The phrase “tale as old as time” still rings true for the Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast,” though in the new 3D Blu-ray home release, it’s the innovative bonus features that outshine the film itself. While the story of Belle, the Beast, Gaston, and the whole “Be Our Guest” gang has never looked better, this Diamond Edition release delights fans most in the never-before-seen extras.
Now 20 years old, the film’s songs by Alan Menken and the unforgettable Howard Ashman combined with an eclectic cast and a classic story formed a perfect combination, ultimately winning top honors at the Golden Globes and a Best Picture nomination in the Academy Awards, a feat never before achieved by an animated feature. Needless to say, “Beauty and the Beast” has certainly withstood the test of time.
In high definition on Blu-ray, “Beauty and the Beast” looks good, but not perfect. When compared with today’s HD release of “The Lion King,” the film starring Belle looks more than just three years older than Simba’s adventure. Animation outlines are not always as crisp as one might expect from a 2011 Blu-ray release. But even so, it’s an HD transfer that won’t disappoint. However, in 3D, “Beauty and the Beast” falters. Unlike “The Lion King,” which has received a wildly successful theatrical re-release to show off its post-conversion to 3D, “Beauty and the Beast” hasn’t made it back to the national big screen, despite having been scheduled to off and on for the past couple of years. Ultimately the 3D version became slated for today’s home release and it’s easy to see why it never made it into theaters. In 3D, the visuals become muddy, with colors and details far too muted, particularly in dark scenes in and around Beast’s castle. In fact, the most impressive use of 3D on the Blu-ray release is in its menus, which offer a stunningly deep view into Beast’s castle. When that same shot shows up in the film, however, the depth is all but gone. Even in elaborately staged scenes like the famous “Be Our Guest” sequence where one would think added depth would greatly enhance the film, it all appears surprisingly flat.
Fortunately, the lackluster 3D conversion is more than made up for by an incredibly unique bonus feature, so involved that it requires its own separate Blu-ray disc. Called “Beyond Beauty – The Untold Stories,” this interactive bonus feature, originally available on the previous Blu-ray release of the film, has its own video introduction and instructions, told by producer Don Hahn. “Beyond Beauty” walks viewers through the evolution of animation over the decades that lead up to “Beauty and the Beast.” At first glance, it appears to be nothing more than an informative and entertaining walk through Disney’s history. But in the intro, Hahn refers to the feature as offering “seamless” transitions when the viewer wants to learn more, simply by pressing a button on the remote when prompted by a special graphic at the bottom of the screen.
“Seamless” doesn’t begin to describe the transition that takes place when that button is pressed. The first time viewers are given the option to “learn more” is a couple of minutes into “Beyond Beauty,” as Don Hahn is being interviewed about the beginnings of hand-drawn animation, with his eyes looking off screen in a typical interview shot. If the viewer ignores the prompt, the feature moves on to a new topic. But upon choosing to “learn more,” Hahn completes his sentence, then surprisingly shifts his body, eyes, head, and attention toward the camera, now speaking directly to the viewer. The ordinary background fades away behind him, dissolving into a world of animation as Hahn begins to narrate the requested additional information. It’s a completely jarring, and even at first somewhat creepy moment as the viewer is thrust into a personal conversation with Hahn, Alan Menken, or whomever might be on the screen at the time of opting to “learn more.” It’s a brilliant use of Blu-ray technology that creates an active role out of what is normally a passive viewing experience. And once over the initial goosebumps from having the guy on TV turn and start talking directly to you, it creates a feeling of really being involved in the conversation.
Fans of “Beauty and the Beast” will want to own the new Blu-ray home release, not because of the HD transfer of the film but to get a hold of the “Beyond Beauty” bonus feature, offering a nearly unlimited supply of information branching off into every aspect of animation. While the film looks good, this bonus feature is worth the price of the release alone. There are other extra features in the home release, including extended versions of the film, deleted scenes, and others, but “Beyond Beauty” is the one most worth buying this Blu-ray release for.
You can order the “Beauty and the Beast” five-disc Blu-ray / DVD combo pack on Amazon.