Beauty and the Beast
Credit: Beauty and the Beast: © Walt Disney

The least exciting words today at Disney animation pitch meetings are probably ”It’s a musical.” They should be, since the studio wore out its cartoon-as-Broadway-show welcome in the late ’90s. But looking at 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, the last full flowering of exec producer-lyricist Howard Ashman’s collaboration with composer Alan Menken, it’s easy to become enchanted again.

The picture is full of things that couldn’t be replicated in the subsequent stage version, from that camera-crane swoop through a ballroom, as Beast and Belle do their best ”King and I” imitation, to pitch-perfect expressions on the cursed castle servants who’ve become bric-a-brac. On DVD, the movie comes in three flavors: the ”work in progress” print (the same soundtrack as the finished movie, but with many shots in pencil-sketch form to illuminate the animators’ craft); the original theatrical version; and a ”special edition” (it played in IMAX theaters in January) featuring a jolly added song, ”Human Again,” wherein the castle-guard objects wittily declare of the titular duo, ”Little push, little shove/They could (whoosh) fall in love!”

While the movie still unfolds as poignantly as the falling rose petals that mark Beast’s limited time to romance Belle, the extras come on more like a Venus flytrap. Plugs for umpteen Disney products abound, and much of the second disc’s making-of material has the sales-pitch tone of an infomercial. The groan-inducing nadir: Disney chief Michael Eisner ruminating that he’d like to do a live-action film version — in Europe! — then pump out yet more anniversary cartoon editions. The movie: A; The extras: B-

Beauty and the Beast (1991)
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