Walt Disney Home Video (1991), CAV, 2 discs/4 sides, 84 mins, 1.66:1 letterboxed widescreen, Dolby Surround, Rated G

One of the most sought after titles on any format, and a must have in its deluxe Platinum Edition DVD package, Beauty And The Beast is there to own in a spruced up, dusted off and cleaned brand new special edition. Featuring three editions of the film, fans clogged chat forums and message boards at the time of its release all asking the same thing: how can Disney fit three full-length versions of the same film on a single disc? There has to be some kind of compromise going on, and personally feel that we actually only got “one and a half versions” on show…

First presented at the New York Film Festival a few months prior to its official Christmas opening, the “Work In Progress” version was a 70% complete cut of the film, which in all other respects matches the final print (the “Theatrical Edition”). The Platinum DVD uses the same Dolby Surround audio track for both these versions. When it comes to the newer “Special Edition” version, released early 2002 exclusively to IMAX and large-format screens, I believe that the first half of the film plays out from the same video stream as the Theatrical Edition. When it comes to the re-inserted Human Again musical number, there is a layer change/angle flip of some sort, switching us to the new sequence and ending. This new cut has a fresh 5.1 Dolby track as well as a commentary – a first for Beauty And The Beast on videodisc.

So when one thinks about the storage space being used for one Dolby track, a separate 5.1 track, and two versions of the film “as was”, plus roughly half the film again from the new version, it becomes clearer that it can be done with no real compromise to quality (although more than a few noticed some minor artefacting). With a fresh digital-to-digital conversion, the Best Picture Oscar nominated classic (it did actually win, twice, for Best Song and Score) has never looked better…or has it? For years I have been intrigued with the Work In Progress (WIP) version of Beauty (and those cute triangles on Belle’s face; there to aid her “blusher” effect during final digital painting). In fact, the WIP and original edition were two of the first LaserDiscs I bought! And in switching between all the now-available versions (from the LD to the DVD), there are some interesting comparisons to be made.

First difference I noticed on the DVD was the disappearance of the “Silver Screen Partners” credit that came after the “Walt Disney Pictures Presents” intro. Also, the cuts between the pencil test and final animation in the WIP version are different, so one of those versions is not what was shown at the NY Film Festival. The DVD’s WIP also has the completed scenes seemingly “borrowed” from one of the other cuts of the film, as the material is pristine, and I refuse to believe that an extensive restoration was taken on this early version of the film. Also, the original (temporary) main title logo on the WIP version is featured on the LD edition, whereas a more final looking title treatment is presented on the new DVD. My final assumption is that the WIP LaserDisc is the real version shown in New York, while the DVD merely contains the pencil test animation scenes played alongside the completed Theatrical Edition video stream. The complete, original WIP version does not exist on the Platinum DVD as viewers saw it back in 1991.

The Theatrical cut varies in differences too, as the original main title was slightly smaller in frame than the very large frame-filling logo we now have on both the Theatrical and Special Edition presentations on the DVD. Throughout Beauty And The Beast on DVD, I did notice some cramped framing as well, and some extremely tight shots. On the LD versions, the frame is opened up a little to 1.66:1 and includes a significant amount of extra picture information top and bottom of frame than the DVD, framed at 1.85:1. When it comes to the actual presentations of the WIP and Theatrical cut, laser fans might actually be better off sticking with their original editions, as general framing is a lot better, and the sound in the surrounds seems more enveloping. The picture has a lot more contrast too, with a “deeper” image and an overall more film-like appearance substituted for the sometimes over-warmth of the red-tinged DVD.

When it comes to the new Special Edition, the DVD does shine, if you can live with the slight cropping to the aspect ratio (a “creative decision” by the filmmakers, apparently). The image is sharp, if a little saturated in red, and best of all is the new audio commentary from directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, producer Don Hahn, and composer Alan Menken. When it comes to the other bonuses, of course, the DVD knocks out the LD competition. The DVD audio commentary is just for starters, with a second disc offering an array of new and retrospective interviews.

However, the original WIP and Theatrical Edition LDs did pack in a little that has not turned up on the Platinum disc. Hosted by David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth himself), The Making Of Beauty And The Beast is a 24-minute documentary presented on the Theatrical Edition CAV set. Featuring interviews with the cast and crew, it offers an insight to the making of the film from the time, with a lot more behind-the-scenes footage, as well as some looks at the recording process. On the Work In Progress LD, we are treated to a little more pencil test animation, as well as an “Awards Trailer”, an extremely nice look at the accolades and awards that the film won, leading to its campaign as a contender for the Best Picture Academy Award.

The DVD can’t be entirely faulted, as it does contain excerpts from this material, as well as much more, and if you’re a fan of Beauty And The Beast that edition should be in your collections anyway. But don’t discount those older LaserDiscs just yet – with the correct negative framing, the original version of the Work In Progress edition and a handful of archival bonuses, there’s a reason collectors have held on to those titles for all these years!