Oct 032011
 

Easily one of Disney’s best loved films, Beauty and the Beast; a film that won two Academy Awards for music, and until 2010 (and the release of Toy Story 3) was the only animated movie ever to be considered for a Best Picture Oscar; is once again getting a new home release; allowing fans to view the film in a whole new way; thanks to 3D Blu-ray.

Beauty and the Beast tells the tale of a handsome prince who, after insulting an enchantress by refusing to grant her shelter for the night, finds himself transformed into a hideous and ugly beast (and his servants into household items, such as cups and candlesticks) until such time as he can not only find true love, but also find someone to love him in return.

As if being turned into a beast wasn’t enough of a kicker, there’s also a ticking-clock attached tot he curse; as Beast must find his true love by his 21st birthday (and before the final petal wilts away from the magical rose given to him by the enchantress) or be forced to remain a beast forever; and so when a beautiful young woman named Belle wanders into his castle in search of her father ten years after the transformation (and ten years after Beast initially shut himself off from the world), he’s understandably excited, keen to keep her there, and looking to fall in love.

As with any onscreen romance however, Beast and Belle’s love doesn’t simply spark on first sight and blossom from there on, as not only is Beast, well… a beast, but he’d also locked her father in a dungeon, forced Belle to stay in his castle as his prisoner, and has an extremely short temper that often rears its head when he believes his new guest is being ‘difficult.’ Plus there’s also the problem of the beautiful Belle being romantically pursued by the village’s most eligible bachelor Gaston; something she hasn’t exactly welcomed, but which brings conflict not only to her home-life, but directly to the Beast’s castle.

Being a Disney movie, it’s obvious exactly how Beauty and the Beast is going to play out, yet while it may be predictable, and contain not only a large number of continuity errors and plot holes (would an entire village living what appears to be merely a few hundred yards from such a colossal castle really have forgotten it was there after only ten years?), none of that matters because it’s such a great story, that’s brilliantly told, well written, visually stunning, and filled with a host of truly unforgettable moments that are sure to keep not only kids, but a fair share of adults, wholly entertained.

Beauty and the Beast’s soundtrack (which picked up two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, four Grammy Awards, and more) is also fantastic, and guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on any viewer; as not only do the roars of the Beast and the creaks of his castle stun listeners into fearful silence, but the score is excellent, and the fantastic array of musical numbers (which are perfectly placed and brilliantly fitting) are also unforgettable, foot tapping, and sometimes emotional, moments on their own that can easily be counted as not only some of the best work included on any Disney movie to date, but favourite song choices for many a nostalgic viewer.

The nostalgia factor is guaranteed to hold any older viewer who fancies revisiting this true Disney classic, and the animation, story, stunning visuals (which are far better than they have ever been before, thanks to this latest release), and brilliant musical numbers (who can forget ‘Gaston’, ‘Be Our Guest’, and the enduringly popular ‘Beauty and the Beast’?) are still certain to captivate more modern children (who are currently growing up with a bombardment of CG animated flair filling their films); who will also be thrilled by how dark and potentially scary the film really can be (until it all goes a bit soppy and romantic towards the end).

Beauty and the Beast is obviously a true classic Disney movie, from a time when Disney was producing some of its best ever work, and now, a full 20 years since its original release, it’s lost none of its charm; it tells an interesting story, is filled with great characters (the design of the Beast is simply brilliant; to the point it actually makes his eventual transformation a bit of a let down), sublime musical numbers, excellent animation (including what was at the time a revolutionary combination of traditional animation and CG effects), and stunning colour; all of which is guaranteed to keep the kids, and their parents, entertained for a full hour and a half.

Picture:

As soon as you turn on the Beauty and the Beast 3D Blu-ray you will be instantly taken aback by the beauty of its transfer, and there isn’t a word or sentence that can adequately describe how good it looks; it’s true, but not enough, to say that the latest release of Beauty and the Beast is simply breathtaking.

You’ll be immediately captivated by the brilliantly bright, bold, dazzling, and truly eye-popping colours that populate practically every shot of the movie, and make plants, stained glass windows, clothes, and a musical light display, look much more vivid, intense, and inviting than they have done for sometime (especially given the look of some of the subdued Beauty and the Beast DVD releases), give the whole film a more fairytale-like feel, and combine with excellent black levels (which have plenty of time to be examined; thanks to a fair few low-lit scenes) to give the picture some great depth.

However it’s not just the colours, and the black levels, that give this latest release its sense of depth, but the 3D conversion; a conversion which is truly stunning; it provides the image with a number of distinct and easily discernible layers, yet doesn’t feel flat at all, thanks to the rounding of not only the main characters and their props, but set pieces and background objects, which all give Beauty and the Beast a true sense of space, and can make a brightly lit field look much more inviting, or a large and scarily barren castle much more foreboding, than it ever could in 2D.

In fact it’s a huge compliment, but no exaggeration, to say that the 3D effect truly enhances the viewing of this classic movie; which suits the medium so well that it not only looks far better than a number of more modern live-action conversions (of which there are plenty of poor examples), but actually feels as though it was designed for 3D; with branches, birds, a townscape, and more objects flowing across the front of certain shots and effortlessly framing the depth and detail contained within the transfer (and the detail here is truly impeccable, with every line remaining perfectly visible).

As far as transfer issues go, they are few and far between, and are all but certain to go completely overlooked by anyone who’s not examining the transfer with a fine-tooth comb looking for flaws; there’s no evidence of banding, blocking, or the compression issues which haunted previous DVD releases, the image remains totally grain free (which here, unlike many live action movies, fully enhances the look of the film, and suits the animated style), and while there are a couple of examples of minor (very minor) aliasing and ghosting, they’re not enough to warrant taking anything away from what is undeniably reference material through-and-through.

3D movies can often be seen as a novelty that’s put in place for the kids, and with Beauty and the Beast being a Disney cartoon you’d be forgiven for thinking that’d be the case here, however it simply serves to combine with the vibrant and perfectly reproduced colours, the excellent detail, strong black levels, and generally stunning image to create something that’s so much more; a deep and inviting fairytale world that draws you in, will amaze and mesmerize you throughout, and is nothing if not a prime example of showcase material that makes for a brilliant demo piece.

Audio:

Coming to 3D Blu-ray with a full 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack (available in English and Dutch), Beauty and the Beast’s soundtrack is every bit as strong as its sublime picture; as it contains pitch perfect dialogue (which thankfully is contained to just the front channels, but effortlessly spreads around the soundfield and into the side channels when appropriate), a huge range of excellently reproduced ambience and effects, solid directionality, and seamlessly smooth pans.

It’s during the musical numbers that listeners will appreciate the sheer scale and immersive quality of the mix (which, in a wise move by Disney, has been newly designed by the film’s original sound mixer Terry Porter) as it completely fills the soundstage and has no trouble wholly enveloping every listener in its chaotic, yet precise, clear, and pristine, brilliance.

Unusually for a children’s movie the sub woofer gets a fair workout with Beauty and the Beast, and holds up surprisingly well; being both powerful, weighty, and realistic, in the way it booms, rumbles, and cracks with every roar from the angry Beast himself, or crack of thunder; and given that this is a mix that has crystal clear sounds constantly emanating from every direction (yes the rear channels are just as active as those at the front), it provides an atmospheric, fun, scary, and immersive experience that’s guaranteed to satisfy any listener.

Extras:

Unfortunately the special features which have been awarded to the final release of the Beauty and the Beast 3D Blu-ray release were unavailable at the time this review was written, however the release is scheduled to come with the following bonus materials: three different versions of the film, deleted scenes, interactive features, a music video, a musical conversation with Alan Menken, Don Hahn, and Richard Kraft, and more.

The Bottom Line:

How do you sum up a release such as this; a classic movie that’s already been released time and again, and one which is likely already have its place on the shelf of most people who are likely to be interested in watching it? By saying that the latest release of Beauty and the Beast is everything you’d expect from the re-release of a classic Disney movie, and more.

Beauty and the Beast won two Academy Awards and was the only animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture award until 2010, and it’s easy to see why it’s not only one of the best loved Disney films of all time, but the highest acclaimed Disney feature ever, and a true fan favourite; it’s a timeless movie which is as captivating now as it was back in ’91; it’s well written, beautifully animated, contains some interesting and truly memorable characters, superb designs, and unforgettable music, that all ensure it’s sure to be loved by children and adults for many more years to come.

If you haven’t seen Beauty and the Beast before it’s a solid blind buy, and thanks to the amazing picture quality; which would not only be impressive in 2D (thanks to its detail colour reproduction, etc) but also uses what’s often a gimmick (3D) to actually enhance an already great film in a seamless manner; sublime 7.1 audio mix, and special features which, although they weren’t available for review, look like more than enough to please the film’s fans, make the Beauty and the beast 3D Blu-ray a double-dip no brainer, but a solid addition to any collection, a reference disc to be proud of, and one that comes highly recommended.

Matt Wheeldon.