Beauty and the Beast
Back in 1937 the Walt Disney Studios introduced a concept brilliant in its simplicity yet powerful enough to forever alter the scope of the entertainment industry; the feature length animated movie. At the time the thought of a cartoon extending to over an hour might have seemed ridiculous. Back then animation was primarily used to create cartoon shorts that could be wedged in between the main feature and the newsreel. The idea that people would go to the theater and pay specifically for an over long cartoon might have seemed very risky. Several decades and many billions of dollars later and the animated feature is a driving force with their own category in the prestigious Academy Awards. Over time Disney has created one animated masterpiece after another so that now you can pretty much determine a person’s age by asking what their favorite Disney movie is. In the case of my daughter she entered that magical time in childhood during the release of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. In those pre-DVD days we first saw this together in the theaters but later wore out a couple of copies of the video tape. Even now after almost a decade I can still see the pure joy on my daughter’s face as the first song of the film starts up. Many people talk about ‘Disney Magic’ referring to what they place before us on the screen but the true magic they perform is how it keeps that spark of childhood innocence alive within us. My daughter has grown up and left the family home but for her next visit I have a fantastic surprise for us to share; the Diamond edition of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Blu-ray. After revisiting this movie for this review I can’t wait to watch it again with my daughter. Sure, her tastes have changed over the years, she is anxious to watch ‘Avatar’ in high definition but she was delighted to hear this upcoming double feature will include a visit with Belle and her beastly suitor.
As one of the key songs states this is a ‘Tale as old as time’ full of action, magic and romance but this rendition is loosely based on the French fairy tale ‘La Belle et la Bęte by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. Adapting the story was done by Roger Allers who previous created the story line for ‘Oliver and Company’ and would go on to write the story used in ‘Aladdin’. The actually screenplay was provided by Linda Woolverton who would be selected to author the script for ‘The Lion King’. This movie was part of the effort on the part of Disney to revive and reinvent their sagging animation division and also became a center piece in the migration on several Disney animated classics to the Broadway stage as lavish live musicals. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was also the first of two films to ever receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, not Best Animated Picture, Best Picture period. At least my daughter was in the prime Disney age during the period when they released some of the best constructed movies in their animated canon.
As is the case with every Disney animated movie you need a princess, or at least a beautiful young woman with potential for a princesses’ tiara. Here we have Belle (voiced by Paige O'Hara), a very pretty young woman living in rural France. She lives with her father Maurice (voiced by Rex Everhart), an eccentric inventor. One day while on his way to show the townsfolk his latest gadget he stumbles upon a strange castle. It belongs to The Beast) voiced by Robby Benson). He had been cursed by an enchantress doomed to have the shape of a Beast. Every year on his birthday a single magic rose blooms. Unless he can find as young woman to fall in love with him by the time of his 21st birthday he will remain in his beastly form forever. The Beast holds Maurice hostage but Belle offers herself in her father’s place. Once there the Beast remain gruff an aloof but the household staff is quickly won over by Belle’s beauty, indigence and wit. The staff had all been transformed into common household items such as the housekeeper, Mrs. Potts (voiced by Angela Lansbury), the head butler, a candlestick named Lumiere (voiced by Jerry Orbach) and a grandfather clock, Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers). Naturally, they fall in love and live happily ever after.
As a father of a daughter I always appreciated how Belle was portrayed. She was so much more than the prettiest girl in town. Belle was smart and although she loved to read and learn she was able to relate to others extremely well. The entire moral of the story here was how Belle could over look not only the horrible appurtenance of the Beast but also look past his rude, standoffish demeanor to fall in love with the person he was. What is frequently overlooked is the change the Beast goes through as he is able to grow beyond the bitterness and hatred that dominated his life. The music is incredible. The songs will remain in your mind for a very long time. They came rushing back fresh as ever when I started watching this special edition. After so many times viewing this on my old TV set with its small, 4:3 screen and Mono sound this Blu-ray presentation is watching it as an entirely bright new experience. The lossless audio fills the room with orchestral details I’ve never noticed before. The 1080p video provides a depth of color that is spectacular letting you notice aspects of the production you never could have imagined before. Even if you have seen this film a hundred times before watch it in high definition makes it something special again. nothing can fully prepare you for how good this film looks and sounds, it is far above even its theatrical presentation.