If you think this release of Beauty and the Beast has an insane number of special features, you'd be right. It's the second in Disney's "Platinum" series (the first being the reissue of Snow White). they thought of everything they could, threw it on two DVDs -- and then threw in a few more things. It's not hard to understand why. If Snow White kicked off the Disney franchise all those years ago, Beauty and the Beast represented the studio's renaissance.
After a couple of decades of increasingly lame work -- Oliver and Company is all you need to know -- The Little Mermaid came out of nowhere to serve notice that things were changing. If that release loaded the bases, Beauty and the Beast was the grand slam. It was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Disney's been on a roll ever since.
It all starts with the music. The team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman created the first blending of animation and Broadway-style scoring. Sadly, Ashman died just six months before the film was released -- you can hear his colleagues remember his contribution in one of the more touching of the special features. The greatest tribute, however, is the inclusion of a song that was cut from the original, "Human Again," with all-new animation.
The film also broke new ground in its characterizations -- especially Belle, the heroine of the story, who was the first complex female character Disney had created. And the cad Gaston is a hoot (especially during "Gaston," which has some of the funniest lyrics ever sung in a cartoon). Lumi & eacute;re, the little candelabrum guy, is also a lot of fun -- especially after you realize he is voiced by Jerry Orbach, aka Det. Lenny Briscoe on Law and Order.
The fairy tale is updated nicely. Disney didn't shy away from the grittier parts of the story, but there's nothing here that even little kids can't handle. Still, the ending does seem to reinforce stereotypes -- why can happiness only be guaranteed after the Beast turns into a hunky Frenchman? It's a question that's answered cleverly and in Dreamworks' Shrek.
Finally, the special features: There are 52 listed in the DVD's booklet, along with three versions of the film. This edition significantly ups the ante in the race for special feature dominance among movie studios. The only thing missing? A special feature documenting the making of the special features.