves up a roundtable conversation with Disney songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Hamilton creator and golden boy Lin-Manuel Miranda, lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz, and of course Alan Menken himself. This is an enjoyable chat which includes each contributor's first exposure to Beauty and the Beast, other projects, trivia, lots of enthusiastic gushing, Menken's approach to the score, and even a few short performances by Menken and the group.
Artwork by Dorota Kotarba-Mendez, Rocio Cintron, Steven Thompson, and Daria Vinogradova. Available here, if you're rich.
"#1074: Walt, Fairy Tales, and Beauty and the Beast" (9 minutes, 36 seconds) combines vintage Walt Disney audio interview clips with archived photos, videos, and brand new interviews with Disney animators, producers, and crew members. Topics include Disney's massive library of European fairy tales and literature, importing European animators and artists to work at the studio in the 1940s, early versions of future classics like Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland, and of course Beauty and the Beast. It's an entertaining but all-too-brief look behind the curtain, and would probably feel more at home on the more historically-themed Diamond Edition Blu-ray.
"The Recording Sessions" (3 minutes, 48 seconds), introduced by producer Don Hahn, features videotaped footage of Paige O'Hara, Richard White, David Ogden Stiers, Jerry Orbach, Angela Lansbury, and Bradley Michael Pierce ("Chip") recording some of their original lines and songs. The image is presented as more of a picture-in-picture that syncs with the finished scenes; this one's also a bit too short for its own good, but still enjoyable.
Finally, "25 Fun Facts About Beauty and the Beast" (5 minutes, 24 seconds) is hosted by two clean-cut and sassy Disney Channel stars, and it's the kind of fluffy bonus feature I normally skip right over. You might learn three or four things during this lightweight puff piece, but it's something you'll definitely only watch once. Also tacked on is a short Sneak Peek and Teaser Trailer (90 seconds each) for the upcoming live-action Beauty and the Beast, but neither of these show much new material. All bonus features include optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Beauty and the Beast was my favorite Disney production growing up, thanks in no small part to its memorable songs, fun characters, terrific visuals, and a story that feels perfectly paced from start to finish. My opinion hasn't changed much during the last quarter-century: this is still an easy "Top 10" pick for all-time animated films, and it's stuck with me like glue over the years. Disney's new 25th Anniversary Blu-ray is a curious sidestep from their own Diamond Edition in 2010: the A/V quality is virtually identical, but the extras are completely different (and, though enjoyable, are a step down) from that earlier disc. So while this isn't necessarily a must-have for owners of the Diamond Edition---although die-hard fans may want to indulge, and I'll happily keep both copies---it's still a solid buy for those who, for whatever reason, don't own Beauty and the Beast on Blu-ray yet. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.