Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas - Special Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (23rd December 2011).
The Film

By the middle-nineties, the so-called Disney Renaissance was in full swing. Feature after animated feature released under the Disney banner seemed to be financially successful and critically acclaimed, and it looked like, once again—after a few dark years in the 1980's, when former Disney employees turned indie animators under the leadership of Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were actually making better films than the house of mighty Mickey Mouse—Disney could do no wrong. “The Beauty and the Beast” (1991) had, at the beginning of the decade, received a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, something no “cartoon” had ever done. Then came “Aladdin” (1992), which claimed the highest worldwide gross at the box office the year it was released, a milestone that was quickly eclipsed in 1994, when “The Lion King” took the crown, reigning ruler with nearly $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales. And as Disney became more and more sure that its theatrical products were predictably profitable, it branched out with decidedly inferior follow-up sequels to those theatrical successes via the then emerging direct-to-video market. The first of these lowly VHS-dwelling disappointments was “Return of Jafar” (1994), a second-rate sequel to “Aladdin” (and a backdoor pilot for the animated television series that soon followed). Despite the fact that “Return” was clearly a lesser film, it was wildly popular and made a ton of money. Thus, the dreaded DTV Disney-quel was born. Suddenly, if a Disney film was successful, either on video or in theaters, it was sure to get some sort of “quel”—be it prequel, sequel, or the much reviled “mid-quel” as is the case with 1997’s “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas”.

As arguably the most beloved, and—perhaps even more debatably—most beautifully realized feature-length film of the Disney Renaissance, Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s “Beauty and the Beast” was ripe for regurgitation on the then new-ish home video market. Unfortunately, as is the case with nearly every single DTV Disney film ever made, “The Enchanted Christmas” pales in comparison to “Beauty and the Beast”. The follow up film isn’t bad per se, but neither is it particularly good (at least, not outside of the context of a comparison to the other Disney-quels). The film simply is. It exists. It’s short. It’s watchable, providing a forgettable but ultimately cheery holiday tale. “The Enchanted Christmas” is palatable because it has at least a (tiny) trace of the original’s spirit. Also, unlike a lot of the soulless sequels churned out by Disney in the later-nineties and early new-millennium, it has an actual plot and isn't just a series of random nonsensical scenes (something that can't be said for quite a few of the other mid-quels). The original voice cast returns to reprise their roles too, which lends a little more credibility (again, at least compared to the other DTV sequels).

After a brief introductory piece, set sometime after the events of “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Enchanted Christmas” lapses into flashback. Playing out like a lengthy deleted sequence, the story takes place between certain events of the first film, just after Beast (voiced by Robby Benson) saves Belle (Paige O’Hara) from a pack of wolves. Returning to the castle, Belle makes it known that she wants to start decorating for Christmas, but she soon learns from Lumiere (Jerry Orbach), Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), Mrs. Potts (Angela Lansbury) and the other anthropomorphic items of the Beast’s castle, that the cursed creature has forbidden even a mere mention of the holiday with the walls of his home.

Belle decides to celebrate Christmas anyway, and while looking for decorations she discovers Angelique (Bernadette Peters), one of Lumiere's lovers locked in the attic. Angelique explains Beast’s hatred of the holiday stems from the fact that it also happens to be the day the evil Enchantress (Kath Soucie) turned him into a monster. Belle also meets Forte (voiced by Tim Curry) and Fife (Paul Reubens), the formidable court composer and his fearful minion respectively. Taking the role of villain is Forte, a bellowing pipe organ, who masterfully manipulates Beast and Belle, using their seemingly opposing outlooks on the supposedly joyous season to once again break them apart... until they ultimately unite and Belle melts Beast heart with song and the spirit of the season.

“The Enchanted Christmas” is oddly derivative of the original film, putting the beautiful Belle and her crazed captor in situations that are too similar, and thus too familiar, to the original and so the plot frequently forces comparisons to the first film. And in every imaginable way then, the sequel feels like a cheap imitation, hitting all of the same thematic beats, but without the care and creativity that made the “The Beauty and the Beast” so magical. The sequel’s animation—from a now-defunct Vancouver-based offshoot of Disney, set up to make cheap TV shows—is noticeably worse, the songs are frighteningly forgettable (which is dangerous for a musical), and the magic just isn’t there.

And still, I won’t say that “The Enchanted Cristmas” is awful. It’s just... lesser, weaker, not nearly as good. The original is a rare animated masterpiece: the culmination of utter artistry. The music, story, and animation came together to make “The Beauty and the Beast” a piece of unmistakable movie magic. And it is undeniably true that the same simply cannot be said for the first Disney-quel to Trousdale and Wise’s modern classic. “Enchanted Christmas” feels every bit like an inferior, would’ve been deleted sequence, which it basically is (the starting point for the mid-quels story comes from a subplot of “La Belle et la Bête” (1946), Jean Cocteau’s live action adaptation of the same fairytale on which the Disney film is based).

But, and I guess one could qualify this with a fortunately, “The Enchanted Christmas” is definitely not as unseemly and awful as many a direct-to-video Disney disaster. (“The Fox and the Hound II” (2006), or even the second “Beauty and the Beast” sequel, the aborted TV show turned video venture “Belle’s Magical World” (1998), this is not). It’s just inferior… in every conceivable way.

One of the highest grossing direct-to-video films in the company catalog (it made more than $180 million), “The Enchanted Christmas” was originally released on VHS in 1997 and was one of the first films from the Disney library to appear on DVD. The title arrived on the format in 1998, but was quickly taken out of print. In 2002, the film appeared again, this time as a Special Edition (alongside an SE of the original film), with several bonus features and a newer transfer. It is this Special Edition that has, essentially, been ported over to Blu-ray, although with an even newer, possibly controversial, transfer.

Video

Colorful and cheery one minute, depressingly dark and dingy the next, Disney’s transfer is inconsistent. It’s also, controversially, cropped from the original 1.33:1 to a more-16x9-friendly shape. The change in ratio isn’t quite as disconcerting as I’d imagined, although several scenes do seem a bit cramped. And, ultimately, it’s the source to blame for the failings of “The Enchanted Christmas’” sometimes dreary, dull and dated 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded video transfer. Unlike the more respected classics—which Disney massages and digitally manipulates with all-new digital “restorations”, boosting colors, cleaning away blemishes and digging up details once hidden by debris and the lower resolution of prior delivery formats—it’s clear the DTV catalog is of lesser importance, and “Enchanted Christmas” hasn’t been given a complete overhaul. However, this is a newer transfer, based simply on the aspect ratio alone, and it improves over the older DVD in the expected areas: the image is sharper, with better-defined line art, less artifacts, and more stable colors. The improvements also bring some of the flaws in the original animation, and especially the cheap, antiquated CG-elements, into even more glaring focus. The CG is especially bothersome: pixilated, and artifact-ridden, certain characters—like Forte, who was brought to life almost entirely by CG—are an often-aliased mess. Overall, I’m inclined to say that this is a satisfactory presentation, but one that's far from perfect. It’s certainly hardly as handsome as most Disney animations are on Blu-ray.

Audio

Keeping in mind that “The Enchanted Christmas” was a lowly direct-to-video feature, and will never ever be able to compete with a bigger, better budgeted Disney behemoth—like, say, I don’t know, the first “Beauty and the Beast”—the film’s English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack (48kHz/24-bit) is a surprisingly satisfactory sonic showcase. Rachel Portman’s score and songs (with lyrics by Don Black) are syrupy nonsense, but at least they sound suitably strong, supported by robust dynamics. The film's talky, low key scenes feature clear dialog, and the track has an unexpectedly forceful amount of bass and nicely separated surround effects in its more action-heavy clashes—the run in with the wolves; Forte’s booming demise. The disc also includes Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs and optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French.

Extras

“Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas” is a special edition combo pack and includes a small smattering of extras across two discs.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

First up is an old relic from the Disney Channel, circa 1999, called “Disney’s Sing Me a Story with Belle” (1.33:1 480p, 22 minutes 57 seconds). This full-length bonus episode of the live action “educational” children’s series, featuring Lynsey McLeod—disappointingly not related in anyway to Highlanders Conor or Declan—as Belle, is a trip. Puppets, a Technicolor soundstage, a real-live guy dressed as a book… the opening intro alone—McLeod basically reverse-rotoscoped over animated clips from the three “Beauty and the Beast” movies—is enough to make any sane adult insane. The series looks like it’s probably best left to the youngest kiddies in the house. Parents and anyone over, say, seven, should probably treat the episode—titled “Stick To It (Don’t Give Up)”—like the Black Death. The overall message to kids is fine I guess, but… dear god… ugh.

The “Enchanted Environment” (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen 480p, 27 hours 11 minutes 49 seconds) is, basically, “The Yule Log”, but with an animated fireplace from the castle and a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack of retuned Christmas music. The loop, clocking in at over 27 HOURS, is near endless. Yeah… its a real shame that this wasn’t upgraded to HD for Blu-ray.

A music video for “As Long as There’s Christmas” (1.33:1 480i, 3 minutes 20 seconds) by Swedish pop girl group Play is also included. Not that you’d want to watch it. Awful.

In an untitled behind-the-scenes featurette (1.33:1 480i, 15 minutes 53 seconds) Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson and director Andy Knight, along with other members of the cast, crew and orchestra discuss the making of “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas”. The straightforward piece mixes the expected film clips, talking head interview and behind-the-scenes footage from the recording sessions and animator’s studio to make an above average EPK. If there’s one thing on the disc that an older audience will be able to stomach, it’s this.

A sing-a-long subtitle track has also been included and is only selectable from the special features menu.

The rest of the extras are promotions, commercials and trailers for other Disney products and services. These include a “Discover Blu-ray 3D with Timon & Pumbaa” (1080p, 4 minutes 25 seconds) promo, “Learn to Take Your Favorite Movie on the Go” (1080p, 1 minute 4 seconds) DisneyFile digital copy promo, and pre-menu and “Sneak Peek” bonus trailers for:

- "Disney Blu-ray" promo (1080p, 1 minute).
- “Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition” coming soon to Blu-ray (1080p, 1 minute 22 seconds).
- “Brave” (2.40:1 widescreen 1080p, 1 minute 6 seconds).
- “Treasure Buddies” on Blu-ray and DVD (1080p, 1 minute 2 seconds).
- "Disney Movie Rewards" promo (1080p, 20 seconds).
- "DisneyParks.com" promo (1080p, 32 seconds).
- “Cinderella: Diamond Edition” coming soon to Blu-ray (1.37:1 1080p, 1 minute 8 seconds).
- “Tinker Bell: Secret of the Wings” coming soon to Blu-ray and DVD (1080p, 57 seconds).

DISC TWO: DVD

The second disc—a full retail DVD-9—includes the film in standard definition and an even smaller collection of extras than what’s found on the already skimpy Blu-ray disc. The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English, Spanish and French with English, Spanish and French subtitles. The “Disney’s Sing Me a Story with Belle” (1.33:1 480p, 22 minutes 57 seconds). This full-length bonus episode, the sing-a-long mode and all of the pre-menu and sneak peak bonus trailers are also included.

Packaging

“Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas” arrives on Blu-ray from Disney Home Entertainment in a 2-disc BD+DVD combo pack. The Blu-ray (a region free dual layered BD-50) and DVD (a Region 1 DVD-9) are packaged in an Amaray eco-keepcase. First pressings also include an embossed cardboard slip-cover.

Overall

Not nearly as good as “Beauty and the Beast” (1991), yet nowhere as terrible as “Belle’s Magical World” (1998), “The Enchanted Christmas” is a decent, but thoroughly mediocre holiday special. Disney’s new special edition Blu-ray has good, but not outstanding, A/V qualities and a handful of extras. Fans will want to pick this one up. Others looking for holiday cheer can probably catch this on cable sometime next (and likely every) year.

The Film: C Video: B- Audio: B Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


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