Tale as old as 1991, finally on DVD

Beauty and the Beast is arguably the most critically acclaimed animated feature of all time. It’s the only cartoon to ever be nominated for a best picture Oscar (this was before the Academy decided to create a category specifically for full-length animated features), and it is considered by some film historians to be the defining film in Disney’s animated renaissance, which began with The Little Mermaid and continued with Aladdin and The Lion King.

Now, 11 years and several spin-offs later, the illustrated masterpiece has finally found its way to DVD, and it meets all the requirements.

At least two discs? Check. Behind the scenes footage? Check. Interviews with the cast and crew? Of course.

Plus, there’s a whole lot here that’s not exactly standard, such as three games to please the kiddies and three separate versions of the film to watch again and again.

The movie itself has aged beautifully with little that doesn’t hit the mark 10-plus years after the original release. The only aspect that seems a little dated is the title-cards, which open the original release and the work-in-progress versions, but that’s forgivable.

Even the ballroom scene, a landmark in the field of computer generated images sewn into hand drawn animation, seems just as fresh as contemporary CGI scenes.

The Special Edition version of the film includes the deleted song “Human Again,” and was released last year to IMAX theatres. Other than the one song, not much is different from the original and since watching this version at home takes away the novelty of a giant screen viewing, there’s really only one reason to sit through this version – to hear one extra song.

The work-in-progress version, which was shown at the 1991 New York Film Festival, creates a whole new feel for the film with unpolished scenes and several shots that are little more than preliminary story-boards woven into the audio. There are enough fully-colored scenes to keep this version visually interesting, while the incomplete frames offer a view of the various levels of refinement that go into the final product.

Disc One also includes a game that teases viewers to Disc Two. At the end of Maurice’s Invention Workshop, players receive a code to the “forbidden” game behind the rose window in Disc Two. Whether the forbidden game is actually worth playing, however, is another matter. It’s slow, long and annoyingly difficult. Disc Two is where all the making-of type footage lie, and it literally could take an entire afternoon to sift through it all. Some of the features are better than others — a good rule is to avoid all galleries and view anything that has to do with the process of animation or music — and each builds on the others in some way or another. What works best about the features is they give a better-than-average view of everything that goes into making an animated feature. There are interviews with animators, composers, voice actors, directors, the producer, Celine Dion, Walt Disney’s grandson and even the surprisingly scary Michael Eisner.

But the star of the behind-the-scenes footage is, by far, producer Don Hahn (The Lion King), who seems to have something to say about every single item in the menu.

The games, while cute and a little fun, are the same each time playing, so there’s not much point to doing them more than once. Mrs. Potts’ Personality Profile game is the best of the lot. It’s quick, easy and it matches viewers up with the Beauty and the Beast character who is most like them (this reviewer was matched with Lumiere, the candlestick).

And you don’t necessarily have to be a huge Beauty and the Beast fan to enjoy the DVD. All you have to be is a movie fan. The historic nature of the feature is enough to warrant a viewing, and the different versions of the film along with bonus materials serve, at the very least, as a lesson in film history, with some entertainment along the way.

Contact Dustin Dwyer at oraclefeatures@yahoo.com