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.