Beauty and the Beast: The IMAX Edition (review)

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Tale as Old as Time

Remember when you were kid, and movie screens were still huge, before they turned into little more than oversized TVs on a wall? And remember how everything seemed ever huger than it was, from your down-on-the-floor child’s point of view? Remember those early trips to the theater as a munchkin, when movies were monumentally enormous and powerful and you sat and watched with your eyes wide and your jaw dropped open?

Go see Beauty and the Beast: The IMAX Edition and be reminded.

On a normal-sized screen, and even on video on a television (Disney: DVD, please!), Beauty and the Beast isn’t merely one of the best animated movies ever made, it’s one of the best movies ever made, period. There’s nothing — not a single thing — wrong with it. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs are perfect, with their clever, perceptive lyrics (“Bittersweet and strange, finding you can change, learning you were wrong”) and catchy, eminently singable tunes. The animation is gorgeous. The story is classic. The voice performances are spot-on. I question the humanity of someone who doesn’t love this film without reservation — it’s one of those deal-breakers for me, like The Princess Bride: If you don’t worship this film, I despair of us ever being friends.

Did I say what a tremendous impact this film had on me? I remember the first time I saw it, during its initial release, at a sold-out late-night showing, not a child in sight, and I was not the only adult sniffling back tears of joy, thunderstruck by the sheer wonderfulness of this movie.

And that feeling came rushing back, times ten, when I saw the film again in IMAX. Unlike the grainy blown-up-to-IMAX-size “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” bit in Fantasia 2000, this new edition of Beauty and the Beast is crisp and crystal clear in its enlarged format — the Disney team has done an extraordinary job of making the film look its very best. When Belle (the voice of Paige O’Hara) does her Sound of Music homage (“I want adventure in the great wide somewhere”), you are right there on that verdant mountainside with her. When the Beast (the voice of Robby Benson) battles Gaston (the voice of Richard White) on the parapets of his castle, you feel like you might fall right off into the yawning abyss below. When the camera swoops down past the chandelier to zoom in on Belle and the Beast waltzing in the ballroom, you might just want to cover your face with your hands and bawl like a baby at the pure perfection of what you’re seeing, completely dominating your senses on that enormous screen, with that incredible sound. The Disney team has never captured such magic onscreen (except maybe… well, I’ll get to that in a minute), and to immerse yourself in it as IMAX allows you to is almost too much pleasure to bear. This new edition of Beauty and the Beast is a thoroughly stunning, emotionally overwhelming reminder of the power of film.

As if experiencing the movie itself again on a big screen — on a really big screen — weren’t enough to draw us back into the theater, Disney has restored a song, “Human Again,” that was cut from the original version. It wasn’t necessary. While the new tune doesn’t detract from the film, it’s easy to see why it was eliminated in the first place: it doesn’t add anything, either. Though there is some very witty animation late in the song.

Almost — almost — best of all, Beauty and the Beast: The IMAX Edition opens with a trailer for next year’s Disney IMAX offering: The Lion King. And it’s the same trailer as for the original release: the entire opening scene, the “Circle of Life” sequence, which may be the greatest, most beautiful opening bit of any film ever. “Circle of Life” in 70mm made me cry uncontrollably; in IMAX, it reduced me to a quivering mess. I can’t wait for next January.

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