Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition

They have made many phenomenally successful movies since its release, but “Beauty and the Beast” remains Disney’s last true masterpiece. The combination of story, design, songbook, performance and technical achievement is unparalleled by any animated film of its time or since. The computer animation, a very dodgy art form in the early ’90s, still looks spectacular today. We’d challenge anyone to take modern-day equipment and a better-looking ballroom scene than the one here.

Disney’s Diamond Edition of the film is absolutely worth the upgrade, both for the hi-def transfer and the bushels of new extras. The audio commentary is held over from the original DVD release, but all-new interviews were shot for the featurettes, even roping in Jeffrey Katzenberg to go on the record. Alan Menken sits down at the piano with producer Don Hahn and discusses the origins of several of the movie’s songs, even admitting that the final music for “Be Our Guest” was a throwaway track for lyricist Howard Ashman to use as a base until he came up with a “real” track. Menken also includes his original score that he wrote just before Beast’s transformation, and the studio adds the original opening to the movie, a 20-minute (!) piece where Belle has a younger sister and a cat, and Gaston is a wig-wearing fop. It’s fascinating to watch in retrospect, because the studio was right to scrap this opening and start from scratch. There is also a pencil sketch version of “Be Our Guest,” as sung to Belle’s father. A fitting tribute to a truly game-changing film.

Click to buy “Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition”

  

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This year there’ll be no singing and dancing Lennie Briscoes

Those of us who don’t really mind it when the Oscars get a bit overblown and even a hair silly were dealt a blow yesterday when word leaked out that the performers of this year’s nominated songs would not be invited on for the usual production numbers.

Just to show you what an Oscar production number like this can look like, below is a version of the two nominated songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman from Disney’s 1991 “Beauty and the Beast.” The performers include Paige O’Hara, who provided the voice of Belle, and — as a dancing candlestick — Jerry Ohrbach, an occasional movie tough guy and Broadway song and dance man, who at the time was just starting a gig as a wiseacre cop on a low-rated but well-reviewed crime show that didn’t seem to have much of a chance to last very long.

  

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One more fantasy movie moment: “Beauty and the Beast” (1946)

With due respect to the later Harry Potter films, and as much as I consider Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” cycle possibly the ultimate single film of this first decade of the 21st century, if I had to pick the greatest fantasy film of all time, there’s one film that pretty much stands alone for me. Poet turned auteur Jean Cocteau’s version of Beauty and the Beast has never been rivaled. This “fairy tale for adults” remains a masterpiece of entertainment and cinematic poetry, and it’s in-camera effects remain truly stunning. In some respects, even Jackson’s incredibly brilliant WETA crew has never quite matched what cinematographer Henri Alekan, and production designers Christian Bérard and Lucien Carré managed in devastated post-war France.

I suppose I’m already guilty of it, but I try not to build-up classic movies too much lest I build up expectations so high that no movie can really live up to them at first blush. They’re only movies. But take a look at this trailer, which includes narration by Cocteau himself. To me, this is beauty.

  

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An A to Z of Last-Minute Gifts for the TV Geek in Your Life

Got a TV geek on your Christmas list but don’t know what to get them because you’re petrified that they might already have all the obvious picks? As someone who falls into that demographic (and therefore has to make a very explicit list for my family every year), I understand where you’re coming from, so please allow me to do my part to help but you and the poor bastard you’re waiting ’til the last second to shop for. Sure, the list is a little all-over-the-place, but all of these items have landed in stores since last Christmas, and…hey, at least it’s in alphabetical order!

1. Adam 12: Season Two – Rescued from Universal’s indifference by the good folks at Shout! Factory, it holds up about as well as any show produced by Jack Webb (which is to say that the acting is more than a little stilted), but it’s been tricked out with commentaries from actual Los Angeles police officers, which make for entertaining and interesting listening.

2. Beauty and the Beast: The Complete Series – Ron Perlman may be best known these days for his work in FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and the “Hellboy” franchise, just as Linda Hamilton is probably destined to be remembered as the definitive Sarah Connor, but once upon a time, they were the stars of a rather unlikely romance on CBS. This complete-series set offers little new for those who’ve already purchased the individual season sets except an interactive trivia game, some “newly reconstructed love letters” from Vincent which don’t sound like they’re being read by Perlman, and a nice looking box, but it’s a strange, fanciful, and romantic show that your mom, wife, sister, or…oh, hell, even you might like it.

3. Comedy Central’s TV Funhouse – Given that it takes the style of a kids show from the early ’70s and blends it with dark, surreal, and sometimes downright filthy humor, it’s only halfway surprising that this series didn’t find a following, but it will undoubtedly come to be remembered as one of the great lost comedy classics of the decade. Robert Smigel obsessives will notice that a few things are missing from the show’s original airing, but there’s still plenty here to make you laugh and groan for hours.

4. Drak Pak: The Complete Series – Sometimes, you include an item for personal reasons, but the idea of the kids of Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein’s Monster teaming up to form a crime-fighting team that battles against a guy who looks suspiciously like Vincent Price is one that had me watching every Saturday morning. Sadly, it only lasted a single season, and watching it now, I can kind of see why, but it’s still a fun flashback for those who remember the show from its original run.

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