The Movie (3/5)
As much as I loved the live-action remakes of Cinderella and The Jungle Book, I had a much harder time with Beauty and the Beast. The live action version follows essentially the same storyline as the animated film, so if you are at all familiar with that version, there is a very low barrier to entry when it comes to this latest release. The cast is solid, starring Emma Watson as Belle, Dan Stevens, who does a great job in motion capture as The Beast, and Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s father.. Luke Evans makes a great Gaston, and although controversial in some of the states where marrying your cousin is still widely accepted, Josh Gad provides much of the comic relief as LeFou; Gad was truly a highlight of the film.
The voice work provided by an All-Star cast of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, and Stanley Tucci was excellent. They each perfectly embodied the famous characters they were chosen to represent. A final scene with their reveal is a nice touch, although it probably wasn’t needed other than for the star power of their cameos.
My issue comes with the pacing and the additional character arcs, which felt totally unnecessary. The original animated film clocks in at a brisk 92 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time for this story. However (spoilers ahead), this version adds in an entire backstory about Belle’s mother, spends much more time exploring Gaston’s character, and little tidbits about each of the characters adds up to a total runtime of 129 minutes: 37 minutes longer than the animated film. As someone who is a big fan of the animated version, I kept waiting for the next scene as I knew it, and then would get sidetracked with some offshoot storyline that I truly did not care much about, and ultimately had no impact on the final ending.
This is likely more of an issue with my recent memory of the animated film, which I revisited not long ago, and new viewers may find this version to be just fine when it comes to pacing and runtime. However, I got the feeling that it was overdone, pushing the two hour time limit simply because that is the new normal for today’s blockbusters, and it felt like the film was wasting time by not getting to where it needed to be.
Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast printed money at the box office, so it clearly resonated with audiences, but I have a feeling that if it was not a Disney product with millions in marketing and advertising dollars behind it, and the massive international star power of Emma Watson, that it may not have done as well. It does not give off the same vibe that the previous live action films did, and it appears to be the weakest of the three so far. I will revisit it at some point and give it another chance, if only for the awesome musical numbers and visuals, but for me, it was not the international sensation it was made out to be. It was just fine, but in terms of Disney, that is still damn good, so please don’t let my review sour you too much.
The Video (5/5)
If Disney ever puts out a terrible Blu-ray release, someone please let me know, because I have never run into one before. Beauty and the Beast is stunning in 1080p; it truly felt like a 4K release with the amount of detail and the excellent color that just popper right off my screen. The film was shot digitally on a variety of cameras in both 3.4K and 2.8K, and was finished at a 2K resolution, with the addition of Dolby Vision technology according to IMDb, so it is a shame it could not get a 4K release simply for an even better experience with HDR.
The outdoor scenes are full of light, and the snowy castle of the Beast provides an excellent presentation of blacks and grays that is impossible to find a fault in. The penultimate scene in the ballroom is excellent, with Belle’s yellow dress gripping the screen and never letting go. Even though this was a live action film, it still managed to capture the spirit of the animated version with its excellent visual presentation, staying very true to the color schemes Disney had already established.
The Audio (4/5)
The main reason this gets a 4 out of 5 is the lack of any advanced audio tracks, which would have been amazing for a release like this. Beauty and the Beast comes with just a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, which is fine, but it was released to theaters in IMAX with a powerful sound mix, and also sported a Dolby Atmos track in standard theaters, so it is a shame to not see any of that make its way over to the Blu-ray release.
What we do get is very good, and the musical numbers roared through my SVS Sound Prime Tower system, hitting all the right notes in every scene. Dialogue was very clear and concise, easy to distinguish even in louder sequences, and even the sometimes mumbled voice of the Beast was clear as day. Surround work was okay – with nothing really outside of “Be Our Guest” and the final action sequence grabbing my attention, but it was well worth having a full surround system for just those two scenes alone. Atmos would have been the way to go here for a perfect score, but this is still a damn good audio experience.
Special Features/Packaging (4.5/5)
Beauty and the Beast made its way to Blu-ray in a standard, two-disc slipcover package, with the embossed front artwork and a digital copy, but it also was released in Steelbook form to Best Buy, which was out of the norm for Disney. Typically Best Buy gets a lenticular slipcover, but with Bambi releasing around the same time, Bambi got the lenticular and the steelbook was created for Beauty and the Beast. The packaging is pretty standard for Disney, but the steelbook is a stand-out star, that I wish I had opted for, so high marks go to Disney for creating that packaging as a second option.
As for features, there are quite a few. First off, there is a “Sing Along” version of the film, so if you are a huge fan, or have kids, this is an interesting way to watch the film for a second or third viewing. There are also a handful of deleted scenes, a song selector, extended songs, music videos, and a feature with Celine Dion to round out the basic stuff.
From there, you can check out a couple of “Making Of” type features about the songs, and the process of transforming an animated classic to live action format. There is also a table read from the cast included, and a feature with Emma Watson talking about the wonderful team of women who worked behind the scenes on the film.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Region Coding: Region Free (ABC)
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1
English SDH, French, Spanish
Runtime: 129 minutes
Overall, this is a quality Blu-ray release from a audio/visual standpoint, with a couple of great packaging options, plenty of features, and enough talent to fill the BAFTA awards. However, the film pacing does seem a bit slow and strained at times, and I found myself wanting it to just get going at many points throughout. I do recommend it (its Disney, we are collectors, of course we are going to buy it), but form your own opinions on the animated film versus the live action version; I will be interested to hear what everyone thinks about it!
You can grab Beauty and the Beast from Amazon on Blu-ray, available now!