Sunday, September 18, 2016

Video review: "Beauty and the Beast: 25th Anniversary Edition"

I’ve often said that we live in the second Golden Age of animation. Most film historians trace its beginning to 1989’s “The Little Mermaid,” a competent but hardly groundbreaking picture. I think the enlightenment truly began two years later with the release of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Universally hailed as a masterpiece, it remains the first animated film ever nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.

“Beauty” took an old fairy tale, which had previously been adapted into a 1946 French film by Jean Cocteau, and turned it into something new. Part kiddie flick, part romantic tragedy and part Broadway musical, it combines breathtaking imagery, heartfelt voice acting and unforgettable music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.

You know the tale: Belle, a smart and strong-willed young woman voiced by Paige O’Hara, is captured by the Beast (Robby Benson), formerly a handsome prince cursed with a spell that turns him into a monstrous form, resembling a cross of a dog, lion and bull. The enchanted kitchenware and furniture (who are actually members of the prince’s staff, similarly bewitched) nudge along their burgeoning romance, hoping to break the curse.

Meanwhile, the huntsman Gaston (Richard White), who resembles the normal sort of hero you see in the movies but is really a narcissistic bully, whips up a frenzy of fear against the Beast in hopes of capturing Belle for himself as his unwilling wife.

“Beauty and the Beast” was one of the first hand-drawn animated films to also incorporate computerized imagery into the final effect, most notably in the stunning ballroom scene. It also kicked off a revival of film musicals -- though animated films have moved away from that lately -- along with the now-standard practice of using established film and TV actors (including Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers) instead of just career voice actors.

Truly a watershed moment in film, “Beauty and the Beast” deserves its place as one of the greatest animated movies of all time.

There have obviously been several versions on video before now, but Disney has pulled out all the stops for the 25th Anniversary Edition on blu-ray.

This includes three different versions of the film: the theatrical release, the extended edit with an additional song, “Human Again,” and a new sing-along version. You can also access a work-in-progress version using Disney’s digital service. And you can watch bonus material from prior video releases the same way.

There is also a host of new material, including footage from the original recording booth sessions; “Always Belle,” a reminiscence with Paige O’Hara; a look back at Walt Disney’s fascination with fairy tales; “25 Fun Facts About Beauty and the Beast;” and “Menken & Friends: Years of Musical Inspiration.”



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