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  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) Blu-ray Review

    Beauty and the Beast (2017)

    Director: Bill Condon

    Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen & Emma Thompson

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Reimagining Disney’s animated masterpiece into live-action, Beauty and the Beast tells the time-honored tale of the bookish Belle (Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) whose eternal imprisonment in the castle of a cursed Beast (Dan Stevens, The Guest) morphs into an unexpected chance at love.  

    Perhaps more anticipated than Disney’s previous 21st century fairy tale adaptations and cautiously guarded by enthusiasts who value the 1991 version as a treasured benchmark of the Disney Renaissance era, Beauty and the Beast waltzes with whimsy and charm that harnesses the magic of its predecessor while, enchanting audiences through its live performances and visual-effects wizardry.  Straying closely to its counterparts narrative beats, Emma Watson stuns as the ideal Belle whose independent personality shines brightly and singing chops bring new dimension to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s classic songs.  Furthermore, Dan Stevens conjures an intimidating ferociousness and tenderness in his role as the Beast that growls through his digitized masking while, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) flexes his muscles as the living embodiment of the egotistical Gaston.  Meanwhile, Josh Gad (Frozen) consistently steals scenes as the suggestively gay LeFou with his clumsy humor and hopeless crush on Gaston offering the biggest laughs with an impressive supporting roster of thespians including, Ewan McGregor (Big Fish) as the french candelabra Lumière, Ian McKellen (Mr. Holmes) as the worrisome Cogsworth and Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) as the warm Mrs. Potts all bringing their inanimate characters to life in colorful fashion.  

    Enrapturing the film with fantastical glow and intricate detail, Production Designer Sarah Greenwood’s (Atonement) efforts are a work of art unto themselves while, the fan-favorite tunes continue to cast their enchanting spell on audiences with several new musical arrangements on hand including, “How Does A Moment Last Forever” by Celine Dion.  For all its dazzling majesty and subtle enhancements that bond Belle and the beast’s romance through shared grief, the trickiness of bringing a lifelike beast creature to reality falters when sharing the screen with the very real Watson.  Lacking the believability of the animal characters found in Disney’s groundbreaking reinvention of The Jungle Book, the Beast’s appearance works respectably on its own while demonstrating its obvious shortcomings in closeups that never fully suspends our disbelief and slightly takes attention away from intimate sequences.  Concurrently, the castle’s cursed inhabitants in their possession form are a visual marvel, making splashing sequences such as their dinner table rendition of “Be Our Guest” one of the film’s most memorable.  Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is overwhelmingly delightful with Bill Condon’s (Dreamgirls) grand direction perfectly suited for the musical material.  As warmly conducted as its animated brethren, Disney’s latest interpretation of Beauty and the Beast reaffirms the tale’s splendor and reputation as one of the greatest romances of all-time.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Beauty and the Beast with a sparkling 1080p transfer, preserving its 2.40:1 aspect ratio.  Radiating with pristine quality, Belle’s quaint village glows under sunny skies while the grim and cobweb-infested layers of the Beast’s castle are presented with striking clarity.  Furthermore, skin tones appear warm and naturally inviting with Belle’s dazzling golden gown and the castle’s CG-rendered characters bursting with detail and colorful grace.  Yet another knockout transfer for the Mouse House, Beauty and the Beast will leave viewers visually waltzing in wonder!  Equipped with an equally exceptional DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that relays the crispest of dialogue levels while taking full advantage of the film’s musical compositions, the track is nothing short of sonically fantastic.  

    As well stocked as the inhabitants in the Beast’s towering estate, special features include, Enchanted Table Read (13:31) giving viewers a unique look at one of the most theatrical read-throughs of any production captured on film, A Beauty of a Tale (27:08) finds the filmmakers and cast members discussing their attractions and utmost responsibility in telling this tale faithfully yet with its own unique charms while, The Women Behind Beauty and the Beast (5:17) spotlights the creative contributions to the film by Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, Set Decorator Katie Spencer, Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran, Casting Director Lucy Bevan and Editor Virginia Katz.  Additionally, From Song to Screen: Making the Musical Sequences (13:26), Extended Song: “Days in the Sun” with Introduction by Bill Condon (4:08), Deleted Scenes (6:23) also accompanied by an Introduction by Condon and Making a Moment with Celine Dion (3:24) where the emotional singer shares her personal ties to the project’s 1991 originator and the honor of being asked to contribute to its live-action counterpart.  Finally, the “Beauty and the Beast” Music Video by Ariana Grande and John Legend (4:02), Making the Music Video: “Beauty and the Beast” (2:07), a Disney Song Selection (33:09) that allows viewers to jump to the film’s musical sequences and Sneak Peeks at Cars 3 (0:57) and Descendants 2 (0:32) conclude the on-disc supplemental offerings while, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code are also included.

    Unanimously loved by both audiences and critics, Beauty and the Beast’s magical live-action makeover would skyrocket to billion dollar success ultimately becoming the most profitable movie musical of all time.  Retaining the enchanting splendor of its predecessor while using today’s technology and a stunning new cast under the guidance of musically minded director Bill Condon, Beauty and the Beast ensures its time-old tale of romance lives on for another generation.  As efficient as ever, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment delivers another first-rate example of high-definition excellence with an appetizing selection of bonus features for seconds.  With the exception of its absent 3D edition that, similar to The Jungle Book’s home video strategy, is most surely to come at a later date, Beauty and the Beast comes highly recommended for fairy tale devotees and Disney lovers alike.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available June 6th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Beauty and the Beast can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Beauty and the Beast (1991) 25th Anniversary Edition: Signature Collection Blu-ray Review

    Beauty and the Beast (1991)

    Director(s): Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise

    Starring: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Michael Pierce, Rex Everheart & Jesse Corti

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    In Disney’s 30th animated feature, Beauty and the Beast finds independent bookworm Belle (Paige O’Hara, Enchanted) rescuing her father from an enchanted castle and a cruel beast’s (Robby Benson, Running Brave) captivity.  Sacrificing her own freedom and looking deep within to see the beast’s inner beauty, the blossoming love between the two unlikely housemates will prove magically invaluable in breaking the spell cast on the titanic castle and its residents.

    A tale as old as time and beloved by generations worldwide, Beauty and the Beast continues the triumphant return to form of Disney’s animation division following the runaway success of The Little Mermaid.  Once again combining timeless characters, brilliant musical arrangements by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, and a story of true love, the romantic fairy tale enchants viewers with its grace, humor and themes of acceptance.  Attempted several times throughout Walt Disney’s career to no avail, Beauty and the Beast continues the magical traditions of its golden age forefathers with mesmerizing art and catchy tunes while, charting its own breathtaking path earning itself the first Best Picture Academy Award nomination for an animated film.  Seeped in gothic romance with glitzy broadway style musical sequences, the valued vocal efforts of Jerry Orbach (Law & Order), David Ogden Stiers (M*A*S*H*) and Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote) bring impressionable life to their memorable roles as Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts but, more importantly make viewers feel warmly at home within their company.  In addition, brute Gaston (Richard White, House of Mouse), along with his hilariously buffoonish accomplice Lefou (Jesse Corti, Zootopia), make for some of Disney’s grandest antagonists while, the development of Belle and Beast’s evolving love may be the most beautiful of all the mouse house’s animated features.

    Showered in critical praise, deserved awards and box-office riches upon its initial release, Beauty and the Beast would continue to welcomes guests to its enchanted castle through a Broadway musical, two direct-to-video followups, an enduring Disney Park presence and a theatrical 3D re-release.  With its reputation graciously preceding itself after a quarter century, Beauty and the Beast’s impact and instantly recognizable songs can’t be understated.  A perfect storm of splendid storytelling and exemplary animation, Beauty and the Beast not only ranks as the crowning jewel of the Disney Renaissance that consisted of other such masterworks as Aladdin and The Lion King but, also one of the studio’s most treasured features of all-time.

    Repurposing their already flawless 1080p (1.78:1) transfer and sonically hailed DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix from its 2010 release, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment once again supplies three versions of the film including the preferred Original Theatrical Edition (1:24:54), Special Extended Edition (1:31:44) and a Sing-A-Long Version (1:24:54).  Also recycling its Audio Commentary (Extended Edition Only) with Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, Producer Don Hahn & Composer Alan Menken, new on-disc supplements include, Always Belle (11:32) as Paige O’Hara reflects on her role and childhood love for the arts, Menken & Friends: 25 Years of Musical Inspiration (19:06) where fellow Disney composers Stephen Schwartz (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Moana) and Robert & Kristen-Anderson Lopez (Frozen) rap with Menken about the film’s memorable music, #1074: Walt, Fairy Tales & Beauty and the Beast (9:36) details Disney’s earliest developments of the film, The Recording Sessions (3:48) invites viewers into raw footage of the actors laying down their lines and 25 Fun Facts About Beauty and the Beast (5:24) hosted by Kayla Maisonet of Stuck in the Middle and Gus Kamp of Best Friends Whenever.  In addition, a Beauty and the Beast Sneak Peek (1:24) at the 2017 live-action feature, Song Selection (Sing-A-Long Edition Only), a Classic Bonus Preview (0:43) and Sneak Peeks at 2017’s Beauty and the Beast (1:37), The BFG (1:38), Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), a Disney Princess Promo (1:32), Elena of Avalor (1:02), Moana (1:26) and Finding Dory (1:39) are also included.

    For better or worse, several more hours of supplemental content including such new featurettes as Character Development: Lumiere (2:50), Character Development: Beast (3:49) and countless others are available only digitally along with other vintage bonus features.  While their inclusion is plentiful, their lack of on-disc appearances is disparaging for physical media purists.  Finally, a DVD edition and Digital HD Code round out the release’s extensive extras.

    Celebrating its 25th anniversary before asking viewers to be their guest in 2017 for its live-action counterpart, Beauty and the Beast remains as magical and captivating as ever.  With several newly created bonus features included and a reference quality presentation preserved, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has prepped a sumptuous meal of hi-def majesty for Disney lovers to partake in.  A towering animated achievement and simply one of Disney’s best, Beauty and the Beast deserves a spot in every collector’s west wing!

    RATING: 5/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Beauty and the Beast can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Aladdin Diamond Edition (1992) Blu-ray Review

    Aladdin (1992)

    Director(s): John Musker & Ron Clements

    Starring: Scott Weinger, Robin Williams, Linda Larkin, Jonathan Freeman & Gilbert Gottfried

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Centering on a local street thief in the Arabian city of Agrabah, Aladdin finds its title character falling hopelessly in love with the Princess Jasmine while utilizing wishes from a powerful genie to transform him into a prized suitor.  Hunted by the devilish Jafar for possession of the genie’s lamp, Aladdin must learn to accept his true self in order to win the heart of Jasmine and protect the kingdom from the evil sorcerer’s dark forces.  Scott Weinger (Full House), Robin Williams (Good Morning, Vietnam), Linda Larkin (Joshua), Jonathan Freeman (The Ice Storm) and Gilbert Gottfried (Problem Child) comprise the film’s vocal talent.

    In the wake of celebrated hits including The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin would continue to whisk audiences away to new, exotic locales and exciting adventures while elevating the era known as the Disney Renaissance to soaring new heights.  Originally pitched by the late Lyricist Howard Ashman (Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid), Aladdin perfectly blends fantasy and romance with a stunning array of beautifully rendered characters each bursting with personality and humor.  From the frantic marketplace sequences of Aladdin evading pursuing guards to the high-octane, computer-generated journey through the Cave of Wonders and Aladdin and Jasmine’s enchanting carpet ride among the stars, Aladdin dazzles with magnificent artistry.  Complimented by gifted voice performances, the late Robin Williams’ turn as the beloved blue Genie eternally tickles audiences funny bones with his quick-witted energy and hilarious, if not slightly dated, impressions of celebrity personalities including, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Arsenio Hall, Jack Nicholson and Peter Lorre.  

    Earning two Academy Awards for Best Music (original song and score respectively), Composer Alan Menken and Lyricist Tim Rice’s enchanting melodies and irresistible songs for “A Whole New World” and “One Jump Ahead” cement the film’s legacy as one of Disney’s most cherished achievements.  Enormously praised and credited as the most successful film of 1992, Aladdin continues to bring joy to a new generation of viewers with its immense heart and highly regarded animation demonstrating the very best of Disney’s seemingly endless talents.  

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment welcomes Aladdin into its illustrious Diamond line with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  Bursting with bold colors that erupt on screen while black levels read exquisitely inky, the results are most satisfying.  Furthermore, detail is top-notch while the computer-generated workings of the Cave of Wonders offer exceptional depth and clarity.  Long awaited for its domestic high-definition debut, Aladdin’s appearance is a wish come true.  Accompanied with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is excellently delivered with the delicacies of Menken’s score expertly prioritized while song numbers provide powerful punches leaving listeners singing in their seats.  Newly crafted special features include, The Genie Outtakes (8:53), Aladdin: Creating Broadway Magic (18:53), Unboxing Aladdin (4:40), Genie 101 (3:59) and Ron & John: You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me (5:36).  In addition, vintage supplements include, Deleted Songs (13:57), Deleted Scenes (5:43), Music Videos for “Proud of Your Boy” Performed by Clay Aiken (2:20) joined by its Original Story Reel (2:18) and a Behind the Scenes of the Music Video (3:20) plus, “A Whole New World” Performed by Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey (4:14), a Behind the Scenes of the Music Video (3:46) and “A Whole New World” Performed by Regina Belle & Peabo Bryson (4:07).  Additionally, Disney Song Selection (11:28), Inside the Genie’s Lamp: Guided Tour (6:13), The Genie World Tour (3:14), an Audio Commentary with Producers/Directors John Musker and Ron Clements & Co-Producer Amy Pell as well as an Audio Commentary with Supervising Animators Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg and Glen Keane are also included.  Finally, A Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin (1:10:52), Alan Menken: Musical Renaissance Man (19:55), The Art of Aladdin: Art Review with Filmmakers’ Commentary (8:45), the Original Theatrical Trailer (2:50), The Return of Jafar Trailer (0:43), Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney Parks (0:32), The Muppets (0:32), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1:52), The Good Dinosaur (1:14), Inside Out (1:27) and Tomorrowland (0:50) along with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code conclude the extensive extras.

    Beloved more than ever by audiences of all ages, Aladdin is a magical tour de force that stands out as one of Disney’s most respected and crowd-pleasing efforts of the 1990s.  After much time, Disney’s overdue Diamond Edition release is well worth its wait with gorgeous sights, grandiose sound and sizable supplements to satisfy all street rats and riff raffs.  Desires for a high-definition magic carpet ride will have their wish granted with this essential release.

    RATING: 5/5

    Available October 13th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Aladdin can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.