Beauty and the Beast [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (17th June 2017).
The Film

"Just a little change, small, to say the least," sings Ariana Grande in her duet version of "Beauty and the Beast" theme song with John Legend – one of three songs appended to the ten minute end title sequence along with a Celine Dion's version of "How Does A Moment Last Forever" and Josh Groban's of "Evermore" (the latter two new songs but already "covered" by the cast in the body of the film itself) in a last-ditch effort to distinguish Disney's live-action version of their acclaimed 1991 animated musical which recycles all of the original songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (with some new input from Tim Rice) while giving prominent credit to the screenplay's few new touches to The Perks of Being a Wallflower author/director Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter's War) while relegating credit for its basis in the 1991 "animation screenplay" by Linda Woolverton (The Lion King) to the small print scrolling after the main cast and above-the-line credits (admittedly, the groundwork for the original script was laid down by ten other writers credited with story as well as the songsters but Woolverton did receive "based on the screenplay by" and "based on characters" credits for Disney's video game tie-ins). This live action remake is indeed so pointless that two hours (actually one hundred and twenty-nine minutes including the closing credits) flies by because there is really nothing new in terms of the story. Thus, there is no tension or suspense for anyone familiar with the 1991 film, and not even the talent of director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) can make this any more than an expensive Disney production that will recoup its budget but be quickly forgotten.

Just in case, the reader is unfamiliar with the story and its many better iterations – for instance, Jean Cocteau's truly magical 1946 version – this version finds Belle (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone's Emma Watson) a strong-willed young woman who escapes the boredom of provincial life in books, bullied by the townspeople for being pretty and smart (the town parson rallies others locals to dump out and trample her laundry for trying to teach a little girl to read), and threatened with spinsterhood when she refuses the overtures of studly hunter Gaston (Dracula Untold's Luke Evans). When her father Maurice (A Fish Called Wanda's Kevin Kline) – who makes a living constructing single clockwork animated novelties to sell at the market annually – gets lost on the way back from the market, he takes shelter in the long-forgotten castle in the woods where it is always winter. Frightened off by accommodating sentient furnishings, Maurice flees the castle but returns to pluck a single rose for Belle only to be imprisoned for the "crime" by the Beast (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens voicing a mostly CGI creation), a once-handsome prince turned into a monster by enchantress enchantress Agathe (The Golden Compass's Hattie Morahan) – who hangs around the periphery of the rest of the storyline as a beggar woman – for his selfishness, decadence, and heartlessness. The spell can only be lifted if the Beast can fall in love and have that love returned before the last petal falls from an enchanted rose Agathe has left with the Beast. Belle, who has agreed to take her father's place in imprisonment, initially wants to break the spell for the sake of the servants who were turned by the spell into pieces of furniture – candlestick Lumiere (voiced by The Pillow Book's Ewan McGregor), clock Cogsworth (voiced by X-Men's Ian McKellen), teapot Mrs. Pott (voiced by Sense and Sensibility's Emma Thompson) and her teacup son Chip (voiced by Nathan Mack), singing wardrobe Madame Garderobe (voiced by Wit's Audra McDonald), harpsicord Maestro Credenza (voiced by The Devil Wears Prada's Stanley Tucci), and flying feather duster Plumette (voiced by Beyond the Lights' Gugu Mbatha-Raw) among others – and are losing even more of their human attributes by the day. Belle discovers, however, that there is more to the Beast than his loathsome outer appearance; but it is he who falls in love with her first, and he would rather free her than imagine that she could return his love. Maurice's story of captivity and Belle's peril has fallen on deaf ears in the village apart from Gaston who humors him in hopes of getting close to Belle. When Belle offers proof of the Beast's existence to save her father from the madhouse, Gaston rallies a mob to kill the monster (believing Belle to be bewitched by dark magic for her spirited defense of the Beast's gentle nature). As Belle tries to catch up to the mob advancing on the castle, the servants rally their own defenses since the Beast is too heartbroken to stand up for himself.
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To be fair, the film would suffer comparisons (and in comparisons) to the 1991 film whether Disney retained the original songs, wrote all new ones from scratch, or did away with the musical aspect altogether like the live action version of Cinderella (which at least had Cate Blanchett's wicked stepmother to make up for the less than interesting heroine). Apart from the new songs, the major additions/changes are the expanded backstories of the central trio. Belle is given a bit of additional "depth" by way of knowing nothing of her long-dead mother – whose memory is sacredly guarded by her father Maurice – the heartless, selfish, decadence of the prince-turned-beast is explained by the loss of a mother and the influence of a cruel father at so young an age, and romantic rival Gaston is a war hero who peaked at eighteen and is in denial that his glory days are long behind him, needing Josh Gad's enabling sidekick LeFou to puff up his ego. Gad's LeFou was the subject of controversy from One Million Bigots... erm, Moms because he was perceived to be a gay character; and he actually is, not just a fey French guy, but it may actually be the LGBTQ population that might find the character somewhat retrograde while still being something akin to progress for Disney. Watson manages the musical moments well-enough as well as the dramatics, but is overshadowed by her animated predecessor. Apart from some terrible CGI leaping from tower to tower, the Beast is well-rendered (if not particularly intriguing in design), and Stevens is able to invest the creation with personality through his voice but almost seems a nonentity when the prince's human form is finally revealed. Evans and Gad come across best as exuberantly dastardly and vain, managing to come across sometimes as if they were the animated creations turned three dimensional (on two-dimensional film as seen here, although the production was also released in 3D and IMAX). The production design is gorgeous, with some impressive village exterior backlot sets and castle interiors that are ravishing even as they are supposed to be decrepit, and the effects that blend the environments with digital extensions are seamless while the animated characters are much more "lifelike" than expected (indeed, the only time this reviewer got a little choked up was not when the Beast was dying but when the living pieces of furniture became inanimate). The photography of Tobias A. Schliessler (Dreamgirls) is technically proficient but the lighting is hard to gauge considering the heavy color-regrading in addition to the effects blending while the coverage of the dance and song sequences is by necessity "robotic" because of the Techno Crane movements needed to be able to integrate the animated characters into the may mobile shots. It is a visually stunning film, but one without "magic" (a far cry from the days of long past when a new Disney motion picture announcement was an "event"). Younger viewers should probably stick to the 1991 film while older viewers hankering for a live action Beauty and the Beast should "discover" the Cocteau version (and really adult viewers should chase that with Walerian Borowczyk's The Beast).
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Video

Disney's high bitrate 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen presentation looks as spectacular as expected thanks to the company's usual high standards of disc production and the state-of-the-art color grading and effects of the Arri Alexa-lensed production itself (a look at some of the previsualization animation in the extras shows that some of the CGI could have looked much worse). Detail is striking throughout the impressive practical sets, and the digital extensions blend seamlessly. Blacks are deep and saturated colors dazzle, while the detail of the visual effects rivals that of the live action textures. The film can be played on its own, with a three-minute overture appended to the start (a separate video file rather than branching or a full separate encode), or a "sing-along" option with subtitles for the song lyrics that are highlighted as the words are sung. There is currently no 3D version available, and there may not be since the 4K spec does not include that enhancement (although not 4K edition seems to have been announced either).
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Audio

Audio options include a truly expansive English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 reduction of the Dolby Atmos mix, a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo Descriptive Audio track, as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs. The 7.1 track lends grandeur to the music, dimension to the crowd scenes (including the introductory song as the lines of Belle and the various townspeople are underlined by footsteps and various sounds associated with the marketplace, some of which also provide commentary on the characters), and also impresses with the subtlety of atmospheric effects in the woods and the castle. Optional English HoH, French, and Spanish subtitles are also available. The audio options can be selected either before the previews and main menu or from the setup menu.
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Extras

Extras start off with the "Enchanted Table Read" (13:31) with Condon discussing how the table read not the average type as it was not only a read-through but included the singing as well as the dancing segments, requiring additional staging, choreography, and vocal training. The read, singing, and dancing are intercut with scenes from the finished film and behind the scenes video of the shoot. "A Beauty of a Tale" (27:08) may put sme viewers off as the cast and crew constantly refer to the "original" as the 1991 film with no mention of the source story or earlier versions, as they discuss the changes to expand the backstories of Belle, the Beast, and Gaston, as well as choreographer Anthony Van Laast (Excalibur) discussing the challenge of original staging for the musical sequences because he was so familiar with the 1991 film. Condon also reveals that they originally wanted to shoot the village opening in Conques, France but it proved to unwieldy so they built a massive set on the Shepperton Studios backlot (behind the scenes video reveals the physical structures and the places where greenscreen is used to extend them). "The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast" (5:17) is a brief introduction to the female heads of production: production designer Sarah Greenwood (Atonement), set decorator Katie Spencer (Pride and Prejudice), costume designer Jacqueline Durran (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Condon's regular editor Virginia Katz (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1), and casting director Lucy Bevan (Cinderella). "From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences" (13:26) is a series of behind the scenes featurettes for four of the songs, with input from the actors, choreographer, and director as well as looks at the previsualization animation used to program the Techno Crane to execute camera movements on set that could be matched to the animation. A handful of deleted scenes come with an introduction by Bill Condon (6:23 total) that includes some extensions, as well as an early scene with Agathe. Besides individual access to the film's songs (33:09), the disc also includes an Extended Song: “Days In The Sun” with Introduction By Bill Condon (4:08), as well as a "Making a Moment with Celine Dion" featurette (3:24), “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video by Ariana Grande and John Legend (4:02), and "Making the Music Video featurette (2:07), the latter three I could not bring myself to watch due to my aversion to the artists (particularly Dion).
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The DVD in the package contains the film only.

Overall

Younger viewers should probably stick to the 1991 film while older viewers hankering for a live action Beauty and the Beast should "discover" the Cocteau version (and really adult viewers should chase that with Walerian Borowczyk's The Beast).
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