Disney is well renowned for releasing sequels to their bigger features on DVD or video rather than on the big screen. And thatís okay, thereís obviously a market for them. These films, however, are mostly a little flatter, have much less animation and are obviously more cheaply produced. Pleasingly then, in Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas a better than average quality sequel (actually prequel) has been produced.
Itís Christmas time and the enchanted ornaments and furniture from the original film have all been returned to their human form. Reminiscing about last Christmas when they were all still bits of crockery or clocks or whatever, a dispute arises as to who saved Christmas. Belle had in her mind to have Christmas against the Beastís wishes and Forte, the pipe organ (hey, if you gotta be an animate object around the castle, what else would you choose to be?) decides to stop it. If Belle has her Christmas, the Beast is sure to fall in love with her and the curse will be lifted, throwing Forte back to obscurity as the court composer. He much prefers it as a pipe organ where he can act as advisor to the Beast (I know, pretty thin premise isnít it?).
Anyway, he plots and schemes through his lackey, Fife, to prevent Christmas happening and itís up to the others to see it happens and gets through their masterís cold, cold heart etc.
Okay, well the story isnít the quality part of this prequel, but the animation is better than average. On a Disney feature film, every frame is fully drawn; that is, every character is drawn as a complete entity. In the sequels, to cut down on time and cost, characters are broken into pieces so that, say, if only a leg is moving, the rest of the body will remain as a same separate drawing with another separate cel of just the leg moving. In the olden days when animation was hand-painted cels they could only go as high as about eight layers, but with computers they use anything up to 99. While this has been employed here, the breaking down of characters that is, it has been done very nicely and there are more instances of complete character drawings. Perhaps this is due to the smaller intricacies of the clock or the candlestick characters, but it works well in the filmís favour.
This was made between the Canadian and Sydney Disney studios in 1997 and utilises some pretty nice computer animation in the form of Forte the Pipe Organ (he sure is). In the scenes where he sings (ugh) he also has the ability to spew forth glowing green imagery that looks especially nice. Some of these are still in the rough stage with construction lines and such throughout, though they have been treated deliberately like that and look quite exceptional. In fact, many parts of this film appear quite envelope-pushing like Belleís song (ugh) about storybooks, in which all the animation is an old illustration style.
As far as sequels or prequels go, this one rates among one of Disneyís best and is a film the kids (little girls in particular) will enjoy a great deal. As a special treat, thereís even a Jewish axe (yes, an axe) thrown in there for those folks who celebrate Chanukah instead of Christmas.
As is usually the case with Buena Vista we are delivered a mostly fault-free picture. Granted us in 4:3, (again cheaper than a widescreen cinema ratio) the picture looks nice and clear with sharp lines and vibrant colours. Whilst not being a perfectly clean source, the quality is still reasonably high with only occasional scenes suffering film artefacts or reflection (scene of note in the attic from 17:08-14). Any instances of poorer presentation donít last long and this attic scene is the worst and longest, to give an indication.
The previously mentioned green glows are nice and well balanced and the animation throughout is top notch. A typically excellent transfer.
In Buena Vistaís mandatory Dolby Digital 5.1 surround we get a couple of nicer moments, but this is mostly a visual/dialogue piece and so there is little call for the surrounds. That being said we get some underwater sounds at one point on the frozen lake and some of the lurching groanings of Forte the Pipe Organ throughout the film get all around us nicely. On that note, Forteís groanings and pipe mutterings are nicely conveyed behind Tim Curryís excellently malevolent voice in the role.
Music has been scored by Rachel Portman and is the usual kind of Disney back palette of orchestral works. She too has scored the songs, which I found the hardest part of watching the film, though they will no doubt appeal to the myriad of short Belle fans out there. All in all there are five songs throughout plus a Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack closer that forced me to fast forward the credits as I am only human.
This has been released previously with no extras whatsoever but thankfully this has been rectified with this incarnation on DVD. Being a rather well produced sequel/prequel and having a fairly rounded out selection of extras makes this a very nice package for any littler animation fan this Christmas. Unless youíre Jewish, of course, but it may be a while before Disney go with a Chanukah themed film. However, this is a shorter film at 68 minutes but more than makes up for this with nice clear visuals, great clean sound and the big stocking of extras.