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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Combo Review: Beauty and the Beast

October 4th, 2010

Beauty and the Beast - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack

It is argued by some that Beauty and the Beast is the greatest Disney movie of all time. There is definitely an argument to be made, as it was the first animated movie to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Even if that might be overstating things, it still sets up very, very high expectations. I previously saw the movie, when it first came out on the home market, which means I haven't seen it in about a decade in a half. So with high expectations, will the film be able to live up to its reputation and my recollections?

The Movie

We learn in the prologue about a handsome, but selfish prince, who after turning away an old woman looking for shelter, was cursed and turned into an ugly beast. This curse extends to his castle and his servants and now he has a limited time to have a woman fall in love with him, or he will be stuck in the best form, for life.

Fast forward a few years and we meet Belle, a young lady who lives nearby with her father, Maurice, who is an inventor. Belle is being pursued romantically by Gaston, who is the greatest hunter in the village and someone everyone admires. On the other hand, Belle thinks he's an inconsiderate jerk.

One day Maurice is off to take his latest invention, an automated wood chopping machine, to the invention convention to show it off, but along the way becomes lost. After his horse becomes frightened, he is set upon by wolves. In a panic for shelter, he runs into an abandoned castle, well, no exactly abandoned, as it is the home of The Beast. At first he only finds the Beasts former servants, who have been turned into clocks and candles and teapots as part of the curse and he is amazed and enchanted by these wonderful things. (He mistakes them for inventions like his own.) Then he comes face-to-face with the Beast, who immediately locks him up for trespassing on his property.

Meanwhile, Gaston is preparing for his wedding to Belle and has everything he needs. He's got the band, the flowers, the priest, etc. All he needs to do now is pop the question and the wedding can begin. However, she deftly turns him down, but he vows to return and make her his wife. It is at this time that Philippe, her father's horse, returns, without her father. Knowing something is very wrong, she rides Philippe and gets him to show her where her father is and she too wanders into the Beast's castle. Seeing her father is sick, she makes a deal with the Beast, her freedom for her father's. The Beast accepts, much to the delight of his servants. While he has given up on reversing the curse, they have not and Belle represents their best, and likely last chance to find someone to fall in love with the Beast and return themselves to normal humans.

When Maurice returns to town he begs the men to help him rescue his daughter, but they all think he's crazy. This gives Gaston an idea. If he can get Maurice declared insane, he will have something with which to blackmail Belle, and she'll have to marry him. (Personally, in his position, I would have gone and "rescued" Belle, hoping to get on the father's good side and use that to marry Belle. But I guess that's too logical and not evil enough for Gaston.)

Meanwhile, the Beast is trying to woo Belle, which is tricky at first, as he has gone quite feral since the curse began. But slowly he regains his humanity and they grow closer together. But Gaston isn't out of the picture, and he's about to put his plan into action.

So, is Beauty and the Beast the greatest Disney movie of all time? No. However, it is the greatest 2D animated movie Disney made during its resurgence (from 1989's release of The Little Mermaid till the rise of 3D animation). And even though this period only lasted for 17 movies over 15 years, it still produced some of the greatest animated films of all time, so don't believe for a second that I am damning this movie with faint praise. Every aspect of the film is working at near perfection from the story, to the songs, to the animation, etc. It earned three Oscar nominations, in the Best Song category alone, and six in total, including two wins. Not even Pixar has managed to top that record (although WALL-E did tie it and Toy Story 3 could break it).

I don't think it is coincidence that Disney's animation studio came back to life after they stopped making movies for kids and just started making movies, period. Just because it is animated, doesn't mean adults can't enjoy it.

The Extras

First a note, there is no difference between the two versions being sold this week, other that the packaging. One has a DVD sized case, the other has a Blu-ray sized case. That's it.

On the first disc of the Blu-ray there are two versions of the movie, plus two modes, for a total of four ways to watch the movie. You can watch the theatrical cut of the film, with or without the picture-in-picture storyboard / animatic track. Or you can watch the extended cut of the film, with or without the audio commentary track. I recommend with the audio commentary track. Very entertaining. There is also a 13-minute featurette on the Broadway show and a music video.

Over on disc two, there's hours of additional featurettes, deleted scenes, two games, and then there's the old DVD extras.

And then there's the DVD.

As for the film's technical presentation, I only have two words: Reference material. This is a movie you can put into your Blu-ray player to show off your home theater system. This film actually sits in the middle of an uncomfortable zone for Blu-ray releases. It was made before High Definition, so at the time, no one was thinking of an eventual 1080p release. However, it is not so old that that it would obviously need to be remastered. A lot of Blu-ray releases for films of this time frame, end up with video transfers worthy of a 7 out of 10. Better than the DVD, but not really a selling point. In this case, Disney went back and re-mastered the film from the original elements to create print that is perfection. This is quite possibly the best looking Blu-ray I've seen, that didn't come from a digital source. The audio is equal to the video with some of the best use of surround sound speakers and it makes use of everything 7.1 surround sound can dish out.

Finally, the Blu-ray only costs about 30% more than the DVD, which comes out in November, and it is easily worth paying the additionally price.

The Verdict

Beauty and the Beast's Blu-ray debut is the Pick of the Week. It is as simple as that.

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Filed under: Video Review, Beauty and the Beast