So far, in the long and storied history of the Academy Awards, only two animated films have been nominated for Best Picture: 2009’s Up and 1991’s groundbreaking Beauty and the Beast—a film that’s still just as magical today as it was when it was released, nearly two decades ago.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the story of a beautiful young woman named Belle (Paige O’Hara), who lives in a provincial French town with her eccentric father, Maurice (Rex Everhart). Though the rest of the town sees the bookish young woman as odd, she’s caught the eye of boorish Gaston (Richard White), who’s determined to marry her, no matter what it takes.
When Maurice gets lost in the woods on the way to show off his latest invention, Belle goes out to search for him, only to find that he’s being held prisoner in a mysterious castle by a terrifying beast (Robby Benson). Belle offers to take her father’s place, not knowing that the castle, its staff, and the monster who’s holding her prisoner are enchanted—and she could be the one to break the spell.
When it was first released two decades ago, Beauty and the Beast was a breathtaking film. After a brief slump (which was broken by 1989’s The Little Mermaid), Disney animation was back at the top of its game—and Beauty and the Beast stood out for its stunning backdrops, its lovable characters, and its unforgettable (and Oscar-winning) musical numbers. Not only that, but for the first time in an animated film, it gave audiences a glimpse of eye-popping computer generated graphics—in the ballroom scene.
Though animation techniques have changed significantly since the film’s original release—and computer animation is now commonplace—Beauty and the Beast is still a gorgeous animated film. In HD, it looks just as crisp and as vibrant as any new animated film—and it has even more personality than most.
After all, while the animation is absolutely gorgeous, it’s really the characters that make Beauty and the Beast such an adorable fairy tale. Any bright young bookworm will instantly fall in love with Belle, the smart young woman who knows that there’s more to life than just finding a handsome man to sweep her off her feet. She’s intelligent and strong-willed, and she stands up for herself—even when forced to go against a growling beast.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Belle is surrounded by a lovable cast of supporting characters, from her adorably batty father to the Beast’s enchanted servants: amorous Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), straight-laced Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), and sweet Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury). In fact, even the bad guys are strangely lovable. Though Gaston turns out to be a pretty dastardly villain, he’s still pompous and arrogant in the most entertaining of ways. And although the Beast himself is a bit of a bad boy (let’s be honest here: he’s not exactly hero material), he’s nevertheless endearing, in an awkwardly grumpy kind of way.
But perhaps better still—better than the animation and the lovable characters—is the music. The stellar songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman once again teamed up to create a number of songs that you just can’t get out of your head—from the romantic theme (which, incidentally, is still best sung by Mrs. Potts) to the majestic “Be Our Guest” to the downright silly “Gaston.” Even if you haven’t seen the movie in years, you’ll find that these unforgettable songs come right back. In no time, you’ll be singing right along—and you’ll keep singing along for days.
Beauty and the Beast has it all: action, adventure, stunning animation, memorable characters, and music that’s absolutely infectious. Whether you’re watching for the first time or the fifty-first, it’s a magical fairy tale—and it’s sure to win the hearts of princesses (and bookworms) of all ages.
25th Anniversary Signature Edition Review:
In the 25 years since Beauty and the Beast was released in theaters, it’s been in and out of the infamous Disney vault several times (and I’ve covered a few of them below). But even if you’ve seen them all before, you’ll still love some of the all-new extras included on the Signature Edition Blu-ray.
The extras here are full of nostalgia, starting with Always Belle, which introduces fans to the woman behind the voice of Belle, Paige O’Hara. You can also watch several members of the voice cast in action in The Recording Sessions. Or you can take a look back—way back—to the origins of Walt Disney’s dream of making Beauty and the Beast with #1074: Walt, Fairy Tales, and Beauty and the Beast.
For a look at the music, there’s Menken & Friends: 25 Years of Musical Inspiration, which follows a quartet of other Disney musical filmmakers as they pay a visit to legendary composer Alan Menken. But while it’s pretty magical to hear Menken playing parts of your favorite Beauty and the Beast songs on his piano, admittedly, much of the feature is spent with the others geeking out about Menken and his work.
Or, for a kid-friendly look at the beloved classic, try 25 Fun Facts about Beauty and the Beast, which runs through some interesting Disney trivia with a pair of Disney Channel stars.
For fans of Beauty and the Beast, the latest Blu-ray release is filled with facts and footage and fascinating stories. So after watching this magical musical yet again, don’t miss the extras.
Blu-ray 3D Review:
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is definitely a beauty in 3D. In fact, the remarkable animated 3D rendering often looks even better than some of the new live-action films that have actually been filmed in 3D.
As far as special features go, though, the five-disc Blu-ray 3D combo release comes with the same features that the 2010 Diamond Edition Blu-ray release did. That’s not to say that the release is a disappointment. After all, the Diamond Edition is loaded with features (see below for an overview of the extras). But you won’t find anything new if you pick up the film in 3D—except, of course, for one gorgeous animated classic in 3D.
I could go on for pages and pages and pages about the Diamond Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo release of Beauty and the Beast—because there are so many special features that it takes up two full Blu-ray discs. When watching the movie, you can choose from five different options: the original theatrical version, the extended edition (featuring an additional song, “Human Again”), the storyboard version (with picture-in-picture storyboards), the commentary version, and the sing-along version.
If you want to go a little deeper, you can watch storyboard versions of two deleted scenes. You’ll meet a few characters who didn’t make the cut in “Belle in the Library,” and you’ll see a completely different setup in the lengthy alternate opening. You can also learn more about the music in Composing a Classic, hear behind-the-scenes stories in Beyond Beauty, and get to know the stars of Beauty and the Beast on Broadway (from Donny Osmond to Nick Jonas) in Broadway Beginnings.
From games and music videos to making-of features, there’s something for every fan in this massive three-disc collection. Still, it’s a little tricky to navigate—and the diagram included in the case isn’t a whole lot of help. So while the set is definitely worth exploring, don’t be surprised if you find yourself lost in the Blu-ray woods. Just rest assured that the beast that you’ll encounter there isn’t really as scary as he looks.