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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.

  • Cinderella (2015) Blu-ray Review

    Cinderella (2015)

    Director: Kenneth Branagh

    Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgård & Helena Bonham Carter

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Based on the timeless fairy tale, Cinderella centers on kind-hearted Ella (Lily James, Downton Abbey) whose world is turned upside down following the passing of her father.  Reduced to the equivalent of a servant by her cruel stepmother and her dimwitted daughters, a chance encounter with the prince and a touch of magic restores hope to the enchanting young lady’s life.  Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) and Helena Bonham Carter (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) co-star.

    In the successful wake of Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, Disney reaches new heights with their latest live-action revisionist tale of Cinderella.  Providing slightly more background on its title character than its 1950 animated counterpart, a young Ella is seen surrounded by her loving parents and picturesque household.  In a brief but charming appearance, Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) as Cinderella’s mother urges her daughter to keep courage and kindness forever in her heart as she lie on her deathbed.  As years pass and Ella’s father learns to love anew, Lady Tremaine (Blanchett) and her two gaudy daughters move in, bringing with them a noticeable coldness towards Ella.  Away on business and falling ill, Ella’s father tragically passes away leaving his only daughter in the trenches of the now widowed Lady Tremaine.  Unloading an unspeakable wave of cruelty on her stepdaughter, Ella becomes the sole servant of the household, forced to wait on her wicked stepmother and selfish stepsisters.  Maintaining her promise to her late mother, Ella attempts to keep her spirits high while caring for friendly mice and always thinking of others first.  Overwhelmed with taunts by her new family leads Ella to a chance encounter with a dashing prince, known only as Kit (Madden).  Enraptured by her presence and urged by his father to wed a princess, Kit vows to see her again by inviting all citizens to the royal ball.  With the assistance of her magical Fairy Godmother (Bonham Carter), the newly nicknamed Cinderella enjoys a romantic evening with Kit, solidifying their love for one another.  With her royal-like appearance available for so long and fearing Kit’s reaction to her peasant status, Cinderella flees the castle as the definitive search for the prince’s true love unfolds.

    Beautifully realized, Director Kenneth Branagh’s captivating adaptation takes the simplistic fairy tale and enriches its narrative with majesty and rich visual grandeur.  Perfectly selected, Lily James casts a spell on viewers with her dizzying elegance as Cinderella while Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett offers humanizing new depth to the detestable Lady Tremaine.  Complimented by lush costume design by Sandy Powell (Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator) and gorgeous production design by Dante Ferretti (Gangs of New York, Hugo), Cinderella is the nearest example of a fairy tale come true.  Abundantly faithful to its animated predecessor, Cinderella manages to weave its own identity that can safely be praised and cherished as Disney’s finest reimagining to date.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Cinderella with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Much like its protagonist, picture quality is perfect in virtually every way.  Skin tones are warm and inviting while, the wide spectrum of colors found in costumes, most noticeably in Cinderella’s sparkling blue gown, pop beautifully.  Meanwhile, detail from settings to computer-generated creations are crisp with black levels always appearing deep and inky.  Equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, dialogue is flawless while more intense moments involving horseback chases and Composer Patrick Doyle’s (Brave) rousing score gives listeners a most exceptional soundscape.  Special features include, A Fairy Tale Comes to Life (9:23) where key talent including Producer Simon Kinberg, Director Kenneth Branagh, Screenwriter Chris Weitz and the cast discuss the impact of the timeless tale and the opportunities their adaptation has to add to its legacy.  In addition, Costume Test Fun (2:39), Staging the Ball (11:27), where the various creative departments discuss their roles in realizing the film’s key sequence, an Alternate Opening: Ella’s Childhood (3:02), Ella’s Fury Friends (3:43) and Frozen Fever (7:56), the Frozen inspired short film attached to the film during its theatrical release are also included.  Finally, Sneak Peeks at Disney Movie Rewards (0:20), Disney Parks (1:02), Once Upon A Time (0:31), Monkey Kingdom (1:02), Born in China (1:14) and Inside Out (1:27) round out the supplements while, a DVD edition of the film and Digital HD Code also accompany the release.

    Bursting with magic and whimsy, Cinderella, while adjusting minor components, pays homage to Disney’s iconic animated masterpiece to deliver an even finer film.  Masterfully casted and beautifully designed, Disney’s latest live-action redo is a splendid accomplishment that will leave viewers entranced.  Exceptional looking with a vigorous sound mix, Cinderella sparkles in high-definition confidently leaving viewers of all ages happily ever after.

    RATING: 5/5

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