Beauty and the Beast DVD Marathon

Beast guides Belle into the library

“I think my next DVD marathon is going to be Beauty and the Beast,” said Smalerie.

“If you do not include me in this, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore,” I replied.

This is how we ended up spending around nine hours – with occasional breaks for food and other necessities – watching and discussing two DVDs and one VHS tape’s worth of material on Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

This probably requires some explanation.

Doing a single movie “marathon” was Smalerie’s idea, something she had done previously with The Little Mermaid. The idea is to watch not only the movie, but every single special feature on the DVD: commentary tracks, “making of” videos, interviews, concept artwork, story reels, deleted scenes, and anything else the DVD has to offer an animation fan. I had worked my way through entire DVDs before, but usually over the course of a few days and solo, as it’s rare to find someone who thinks that this is a good idea.

Would I really put a friendship on the line over several hours of DVD watching? Probably not. But if I was going to, Beauty and the Beast would be the movie. It made a huge impression on 12 year old me and to this day, I believe it is the most perfect example of the fairy tale musical ever produced. The credits read like a list of Disney’s top animators of the modern era, the voice acting is all top-notch Broadway talent, and the superstar songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were at the top of their game. So spending the better part of a day watching every bit of Beauty and the Beast related material I could get my hands on really is my idea of a good time.

Whether you want to devote hours to watching everything the DVD has to offer or you just want to check out the very best features, whether you have friends willing to indulge your insanity or plan on a solo viewing, there’s something for every viewer in the most recent DVD release of the film (this one). So relax, pull up a chair, and let us guide you through the special features you won’t want to miss – and a few you will.

rough drawing of Belle meeting Beast

Rough drawing from the Work in Progress cut

Must See DVD

Work in progress edition

This is the partially finished version of Beauty and the Beast that played at the New York Film Festival roughly two months before the film’s official premiere. If, like me, you never owned a laserdisc player, the DVD release was your first chance to see this cut of the film and it is well worth the wait. It’s a rare peek at what the process of making an animated film is like, even for fans who are relatively familiar with the basic steps involved in animation. Rather than showing a series of completed scenes, then an uncolored segment, then rough animation, the film jumps around between degrees of completion, showing that animated film are seldom produced by starting at the beginning and working through to the film’s end. For me, the rough animation is a particular treat; the most direct expression of the individual artists before their work is cleaned up to fit with the look of the rest of the film.

Audio Commentary

The very best commentary tracks make it feel like the filmmakers have stopped by to sit on your couch and discuss their movie with you. While this commentary isn’t quite up to the level of some of the best Pixar ones, it’s still a lot of fun and very informative. Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, producer Don Hahn, and composer Alan Menken are on hand to share their memories of making the movie. I would have loved to have some of the animators involved, or even a second commentary, but the track as is remains worth listening to for tidbits like the story of the backup plan for the ballroom scene.

Deleted song: “Human Again”

Prior to the Special Edition release, the story reel stage was as far as the lengthy Manken/Ashman made it in production. At this point, it’s been used in the musical and the special edition cut, so it’s not exactly new to most people. But I still find this version of the sequence very charming, particularly the scenes where Belle teaches Beast how to read. It is somewhat different from the special edition version, so even if you know the song, it’s still worth a look. Check the Deleted Song section under Classic DVD Bonus Features on Disc 2.

Rough drawing of Maurice from Be Our Guest Beauty and the Beast

Maurice actually lifts his glass instead of just watching it dance.

If You Have Time

Alternate version: “Be Our Guest”

Up until the eleventh hour, “Be Our Guest” was sung to Maurice. By the time the decision was made to change the subject of the song, rough animation had already been completed for most of the scene. Most of the animation of the enchanted objects was still usable, but a few changes were made to accommodate the change from Maurice to Belle and shift the physical humor to Cogsworth. The changes aren’t huge, but it’s more never before seen animation and more rough drawings. Pop in disc two and select Classic DVD Bonus Features.

Alternate story open

Despite what it’s called in the DVD menus, this is actually the pitch reel for the pre-Wise and Trousdale take on a Disney version of Beauty and the Beast. Like many deleted scenes, it’s interesting not because it’s great, but because it shows one of the many paths the movie could have gone down but didn’t. This version of the movie would have hewn much closer to the original fairy tale, featuring a merchant who goes broke and moves with his family to the country, and was devoid of songs. It’s one thing to read about the pitch for this version and how it was the wrong direction for Disney, but now you can watch it and judge for yourself. Look for it in the Deleted Scenes section of Disc 2.

Composing a Classic

This talk/piano session with composer Alan Menken retreads some of the ground covered in the audio commentary, but it’s still well worth watching for many of Menken’s recollections about the genesis of the film’s songs. The way “Be Our Guest” was crafted is a particularly fun story. It’s in the Backstage Disney section of Disc 2.

Cogsworth with the rose from Beauty and the Beast

Cogsworth with weird walking table.

Don’t bother

Special Edition cut

I like “Human Again” as a song, but the scene that ended up in the special extended edition of the film leaves me cold. I never bought the claim that the song was cut because it would have required too much time to pass while Maurice was lost in the woods. (Even without the song, Maurice takes months to travel a distance most people can manage in the space of one night.) I find it more likely that the filmmakers decided the song took too much focus away from the two main characters, a problem which the special edition doesn’t solve. I do like the idea of a scene where Belle teaches Beast how to read, but I prefer the longer version from the story reel. There’s also the unsettling image of the table that holds the rose scampering around. If you watch the commentary track, you’ll be viewing this version of the film anyway. It’s not worth a second look.

Deleted scene: Belle in the library

Exclusive to the Diamond Edition release, this scene in story reel form has Belle getting a tour of the library with four enchanted objects who don’t appear in the final film. Even bad deleted scenes can be interesting as a reminder of the mistakes made in the process of figuring out how to make a movie. But this sequence only demonstrates that cutting it was the right call. It’s incredibly long, the characters aren’t very interesting, and it takes time away from Belle and the Beast.

Early presentation reel

“Early” in this case means around the time of the first draft of the movie, the one with more upper crust French society and powdered wigs. The pitch reel gives you a better sense of what that version of the film would have been like. All you have here is a collection of concept artwork in vague order with no dialogue to explain the story. It’s not a bad feature, but unless you really want to see everything, it’s one you can skip.

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9 comments

  1. itsthegoog

    I am fairly certain that I have not seen the entirety of this movie, or at least, not all in one sitting. I think it was just beyond my caring when it came out. ie: I’m too old for this girly stuff.

    • Cartoon Sara

      Well, I obviously believe it’s worth watching. It holds up incredibly well for a movie over 20 years old. Your mileage may vary.

  2. Robyn

    I read an article about how Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” promotes the acceptance of domestic violence (it’s actually really hard to deny when you review it objectively) and I never looked at it the same way again. As someone who was passionate about Disney movies and cartoons growing up, it’s kind of disturbing to look back at them now as an adult with a more mature viewpoint. I’ve went back and watched a few of my childhood favorites and have ruined them, so I’m hesitant to go back and watch any more of my childhood favorites these days.

    • Cartoon Sara

      I’ve seen the arguments that the movie is really about, abuse, Stockholm syndrome or what have you, but it just never rang true for me. Maybe I’m naive or maybe it’s because it’s my favorite movie. I know there was no intent to send the message that abuse is okay and I sincerely doubt the film would cause abuse. I know it can be disappointing to discover that something you loved as a kid doesn’t hold up as an adult, but it’s also a joy when it does, or you find you have a whole new appreciation for it today.

    • The Red Menace

      To be 100% fair, if that message is in the movie it’s because it’s in the original fairy tale – only in the original that theme is even less subtle – it’s all about emotional manipulation. I do think it’s important to watch/read/take in everything with a critical eye, but I also see the argument for enjoying the film as a piece of beautiful artwork. I’m not a gigantic Disney fan (I think their movies are pretty but are often socially a little questionable for me) but I do think this movie is one of the best examples of animation, story and song coming together. I will have to re-watch to see what I think about the message – this was always one of the least problematic for me because it promoted having a brain AND didn’t have a “love at first sight” romance.

    • smalerie

      I actually made a point to research this issue last night and I think you make a really interesting point here. Depiction of women in films and broader media continues to be an issue (because as bad as Disney can be, they are certainly not the only guilty parties here) and can be particularity worrisome when the movie is made specifically for children. This is a very large conversation (one that we all should want to have) and something that I think we could certainly bring up more in the blog. My feeling about this film is that is it proof once again that children should be given a broad range. In other words, in addition to Belle, kids should see other female role models and have the opportunities to talk about what they like or don’t like. I still LOVE The Little Mermaid, but Ariel is a TERRIBLE heroine. As a kid, I could tell that she was, but I was way more interested in the talking fish and the music. I was lucky to have the opportunity to see women doing other things in books, film, tv, real life. Ideally, I want all young girls to have that chance too.

      That being said everyone has the right to feel the way they want to about this film Disney or whatever, and your comments are exactly the kind of stuff we love. As a result we get to keep talking, keep learning, and dig even deeper into the culture that we love. After the marathon, I’m taking a little break from Beauty and the Beast, but the next time I watch it, I will certainly keep all this in mind.

  3. Garth McMurray

    I have done these kind of marathon viewing sessions solo because I didn’t think anyone else could sit through it all. Although, once at Dave’s house a few of us watched all the deleted scenes of the original Star Wars films & got bored out of our minds. My favorite movies to watch all the extended scenes, deleted scenes, commentary, etc. are the Pixar films. Other great ones to view all the features on are This is Spinal Tap (they do a commentary track as their characters), Akira, Blade Runner (I have the box set with 4 different cuts of the movie & many hours of bonus stuff), the Aliens movies, etc.

    • Cartoon Sara

      Pixar has always had really great DVD sets, especially early on. I think “A Bug’s Life” may have been the first animated special edition DVD I ever saw and it pretty much set the standard for everything that came after.

  4. Pingback: Burning Questions (and Answers) about “Beauty and the Beast” | The Ladies of Comicazi

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