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Setting the bar once again in home entertainment, Disney has outdone themselves with the Diamond Edition release of Beauty and the Beast on Blu-Ray. This 5-Disc set is an amazingly comprehensive look at everything that went into the production of the film itself, as well as an exhaustive history of the studio itself and the pivotal moments that led to the renaissance of Disney animation in the late 80’s and early 90’s. In addition, this set contains one of the best looking animated transfers to date, along with a stunning 3D presentation of the film. I haven’t yet seen any other entries in the Diamond Edition collection, but if they are anything like this, Disney is about to corner the Blu-Ray market.
While there is an extraordinary amount of extras in this set, I have to begin by talking about the film itself. If you’re reading this, it’s a pretty fair assumption that you’ve seen the movie and are already aware of just how brilliant it is. However, it’s a whole new experience to see the film in 3D. There’s a lot of talk right now about the longevity of 3D, and whether or not it’s a dying fad. While there are a lot of movies unneccesarily trying to capitalize on the phenomenon, in this case the presentation truly does enhance the filmic experience. Right from the start, as Belle is walking down her “small provincial town,” I was astounded as the city streets seemed to sweep around me, not just creating a depth of field, but literally enveloping me in this world. If I didn’t know better, I would assume that the film was actually made in 3D, rather than converted after the fact. It’s flawless.
However, if you don’t have a 3D television, you’re still in for a treat. The film itself looks amazing, presented in 1080p High Definition and in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There are three ways of watching. You can choose the original theatrical version that we all know so well, a “special extended edition,” featuring an extra musical number called “Human Again,” or the original theatrical version with a picture-in-picture rough cut playing at the same time. Honestly, I prefer the original version to the extended cut. While I love “Human Again” as a stand-alone sequence, it disrupts the flow of the film while feeling tacked on.
As for the extras, I literally just spent my entire evening completely engrossed in everything this set has to offer. Rather than comprise a list of every extra on the set, I’m going to simply discuss a few highlights and lowlights, leaving everything else to be discovered. To start with the low points, I was relatively disappointed with the feature entitled “Broadway Beginnings.” Having seen the Broadway production of the film multiple times, I was really looking forward to a detailed look behind-the-curtain of this extraordinary production. Instead, I got talking-head interviews with several cast members including Donny Osmond and Joe Jonas. Not exactly the insight I was hoping for. There is a more interesting look at the Broadway production mixed in with another extra later, but this particular feature fell flat. There are also a couple of games geared towards the very young, and a music video of the Beauty and the Beast theme as performed by Jordin Sparks. Considering the amount of material on this set, I can deal with these more trivial features.
As for the highlights of the set (beyond the film itself), I particularly enjoyed the feature entitled “Composing a Classic,” with composer Alan Menken, producer Don Hahn and Menken’s agent, Richard Kraft. This segment runs just over 20 minutes and is simply a conversation around a piano with these three personalities discussing the production. They share anecdotes, discuss some of the hardships, and just reminisce about their time on the film. While a simple idea, what made this feature so amazing was setting the conversation around a piano. While talking, Menken punctuates his stories with musical examples, presenting alternate versions of songs and evolutions of ideas. Menken’s partner, Howard Ashman, unfortunately died before the release of the film, and I was pleased that moments of this feature felt like a tribute the legacy of his work.
Other standouts include two deleted scenes, including an alternate opening that runs over 18 minutes. I was completely surprised as I watched this to realize how little I knew about the evolution of the story. This segment is presented in colored storyboards, presenting a scenario in which Belle comes from a family of wealth that loses everything after their fleet of ships sink in a storm. Eventually, her father ends up at the beast’s castle and we witness his introduction to the enchantments in the castle. There are also several very funny sight gags of his horse encountering the enchanted objects in the stable. In watching this segment, I couldn’t help but wonder what could have been if they had kept the story going in this direction. The story might have ended up following a similar path, but the tone of the film would have been completely different. This was a world in which all the men still wore white wigs, and Gaston came across more aristocratic than buffoonish. The other deleted sequence wasn’t as compelling, featuring storyboards of Belle meeting four enchanted objects in the library. There was no great loss in cutting this sequence.
By far, the best feature on the set is “Beyond Beauty: The Untold Stories Behind the Making of Beauty and the Beast.” This is an incredibly detailed look at the entire history of the production, featuring very candid interviews with those involved. The film is now considered a classic, making it even more interesting to hear some of the frustrations that went into creating the film first-hand. Not only is this an honest and detailed look at the film, but this documentary has an interactive feature allowing you to branch off into sub-documentaries within the main one, seamlessly branching back and forth. There is so much material to be found that it’s easy to get lost within all the features. Luckily, they include an index in which you can monitor which segments you’ve already watched, and which ones are still unviewed. These sub-features include closer looks at aspects of the production, along with several historical features and other pieces of animation that bear some relation to the film itself. This is the segment where a lot of the concept and background art can be found as well.
As I mentioned above, this is just a taste of the immense amount of material found in this set. If you don’t have a Blu-Ray, there is also a DVD of the film along with a Digital Copy. All in all, this is a must-own set that belongs in every film collection. It is also an argument in favor of 3D televisions. I wasn’t entirely sold on the concept before, but this is the one that helped push me over the edge. This is a perfect set for a perfect movie, and an absolute joy to watch.