After the excellent Platinum Edition DVD for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, there would seem to be little room for improvement with Walt Disney Home Video’s new Three-Disc Diamond Edition DVD and Blu-ray combo – except for the obvious improved picture quality that come with the new high-def format. Nevertheless, the Diamond Edition manages to one-up its predecessor, establishing itself as the definitive edition for enthusiastic collectors.
The Diamond Edition includes “three” versions of the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: the original theatrical release, the special edition re-release (which restored the previously deleted song “Human Again”), and a picture-in-picture presentation consisting of the film with storyboards viewed in the corner of the frame.
The high-def transfer of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST onto Blu-ray is visually stunning, with amazingly sharp details and beautiful colors. As someone who recently revisited the Platinum Edition DVD to see how my Blu-ray player would upgrade the image for my high-def television, I can say that as good as the old transfer looked, you do not need to be a hawk-eyed techno geek to see the obvious improvement.
The Diamond Edition repackages all of the old DVD bonus features (audio commentary, pencil tests, alternate score for the transformation scene, etc) and combines with them an extensive new making-of bonus feature, the interactive “Beyond Beauty – The Untold Stories.” These features are parceled out over two Blu-ray discs; only some of them are duplicated on the DVD.
DISC 1 is the DVD version. It features anew digital restoration of the film, but any improvement in picture quality is not particularly obvious. Still, for those who do not already own the Platinum Edition DVD, this disc is convenient for letting the children have their own copy to play in their rooms or on portable players. The DVD contains the three different versions of the film, plus the old audio commentary. There is also an option to view BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in “Sing Along Mode,” which is consists of subtitles for the songs.
DISC 2 contains the high-def transfer of of the new digital restoration of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST onto Blu-ray, also in three versions: original, extended, and picture-in-picture. The Platinum Edition DVD audio commentary is included, along with several new bonus features: a new music video of the title song, an early alternate version of the opening sequence (totally different from the final film), a deleted library scene of Belle conversing with some more enchanted characters. “Composing a Classic” is a very interesting conversation with composer Alan Menken, who discusses his work with lyricist Howard Ashman. And “Broadway Beginnings” takes a brief look at the stage adaptation, featuring interviews with several actors who have performed the musical live (including Donny Osmond, who seems surprised that Disney wanted him to play the barrel-chested Gaston).
DISC 3 offers the remaining bonus features on Blu-ray, including games such as “Bonjour, Who is This?” and the “Enchanted Musical Challenge.” The Platinum Edition DVD bonus features are sectioned off into their own category (identified as “Classic DVD Bonus Features”) and presented in standard-def. One result of including old and new features is how clearly the passage of time is marked, with several of the participants looking noticeably younger in the older featurettes.
The highlight of this disc is “Beyond Beauty – The Untold Stories,” which somehow manages to find more to say about the nearly twenty-year-old film. The sentimental highlights, to no surprise, are sequences detailing the contributions of Howard Ashman, who died before the film was completed. More than just a word-smith, Ashman contributed to the story and characterization through his lyrics and offered guidance in terms of casting and vocal performances.
Instead of being formatted as a standard documentary, “Beyond Beauty” is offered in an interactive mode. As segments conclude, viewers are offered the option of pushing a button on their remote control to see additional segments that take off on tangents from the main narrative (i.e., after hearing about Walt Disney’s early silent cartoons, you can choose to watch a selection of them or continue with the making of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST). The format can be frustrating at times: Do I want to continue straight on or take what sounds like an interesting detour? In the end, I pretty much gave up on the interactive element and accessed the Index, which allows viewers to select segments one at a time, more or less like a standard menu.
This brings me to my major complain about the disc – not one of quality but of frustration. The menus are difficult to navigate, with categories containing subcategories containing bonus features of various shapes and sizes. And all of the bonus features are listed on both Blu-ray discs; after navigating your way to what you want to see, you are likely to find yourself being told you have to remove the current disc and replace it with the other.
Apparently aware of this, the Blu-ray discs include a sly joke: the background menu consists of a computer-generated tour of the Beast’s castle, populated by the familiar supporting characters (Mrs. Potts, Cogsworth, etc). As the camera travels from room to room, Lumiere continually prods the viewer to make a selection (“Soon would be good; now would be better.”) This is rather amusing at first, but after awhile it does get slightly annoying; there is no easy way to zero in on what you want, and you are being chastised for browsing at your own pace!
This nitpick aside, the BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Diamond Edition 3-disc set is an excellent collector’s item that does justice to what may be Walt Disney Pictures supreme achievement in the field of animation. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST has secured its place in the hearts of millions as a timeless classic. Now this new Blu-ray set should earn a place on your video shelf.