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Don Hahn Talks 'Beauty and the Beast' Going Blu

An opportunity to look back on the 1991 Disney classic and how it was prepped for Blu-ray.

The Blu-ray captures the pristine quality for the first time, along with new 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Images courtesy of Disney.

Our good friend Don Hahn tells us all about the new Beauty and the Beast Blu-ray, which streets today from Walt Disney Home Ent., and confirms something about Tim Burton's upcoming stop-motion Frankenweenie.

Bill Desowitz: What were your impressions watching this on Blu-ray?

Don Hahn:

Back then you went through all these processes of digital intermediates and cobbling prints and by the time it gets to the theater it looks a little muddy and scratchy. I think what's fun about having it on Blu-ray is you get this pristine image that looks exactly as it looked when we were sitting at these CAPS monitors seeing the movie and making it. So we involved Kirk [Wise] and Gary [Trousdale] and as many of the original collaborators as we could to help get the movie ready for this release.

BD: What sort of digital tweaking was involved?

DH: We went through that whole process and part of it is going to the original digital files and bringing those back online and re-timing it all and remembering what the movie looked like. But it's great: It's devoid of any dust or scratches and then Terry Porter, who did the original sound mix, came back in and did a great sound clean-up and home theater mix for this release [in 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio].

BD: What are we going to notice on Blu-ray in particular?

DH: We color corrected the red tunic because it was intended to be this apple red and in the movie it came out rusty colored. So a lot of times we were able to go back to the original intent of the movie because you have to compromise when you go to film. It looks great on film, but this gives us the option to go back to the original color palette.

The late Howard Ashman lent Broadway-style showmanship.

BD: This is arguably the best film of the period, earning the first Best Picture Oscar nomination. How does it strike you today?

DH: It's funny, I see it both ways: parts of it from a quality standpoint could've been done better. Those drawings are a little off model and could've been better; we could've cleaned that up. So I tend to see more of the mistakes. But, thankfully, it's about that willful suspension of disbelief. What's surprising to me is how animation works and how people are able to overlook a million errors and problems and shaky camera moves. But the power of animation that's hand-drawn like that is so personal and you can feel the presence of the artists: You can see James Baxter and Glen Keane and Andreas [Deja] and Nik [Ranieri] and all those guys in the work, which I love.

BD: And the story guys as well.

DH: Well, we had the best story crew on the planet and almost every one of them has been a director: Roger Allers (The Lion King), Kelly Asbury (Gnomeo & Juliet), Chris Sanders (How to Train Your Dragon) and Brenda Chapman (Brave). So these were soon to become all-stars at the beginning of their careers. We were pretty lucky and when you add Kirk & Gary and Howard Ashman, you have that extra level of experience and storytelling that really galvanized everybody. Howard taught us a lot -- and I say that proudly. We knew animation and we knew Disney and we knew storytelling, but we didn't know music and that Broadway style, and Howard knew how to take the deepest emotional and funny parts and put them in the body of the songs and those fundamentals really drove that era.

BD: What new bonus features are you touting on the Blu-ray?

DH: There are three versions of the movie [theatrical, extended and New York Film Festival work-in-progress], which are fun, and the "Human Again" song we finished a few years ago; an alternate opening.

BD: I remember the work-in-progress from the old laserdisc days.

DH: Yeah, we've cleaned it up and put it on the Blu-ray, so I think for fans out there it'll really be fun to see some of the most beautiful work. Glenn Keane's animation of the transformation of the Beast is epic. He was studying sculptures of Rodan and drawings of Michelangelo. It's as strong as any animation you'll see and to be able to see his roughs is a real treat.

Belle was a more modern protagonist.

BD: Speaking of real treats, we have Charles Solomon's Tale as Old as Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast (Disney Editions).

DH: Well, he did something we've never done, which is to go back and talk to everybody on the movie. I think we started out with 50 names and he ended up interviewing dozens more, and tried to piece together what happened 20 years ago like a crime scene: what the points of view are. I think he did a great job from the genesis of the movie and the first phone calls to Linda Woolverton's script to pulling together the movie with Richard Purdum [the initial director] in London and on and on and on. And then he found memos and notes to substantiate it, so to me it was a real detective job.

BD: And what did you think of John Canemaker's book, Two Guys Named Joe (Disney Editions) about Joe Grant and Joe Ranft, who was another Beauty and the Beast alumnus?

DH:

Emotional, funny. To me, those guys are some of the heroes of animation. I liken them to John Ford and John Huston and Howard Hawks of live action. These were the guys really driving the boat when it came to story and character design and characterization, and you take those two guys out of Disney and Disney and Pixar and it's a vastly different landscape. And their gift to animation is amazing and I think Canemaker captures it beautifully in his book.

The all-star story team made every detail, large and small, come to life.

BD: How is Frankenweenie coming along?

DH: Not too much to say. We started shooting about three weeks ago, so it's damn fun. We have a spectacular crew in London and it's exciting to have Tim direct an animated movie.

BD: Is it going to be in black-and-white?

DH: That's what I hear…Yes, it is.

BD: And the great challenge in adapting the short?

DH: It's still in progress, but the thing that attracted us all to it is that it's a great monster movie, great Frankenstein story that's in our culture, our mythology, and you can't go wrong with that. Like Beauty and the Beast, it's a reinvention and retelling of a tale as old as time, as you know.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

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