Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Review

Beauty and the Beast was a film where all the stars aligned, a piece of art made all the more incredible by the circumstances surrounding it. Disney has retold many timeless stories from Cinderella to the recent The Princess and the Frog, but Beauty and the Beast was groundbreaking in its technology, music, casting method, critical praise, and in its portrayal of women, breaking the mold for future Disney princesses. Romantics, children at heart, and movie lovers alike should add Beauty and the Beast to their Blu-ray collection.

Beauty and the Beast tells the story of a selfish prince (Robby Benson) who is cursed with a powerful enchantment after he dismisses an old beggar woman and leaves her to the winter cold. He is turned into a beast, and his household servants are transformed into household items like candlesticks, clocks, and teapots. If he is to break the spell, he must learn to love someone and earn love in return before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose which is slowly wilting. The problem is that the spoiled prince is trapped inside the body of a powerful animal, and his temper tantrums, once a minor annoyance, have made him dangerous to the point where his own servants are terrified of him.

Meanwhile in a nearby town, a young woman named Belle (Paige O’Hara) is growing up and discovering that as an intelligent and well-read woman, she no longer fits in. Everyone expects her to marry Gaston (Richard White), a handsome hunter who is more in love with himself than he is with Belle, but she wants to see the world, have adventures like the ones in her books, and marry someone she loves, perhaps a “prince in disguise.” While on the way to a nearby fair, Belle’s father Maurice (Rex Everhart) gets lost in the woods and is attacked by wolves. He takes shelter in the beast’s castle, but the beast, angered by the intrusion, locks him away in the castle prison. Desperate and worried for her father’s life, Belle makes a deal with the beast. She will take her father’s place and stay with the beast forever if the beast will let her father go free. As time goes on and Belle and the beast spend more time together, however, the beast rediscovers his humanity, and Belle falls in love.

There are so many incredible elements in this film, the first being the technology behind the film. Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to integrated 3D CGI moving backgrounds. The Blu-ray copy is crisp and gorgeous, and it is obvious that Disney put a lot of work into cleaning it up for the re-release. People were blown away by the chandelier in the ballroom scene when the film first premiered in 1991, and in a post-Avatar movie age, I thought that their work held up very well without looking too dated.

Beauty and the Beast also escaped the biggest failing of past Disney films which was the passive female protagonist. Belle is not looking for a prince or waiting for her fairy godmother to show up. She is bright, curious, and kind, and her hunger for knowledge makes her a wonderful role model for young girls. Belle has more in common with the hard-working Tiana from The Princess and the Frog than she does with Snow White, Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty, and she is as much a princess for the girls of 2010 as she was for the girls of 1991.

Another reason why Beauty and the Beast holds up as well in 2010 as it did in 1991 is because the film shied away from big-name film actors. Instead, Disney cast strong singers and voice talents, drawing more from Broadway than they did from Hollywood. Because of that decision, they drew talents like Jerry Orbach (Law and Order), David Ogden Stiers (Winchester from M*A*S*H), and Angela Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate) and gave the kind of supporting roles that actors love to play. By not casting based on star power, the audience could also get immersed in the story instead of listening for Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy.

On a more somber note, Beauty and the Beast was the last complete musical collaboration between composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman. (Ashman completed some of the lyrics for Disney’s Aladdin and is credited as the film’s lyricist.) Menken and Ashman had previously collaborated on Disney’s The Little Mermaid and the cult musical theater classic Little Shop of Horrors. During production, Ashman revealed that he was dying from AIDS, and he passed away before the film was released. Beauty and the Beast was arguably the best work of Ashman’s career with classic songs like “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” and of course the title song “Beauty and the Beast.” It is a tragedy that he did not live to see the success of his last work.

Finally, Beauty and the Beast represented many firsts for animation being treated as serious art. In 1991, Beauty and the Beast won the Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song, and it was the first animated film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. At an early screening of the film at the New York Film Festival, the audience even broke into applause several times throughout the movie, something unprecedented for New York City critics.

For all these reasons, I adore Beauty and the Beast. It is my favorite Disney film being simultaneously a grandiose Broadway-style musical and a simple love story. I think the creators put it best when they said that beneath the chandelier, the dancing, and the golden ball gown, “Beauty and the Beast” was a “love song, sung by a teapot.” Beauty and the Beast set a new standard for storytelling and the medium of animation, and the Blu-ray release is well worth the wait.

Blu-ray/DVD Bonus Features

The Blu-ray comes with 3 versions of the film including the original theatrical release and an extended version with the cut song “Human Again.” Fans also get a making-of featurette with extras videos about Disney animation, Howard Ashman, the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, and previous versions of the story which can be accessed by pressing the Enter button on the remote when directed. There are also a few games for the kids, a new music video, deleted scenes, art galleries, and sing-along subtitles for the film. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that there is something here for everyone.

"Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition" is on sale October 5, 2010 and is rated G. Adventure, Animation, Children & Family, Fantasy, Musical, Romance. Directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise. Written by Linda Woolverton, Roger Allers. Starring Angela Lansbury, Bradley Pierce, David Ogden Stiers, Jerry Orbach, Jesse Corti, Paige OHara, Rex Everhart, Richard White, Robby Benson.

Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.


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