Beauty and the Beast DVD Marathon
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.