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Beauty and the Beast: Disney's Big Hit Gets Bigger

For its 10th anniversary Disney is re-releasing Beauty and the Beast in large format theatres. But, as Rick DeMott reveals, it isn't so much a re-release as it is a re-do!

The groundbreaking ballroom scene is back with Disney's re-release of Beauty and the Beast. All images © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

The groundbreaking ballroom scene is back with Disney's re-release of Beauty and the Beast. All images © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

In 1991, Beauty and the Beast hit theaters, spurring the late film critic Gene Siskel to comment, "The musical has been basically dead for the last 20 years in American film; this one brings it back alive." The picture, the first to go through a completely digital pipeline, was the follow-up to The Little Mermaid, which had given Disney's animated features a resurgence. But the landmark Beauty would give the legendary studio a critical success in addition to a monetary one. The next year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences honored the $351 million worldwide blockbuster with a best picture Oscar nomination; the first given to an animated film. Now, in celebration of its 10th anniversary, Disney has decided to re-release the film, with a new musical number, in the giant 65mm format.

Changing A Classic?

The first question is: why add something to a film that's already considered a classic? When asked this question, producer Don Hahn explains, "The ['Human Again'] song was also meant to be in the film. We just couldn't figure out how to make it work and not take away from the central story of Belle." During the original production, the 11-minute sequence was storyboarded and songwriters Howard Ashman and Alan Menken had recorded a demo version of the music. Even though a favorite of the filmmakers and songwriters, the song was finally replaced by the shorter "Something There." However, in 1994 when Alan Menken took Beauty and the Beast to Broadway, he discovered a way to work the show-stopping tune into the stage musical.

Hahn recalls, "About four years ago, [directors] Kirk [Wise] and Gary [Trousdale] and I were sitting around talking about the Star Wars Special Edition that had just come out and Kirk jokingly suggested, 'Wouldn't it be fun to do a special edition of Beauty with 'Human Again' or new material in it?' When the head of Feature Animation said he thought it was a great idea, we stopped joking and began thinking about how we could actually do it. We had storyboarded the sequence for the original production, but completely reworked it for this special edition of the film. We discovered that there was a perfect place for the song following 'Something There' and it added a greater emotional depth to the story. A new scene with Cogsworth instructing the staff to create the most romantic atmosphere known to man or beast sets up the song beautifully."

To create the additional sequence, the filmmakers reassembled the original voice cast and most of the original animators and artists. Nik Ranieri, the supervising animator for Lumiere, recalls, "I was really excited to be working on this character again and 'Human Again' had a good role in it for Lumiere. My first thought was, 'Can I handle this character? It's been ten years and I don't know if I can still draw him.' I got out the old model sheet and started drawing and it just started to come back. It was like visiting an old friend. I really enjoyed getting to work with him again."

Some fans have complained that the new sequence features pop culture references, like one to the "American Gothic" painting, of which the original film was free. However, Hahn differs in opinion: "It never bothers me. The film has a teapot hopping around and singing in it. It's a fairy tale and fairy tales have references to all sorts of cultural things." He feels the most important thing is that the sequence is entertaining.

New Format = Lots of Tweaks

The second important question about the re-release is: what did it take to transform the film into the Imax format? Hahn admitted that due to the fact that Beauty and the Beast was completely digital the transfer to the 10-times larger format was not that difficult. From the digital source material, Disney's camera department used special camera heads and film recorders to create new large format prints. Unlike the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence in Fantasia/2000, Beauty was not just blown up to a larger size, but was reformatted frame-by-frame.

Artistic director Dave Bossert and Joe Jiuliano, director of the camera department, actually printed the film in three different large formats -- IMAX (15 perfs wide), dome projection and 8 perf. Two special 65mm camera heads were placed on top of film recorders to create the final output. It took 2-1/2 minutes to shoot each frame, which required a 24-hour filming schedule to meet the demands of production. To increase image clarity, the resolution was doubled from 2000 to 4000 pixels per frame.

However, the larger image did present detailing issues for the filmmakers. For instance, in the wide shots during the snow ball fight, Belle's face had no detail, which on the now seven-story-high image clearly showed. Almost 200 scenes required some additional animation, effects, background painting or other details. Art director Ed Ghertner and background supervisor Lisa Keene spearheaded all the adjustments.

Keene comments, "Technology has changed and improved so we were able to do things that we couldn't do before. Dust on the original images looked like tennis balls on the screen. At the time, we weren't able to do a digital touch-up and remove all the imperfections. For this release, we looked at the entire film and decided what was charming and what really needed to be fixed. Today it's a very simple matter to correct these things digitally. Those small little adjustments really helped."

Hahn explains that the most difficult part of the re-release was smoothly integrating the new material. During the new "Human Again" number, various castle residents feverishly clean the castle, hoping to ignite a romantic mood. This new sequence then presented continuity errors in the scenes that followed. Eighty to eighty-five shots of the messy castle had to be literally "cleaned-up."

In regard to sound, sound re-recording engineer Terry Porter says, "Large format theaters are spectacular. As mixers, we can take a film to a little more extreme as far as dynamic range and balance. The sound amplification and speaker systems are huge so we were able to do things a little more dramatically than we could for a regular theatrical mix. In a traditional movie theater, a lot of sound comes from behind the screen through the center speaker. In large format houses, the audience will feel like they're sitting in the middle of the movie and become more involved. We used the surround and top speakers to full advantage to create this effect."

A New Tradition?

The re-release of the film in IMAX and other large format theaters also reaffirms Disney's commitment to the giant screen format. Disney's first venture into large format, Fantasia/2000 smashed previous records, finally grossing $89.4 million worldwide. Beauty and the Beast will be the first narrative film to have a major push in the large format. When asked how Beauty will do compared to Fantasia/2000, Hahn predicts, "It has a great chance to do the same and possible do more. There's a huge wave of possibility. The film is near and dear to our hearts and the hearts of fans. It also brings the beloved film back to theaters for kids who were too young to see it the first time. That in itself is an event, but releasing it on the large format makes it even more of a special event."

Disney is currently working on bringing other animated features to the large format including the biggest animated film of all-time, The Lion King. Whether this will become a standard for re-releasing their animated features is yet to be seen and could hinge on the success of Beauty. If Beauty and the Beast succeeds like Disney feels it will, this benchmark film could again become a benchmark but in a totally different way.

Rick DeMott is a freelance writer, working in Los Angeles.

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