Based on a fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, Beauty and the Beast details the unexpected romance that eventually blossoms between a small town girl (Paige O'Hara's Belle) and a nobleman trapped in the body of a monstrous Beast (Robbie Benson). Beauty and the Beast, armed with a vibrant, eye-popping animation style and several undeniably catchy songs, effectively hooks the viewer's interest right from the get-go, with the appealing nature of the various characters perpetuating the film's almost pervasively likeable atmosphere. And although filmmakers Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise do have a tendency to emphasize certain overly "cute" elements, the movie's romantic storyline ultimately proves strong enough to compensate for a rather gimmicky midsection that revolves primarily around the exploits of Beast's colorful servants (including Jerry Orbach's Lumiere and Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Potts). The inclusion of a few stirring musical numbers - ie the justifiably indelible title track - buoys the viewer's interest through the film's less-than-enthralling stretches, with the increased emphasis on Belle and Beast's romance paving the way for a feel-good, thoroughly uplifting finale that allows the movie to conclude on an impressively positive note - which certainly cements Beauty and the Beast's place as an above average (yet far-from-flawless) animated endeavor.
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (November 30/10)
A typically low-rent direct-to-video Disney sequel, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas unfolds during the period when Belle (Paige O'Hara) was still being held captive by Beast (Robby Benson) and follows the character as she attempts to bring Christmas cheer to the gloomy castle. There's simply never a point at which Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is wholeheartedly able to justify its existence, although, to be fair, the film is relatively well made and does benefit from the return appearances of the first movie's various voice performers (including Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, and David Ogden Stiers). The less-than-enthralling atmosphere is compounded by the inclusion of several uniformly forgettable songs, with the film's most overtly incompetent element undoubtedly the appearance of its villain (Tim Curry's Forte) - as the character, an enormous pipe organ, has been rendered with some of the crudest computer animation ever committed to film and seems as though he'd be more at home within a cutscene from a mid-'90s video game. And while it's hard not to derive some amusement from the kvetching axe ("again with the chopping!"), Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is, in the final analysis, nothing more than a shameless cash-grab designed to capitalize on the original film's success.
Belle's Magical World (December 15/10)
Belle's Magical World ultimately makes one appreciate the series' comparatively brilliant first sequel, 1997's Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, as the movie, which suffers from an almost total lack of compelling elements, ultimately comes off as an utterly worthless waste of time that's sure to leave even young children checking their watches (or their parents' watches). It's clear right from the outset that Belle's Magical World wasn't originally designed to play as a full-length feature, given that the movie consists of four poorly-animated (and stand-alone) tales that were clearly intended for a (justifiably) abandoned Beauty and the Beast television series. There's consequently little doubt that the movie's aggressively low-rent animation style proves to be the least of its problems, with the consistently dull and hopelessly pointless nature of the four stories - ie Belle (Paige O'Hara) convinces Beast (Robby Benson) to take pity on a little bird with a broken wing - infusing the proceedings with a mind-numbingly dull vibe that is, for the most part, nothing short of oppressive. The film's only saving grace is the return of several Beauty and the Beast cast members - in addition to O'Hara and Benson, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, and Jo Anne Worley reprise the roles they originated in the 1991 movie - yet this is hardly enough to compensate for what is otherwise a dishearteningly irrelevant piece of work.
About the DVDs and Blu-rays: Disney presents Beauty and the Beast in an expansive five-disc set that includes 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copies of the film. In addition to the three different versions of the film that have been made available, this set also comes armed with a heaping helping of bonus features - such as a feature-length documentary, commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and much, much more. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas comes armed in a two disc set that includes DVD and Blu-ray copies of the film, while Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World arrives on DVD in a new special edition. Both films have been packed with a number of child-oriented bonus features, including songs, games, and more.