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Digital Media FX Review of
Beauty and the Beast Special Edition (IMAX)

by Joe Tracy, publisher of Digital Media FX Magazine

Beauty and the Beast Rating

Let's cut to the chase.

Disney's Beauty and the Beast Special Edition is absolutely amazing and a good reminder as to why the movie was given a "Best Picture" Oscar nomination for its 1991 original release. Beauty and the Beast is a gem. So is the IMAX release where the two years of work Disney put into restoring the movie shows on screen.

In general, Beauty and the Beast is a great movie because it perfectly executes in a number of key areas:

1) It contains a great romance story.
2) The humor is well executed.
3) It has a solid drama foundation.
4) The villain is unique and unlike any past Disney villain.
5) The songs are outstanding.

When Disney first announced that it was releasing Beauty and the Beast to IMAX screens, I was very skeptical. The only visions we had been given of Disney's rerelease work on IMAX was "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of Fantasia 2000, which quite frankly did not look that good when "blown up". I questioned (even publicly) whether the IMAX release was a good idea for Beauty and the Beast.

It was.

After seeing Beauty and the Beast on IMAX, I'm now sold on the fact that future Disney rereleases to IMAX (which include The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and others) is an excellent venue for these films. The digital restoration is executed with a precision that shines. The sound, particularly the base, adds a new dimension to the experience. Now if only the IMAX seats were a little more comfortable…

So now that the controversy as to whether Disney could restore its slate of digitally stored animated movies to IMAX is solved, let's turn to the second controversy - Human Again.

Human Again
There's a reason that the "Human Again" song was not a part of the original Beauty and the Beast - it didn't quite fit. Here was the problem in Disney's own words:

"…the song posed story problems which couldn't be solved in a timely manner. Originally conceived as an 11-minute musical number, the song was ultimately replaced with the shorter and more direct Something There."

So what was the inspiration in including this song in the rerelease of this Disney classic? Here it is in producer Don Hahn's own words:

"About four years ago, Kirk and Gary and I were sitting around talking about the Star Wars Special Edition that had just come out and Kirk jokingly suggested, 'wouldn't it be fun to do a special edition of Beauty with Human Again or new material in it?' When the head of Feature Animation said he thought it was a great idea, we stopped joking and began thinking about how we could actually do it. We had storyboarded the sequence for the original production, but completely reworked it for this special edition of the film."

This wouldn't be the first public performance/viewing of the song as it had been incorporated into Disney's theatrical Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast with great success. But why tamper with perfection? Was it a good idea to include it in the Special Edition? The answer is "yes" and "no."

The song "Human Again" begins shortly after the "Something There" song. The premise is that Cogsworth wants to create a more romantic setting for Belle and Beast to "rush things along" so that they fall in love before the last rose pedal falls. The group of enchanted items launch into a song dreaming of what it would be like to be human again (no they don't change into humans during the song). In addition to the main enchanted characters, the song includes a cast of additional enchanted objects.

Having seen the original Beauty and the Beast 47 times (mostly in theaters during the original release) I must admit it is quite odd to suddenly see new footage. The first half of the song (including the intro to it) seem a bit weak, yet it got better as the song continued. Then, three-fourths the way through the song there is a scene where Belle is teaching Beast to read. This single sequence, albiet short, deepened the story and the relationship issue. It is definitely an excellent addition to the movie.

I'm not sold that the "Human Again" song needed to be added to the IMAX version of Beauty and the Beast, but I respect the decision of the film's artists to add it. I also must admit that it was quite interesting to have something "new" to see. But at the same time, "Human Again" almost makes it feel like there is "one too many" songs in this classic, particularly coming so soon after "Something There." I think the movie would have been perfect if the "learning to read" scene had been added without the song. Yet I'm also reserved to the fact that multiple viewings of the IMAX version (no, not another 47 times) could alter that opinion.

The IMAX Pros and Cons
Beauty and the Beast is huge on the IMAX screen. After the initial narration, I received a chill down my spine as the camera panned past the trees because it felt like I was there. The IMAX version nearly puts you in the movie because of its sheer size. Then when the first clasp of thunder is heard and the base rumbles your seat, the experience suddenly takes on a whole new dimension. When Beast roars, you feel the roar. When the thunder crashes, you feel surrounded by by its majestic power.

Another major pro to the IMAX release is that you can better study the scenes and will often find yourself moving your head to focus on different elements. This isn't a small TV screen and you'll find your eyes often wandering to different parts of the screen to "take it all in".

Not everything is "perfect" in this mega large version of Beauty and the Beast. For example, there is a slight "shimmering" effect on the stained glass windows in the opening and closing narrations. The shimmering is so slight, however, that you may not even notice it; thus it is a minor issue. The other small problem is that the background art is huge and as a result it doesn't look/feel as "real" for the settings as in the widescreen version. But again, this is only a minor issue that comes as a natural result of making the movie bigger. And in the case of Beauty and the Beast, bigger is better.

Conclusion
Beauty and the Beast is one of the finest movies ever put out by the Disney Empire. It is unique in many aspects. Take, for example, how two of the main characters grow in opposite directions. Gaston starts out as a harmless person who is conceited and obsessed with his looks. Yet as the movie progresses you see more of the villain in Gaston come out. He's no longer harmless. Now look at the Beast. He's clearly a "villain" at the beginning of the movie and yet he grows in the opposite direction of Gaston, learning respect, love, caring, and honor. Both characters are transformed in opposite directions throughout the film.

I tip my hat to the crew and artists that worked on the IMAX rerelease of Beauty and the Beast. This is one "tale as old as time" that is worth a second viewing in this new format. I highly recommend seeing it in the IMAX theater and applaud Disney for the care it took in helping it remain a masterpiece.

Digital Media FX gives the Beauty and the Beast Special Edition (IMAX) a 10 out of 10 rating, the highest possible on the dFX Movie Meter. The minor problems are easily overshadowed by the enhanced experience and there's no doubt that millions of people will be just as enchanted with this classic.

Congratulations, Disney.

Beauty and the Beast Rating


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