January 20, 2002 -- "Beauty and the Beast," the finest Disney feature-length animated musical ever made, just got better with addition of new scenes and conversion to a larger format. This special edition of the film is playing at specially-equipped theaters around the country, including IMAX® theaters and auditoriums.
The only animated feature ever nominated for best picture (prior to the creation of a new category for animated films) by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and winner of Academy Awards for best musical score and best original song, the film marked Disney's return to full glory as the heavyweight of the feature-length animated genre. The 1991 film also introduced some new computerized animation techniques which continue to be used today. The large format special edition adds a new musical number "Human Again," to the film. The number, written for the original film, was never filmed until now. It was featured in the popular broadway production of "Beauty and the Beast," however. The song was written by the award-winning team of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman.
The tragic death of Ashman is one of the reasons that no animated film since "Beauty and the Beast" has measured up musically to Menken and Ashman's crowning achievement. While "Aladdin" and "The Lion King" were enormous box office successes, they failed to achieve the level of artistry attained in "Beauty and the Beast," and they, unlike "Beauty and the Beast," are primarily aimed at children. A musical show can be very successful with just one great song. Witness the 40-plus year run of "The Fantastiks," with its great song, "Try to Remember." "Beauty and the Beast" has three great songs, the best being the title song, wonderfully sung by Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts). The duet version of the song heard over the closing credits, the version most people who haven't seen the movie have heard on the radio, is not as effective. As we hear the song, the camera seems to swoop gracefully around the ballroom as we watch the lovers dance. It is majestic filmmaking, beautifully realized. Other memorable songs from the film include the song about the handsome villain, Gaston (voice by Richard White) and "Be our Guest."
The new special edition of the film has been carefully upgraded for those huge, unforgiving large format movie screens. Post-production teams spent more than a year upgrading backgrounds and characters for this blow-up version of the movie. I saw the show at the United Artist Colorado Center theater in the Denver area (which has an auditorium for large format films, but is no longer an offical IMAX® auditorium). The screen was so enormous I could barely frame the huge image in my bi-focal glass frames, even though I was sitting near the back of the cavernous auditorium. Even with this huge screen, the image was sharp. There was a noticeable difference in sharpness, however, in the new musical number added just for this film. It appeared the new scene was originally filmed in the large format style, making it a bit sharper. The new musical number is not one of the best in the film, which is probably why it was not included in the original film. It is more like your standard Broadway musical number. It isn't bad, just not as good as the three best songs in the film.
IMAX®, in addition to using a large, deep 70-millimeter film format (the negative is much larger than standard 70-millimeter film) and a special sound system, also utilizes a vacuum to press the film tight against the projector lens when each frame is projected. The result is an image of great sharpness. It was a great treat to see this classic film again on a huge screen and with the additional footage. It is simply a wonderful film, made even better. The story, for those who haven't seen it, concerns a magical spell cast over a castle and the people in it. The beast, voice by Robbie Benson, cannot regain his human form unless he falls in love with a woman and she with him. Belle, voice by Paige O'Hara, though pursued by the handsome Gaston, yearns for a more refined suitor. When her father is imprisoned in the enchanted castle by the beast, Belle trades her freedom for her father's. The beast hopes that Belle can break the spell, but he needs to clean up his act.
The film succeeds, in large part, not because of the great music, but the great character development. There are a number of interesting characters in the film besides the main characters already named, including the amorous Lumiere, voice by Jerry Orbach, the loquacious Cogsworth, voice by David Ogden Stiers, Chip, voice by Bradley Pierce, and Belle's inventor father, Maurice, voice by Rex Everhart. The compelling story is not only a great romance, but it is about courage and self-sacrifice as well. This is a real classic. This film rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.