Blu-ray Review: Beauty and the Beast (1991) - 25th Anniversary Edition

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A quarter century ago, Disney's 30th animated feature Beauty and the Beast became the first "cartoon movie" to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Though it didn't really stand a chance in a year that saw Silence of the Lambs sweep the major awards, the nomination was long-overdue recognition that furthered mainstream and critical acceptance of animated films as art. It couldn't have happened to a finer Disney film. Though not as much fun as The Little Mermaid, the elegant Beauty and the Beast has aged far more gracefully then the recently-reissued Aladdin (what with its ethnic stereotyping and now-hackneyed pop culture references).

To mark its 25-year anniversary, Disney has issued Beauty and the Beast on Blu-ray for the second time. The new "Signature Collection" BD is currently available, supplanting the long out-of-print "Diamond Edition" (released in 2010). 

rsz_beauty_and_the_beast_bd.jpg The important thing to know up front: the new "Signature Collection" is identical in terms of audio/visual presentation to the previous Blu-ray. That doesn't make it any less spectacular, it just won't be dazzling if you're already familiar with the older edition. Personally, I did miss out on the older "Diamond" release so seeing this in HD came as a real revelation after being used to the DVD. This is a remarkable transfer that will likely only be bettered if and when Disney eventually releases a 4K UltraHD edition.

The same level of excellence applies to the audio, which is presented in DTS-HD MA 7.1. With songs as memorable as this, including the Oscar-winning title tune, nothing short of perfection will do. That's what we get here. Again, if you're like me (accustomed only to older, standard definition iterations) you'll be awestruck by the clarity and depth of the music by Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman (the latter passed away before the release of the final film).

The other important aspect of this reissue is the supplemental section. The "Diamond Edition" was tricked out with lots of special features. Not all of them turn up here. In fact, following a trend that has been met with decidedly mixed reaction, much of the older "Classic Bonus" material can only be accessed online via DisneyMoviesAnywhere. I can understand why some folks are up in arms about this. Up until recently, there have been physical releases and there have been digital releases, distinctly different. Now studios are getting into this hybrid territory. But I can also see their side of it. As years of reissues pile up, so does the sheer volume of bonus material that needs to be cataloged in some way. How many times do the older featurettes need to be recycled, and who honestly has time to wade through all of it more than once at best?

More importantly, Disney has come through a number of brand news supplements for the "Signature Collection." Best of the bunch is "Menken & Friends: 25 Years of Musical Inspiration" (20 minutes), which features Alan Menken and several composer friends waxing nostalgic about their careers and Beauty and the Beast in particular. It's light and fluffy, but their positivity is infectious. Also worthwhile is "Always Belle" (12 minutes), which focuses on now-60-year-old actress reflecting on the role. Voicing Belle marked the beginning of the previously stage-only actress' film career.

Also new is "The Recording Sessions" (four minutes), a tantalizing but brief look at the original voice acting sessions that were taped and used by animators as a guide. I bet quite a few fans would've liked even more of this footage. "25 Fun Facts About Beauty and the Beast" is a rather annoying, self-explanatory five-minute piece, hosted by Disney Channel actors Kayla Maisonet and Gus Kamp. "#1074: Walt, Fairy Tales & Beauty and the Beast" (ten minutes) is a cool look at Walt Disney's aborted plans to adapt Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's tale decades earlier. There's also a singalong option for the film's songs. An audio commentary track with co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, producer Don Hahn, and composer Alan Menken has been ported over from the previous release.

Also carried over from the previous disc is the choice to watch the original theatrical edition or the six-minute-longer "Special Extended Edition" (which adds the previously excised song "Human Again"). The included standard DVD is a movie-only disc, so don't look for "Classic Bonus" material there—again, having a DisneyMoviesAnywhere account will give you access to hours more materials online. The Combo Pack also comes with a Digital HD copy.

The movie itself needs no defense as it has long been considered a classic. Beauty and the Beast - The 25th Anniversary "Signature Collection" Edition is a welcome return to the marketplace for this masterpiece. Disney completists will need to add this edition, even if they have the "Diamond Edition,' due to the new features. But this release is primarily targeted at those who missed the 2010 Blu-ray and have been waiting for Disney to de-vault this one.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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