Beauty and the Beast was a phenomenon when it first hit movie theatres in 1991. An animated movie with Broadway-caliber songs, the movie was the first animated feature to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Now it’s back on the silver screen, bigger than ever in the IMAX (or an equally large screen) format. Unfortunately while watching this special edition one gets the creeping feeling Disney is running short on originality and is merely plundering itself.
From Provincial Towns to Broadway and Back
There is no denying Disney’s original Beauty and the Beast was a triumphant step forward for the newly resurgent genre of animation (even with the questionable storyline of turning the abusive boyfriend into the handsome prince young girls know lies right beneath that rough-and-tumble exterior).
With all the Broadway comparisons lavished on the feature, it was a natural for Disney to take the show to the Great White Way. Now, it’s come full circle and this special edition of the animated movie boasts a “new” song, Human Again.
In the world of Disney, however, “new” is a relative term. That song was scrapped from the original animated release, added to the Broadway version, and has now been animated for inclusion in this enhanced edition.
To Be Animated Again
The musical numbers gain the most from the IMAX format, especially the title song Beauty and the Beast. That song’s computer-enhanced ballroom sequence becomes a sweeping eyeful and is an indication of the magic that could be conjured by the Sorcerer’s Apprentice if given the opportunity to fully exploit the format.
Similarly, Be Our Guest and Human Again fill up the screen with nice details lacking from the majority of the film.
Overall though, this special edition of Beauty and the Beast is merely another mediocre exercise in Disney toying with the medium, much like Fantasia 2000. They simply haven’t gone far enough, and too much of the screen is left untapped.
Instead of patching up the holes and fixing what was broken, this IMAX project is mostly a retrofitting of the original. Sure, the musical numbers look and sound great with all the bells and whistles IMAX has to offer, but much of the movie actually suffers under the scrutiny such a large screen affords. While “blowing up” the good stuff, Disney has also blown up the bad.
For example, that lovable teacup named Chip is so named because of his chipped rim. But that chip comes and goes depending on how careful the animators were. It would’ve been a simple thing for Disney touch up, but the inconsistency is still there and far more noticeable now than ever.
Belle of the Ball
This special edition in a way seems like another Disney ploy, along the lines of the animated “outtakes” added to Monster’s, Inc., and A Bug’s Life, to stir up repeat business late in their theatrical runs. It’s also like a greatest hits CD with one new track added to stir sales from the die-hard fans
When it comes to IMAX, Disney seems too impatient to learn a simple truth: From details comes scale. With that in mind, too many details are lacking in order for this edition to be a total success. Bigger in and of itself is not necessarily better.
While the computer-enhanced scenes have the details required to fill out the screen and offer a decent cinematic treat, Disney still could have gone much, much further in adapting to the larger format.
Movies like Shrek and perhaps even Monsters, Inc., would benefit more from the IMAX format since they more fully create the worlds in which their characters live and already offer an eyeful of visual effects and details.