Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" has finally made it to Blu-ray with the sort of lavish care befitting a film that, in many ways, re-wrote animation.

Since 1991, "B&B" has been part of our collective consciousness - everybody knows the songs, and touring stage productions are always playing somewhere - but we occasionally need a wake-up call to remind us just what a sublime movie this was.

It remains Disney animation's best title since "Pinocchio" (sorry, "Lion King" lovers), exhibiting a sophistication in its narrative, musical score, visuals and astounding emotions not equaled until Pixar's recent "Up."

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This three-disc package offers both Blu-ray and DVD versions, and the new high-def transfer is blindingly beautiful. But the real surprise lies in the extras.

One of the oddities of our DVD age are the tons of special features showered upon movies that were mediocre to begin with. Even the dumbest action film comes with a commentary track in which the director blows smoke about his grand intentions.

But "Beauty and the Beast" deserves all the attention - a "beautiful handwritten letter, pen and ink on paper" (says one commentator) that became the first animated film nominated for a best picture Oscar.

And it rewrote audience behavior. After "B&B," it was OK for grown-ups unescorted by children to watch animation.

The really cool extras are on the second Blu-ray disc, which contains a massive and incredibly detailed documentary called "Beyond Beauty - The Untold Story." It's not a quickie making-of doc; rather it's an almost novelistic, epic look at how the film came together, told by the people who made it happen (including Jeffrey Katzenberg, who left Disney to help found DreamWorks).

Think of it as a fascinating term paper with footnotes ... yes, footnotes. Periodically during the documentary, a logo appears at the bottom of the screen allowing you to watch a mini-documentary within the larger documentary. It might be about the history of animation or the life of "Beauty" lyricist Howard Ashman, who died of AIDS before the film's premiere.

One fascinating offering is the "Purdum reel," named after Dick and Jill Purdum, the first directors on the project. It's an 18-minute animated storyboard designed to give Disney execs an idea of what the Purdums' proposed film might look like. But it was deemed too dark and downbeat. After six months of work, the animation team was sent back to the drawing board, and the Purdums were sent packing. Fascinating stuff.

There's lots more: deleted scenes and songs, an alternate introduction, a producer/director commentary track, a music video by "American Idol" winner Jordin Sparks.

A great package.

'Beauty and the Beast'

$29.99 DVD and Blu-ray combo-pack


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