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Disney's Beauty and the Beast on IMAX
Disney faces many hurdles in restoring this classic to a medium it wasn't created for…

10/28/01 Update: After speaking with some who have had the opportunity to see Beauty and the Beast on IMAX early, I'm happy to report that some of the concerns expressed in the article below (which was written in early 2001) have been addressed and are no longer concerns. Unlike the Sorcerer's segment in IMAX Fantasia, there is reportedly no distortion with Beauty and the Beast and the images are very clear. A big congratulations to the team that has apparently done a nearl flawless transition to IMAX.

Beauty and the Beast(by Joe Tracy) Once upon a time, in a not so faraway land, a young executive lived by Sleeping Beauty's castle. Although he had everything his heart desired, the executive wanted some things to be bigger and better. So then, one night in March 2002, a customer, inspired by the castle, offered the executive a single ticket in exchange for shelter in an IMAX theater to witness a fable brought back to life…

On January 1, 2002, Disney is releasing its animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, not to the big screen, but to the big, big, big screen - IMAX. What's unclear is why Disney chose this medium to release this timeless classic when it could have released it to a much larger audience on widescreen, a medium that surely would reach deeper pockets.

Disney is heavily invested in IMAX, which is likely the main factor in its decision. Beauty and the Beast will pack IMAX theaters in droves and possibly breathe additional life into a struggling venture. But Disney faces these problems in route:

1) There aren't that many IMAX theaters in the U.S. Thus Disney is alienating a large portion of the US audience who would pay to see the re-release of Beauty and the Beast.

2) Beauty and the Beast wasn't created for IMAX, but rather for widescreen. It was created for 35mm negatives and will now be blown up to 65mm negatives. So what happens when you take an image and blow it up so much? Take a look at Figure 1 and Figure 2 below to see how an image becomes distorted when blown up.

Original image
Figure 1: Original Image

Original image blown up
Figure 2: Original Image Blown Up (please see note at top of this article as this concern has been addressed and there is no distortion on IMAX as shown in this image).

3) When you blow a picture up any movement has a greatly exaggerated effect on the eyes. Disney could face problems in keeping scenes like the spinning camera sequence in the ballroom from making people dizzy and possibly sick.

Disney will have an extremely hard time overcoming all these obstacles. But even with these obstacles, there is one guarantee -- Beauty and the Beast will likely become the highest-grossing "IMAX film" ever.

Because IMAX follows a policy of allowing only educational films to be shown, Disney is crafting educational supplement material to support the film as "educational". Here's what a Disney press release says about the material:

"Taking advantage of the unique educational opportunities offered by Beauty and the Beast, the Studio is creating two complete resource guides -- one complete program for elementary school students, and another for middle school students -- to assist teachers looking for real-world examples of their everyday assignments. The guides will include lesson plans in Language Arts and Reading, Social Studies, Science and New Technology, Art, Music and Dance, and Foreign Language."

Disney's answer to the distortion issue is that it has spent over a year "enhancing the image and refining character faces, backgrounds, and special effects, in order to let the film shine brightly on the giant screen." This is also what Disney said about The Sorcerer's Apprentice segment of Fantasia 2000, which received many complaints concerning the overall distortion.

Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast - A Timeless Classic
IMAX problems aside, Beauty and the Beast is a timeless classic and remains the only animated film to ever be nominated for an Academy Award. The roots of the movie go way back to a time when Walt Disney was crafting animated stories. Walt had discussed the idea of Beauty and the Beast with several of his team members. The story was being crafted until everyone hit a road block on what would occur after Belle was imprisoned. At this point, the movie was sidelined until decades later when producer Don Hahn began production with a small group of animators and artists.

"This was a very challenging story to tell," says Hahn. "In the original fairy tale, Beauty's father goes to the castle and picks a rose. The beast is enraged, throws him in a dungeon but agrees to let him go if he sends his daughter back in his place. She passively follows her father's instructions and the rest of the story is essentially about two people having dinner together every night with the beast repeatedly asking her to marry him."

Hahn felt that the story needed to be energized with more creative scenarios and "making our heroine move things forward by valiantly going to the castle on her won to fight for her father's release," he says.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Beauty and the Beast is that it breaks the mold of many animated films. There is no clear cut villain.

"In most of our films, the hero has some outside obstacle that he's fighting against, whether it's a witch or a dragon or a madman," says supervising animator Glean Keane. "In this film, atlthough Gaston becomes a definite threat, the beast's real foe is himself and the real struggle is an internal one with his own nature. This made the character much more interesting to work with."

Human Again

For the IMAX release of Beauty and the Beast, Disney is adding a new scene that was cut from the original. It is a song called "Human Again". Featured in the hit Broadway musical Beauty and the Beast,"Human Again" is an upbeat, festive sequence in which the enchanted characters dream about what they'll do when they change back into their original forms. This marks the first time that Disney has ever animated a new sequence for a previously-released feature.

What Happens After IMAX?

It is likely that Disney will release Beauty and the Beast to widescreen theaters after its IMAX performance. Disney is keeping very tight lipped about its plans, however, as not to hamper the publicity surrounding the IMAX release. It is also likely that Disney will release Beauty and the Beast to DVD in late 2002, just in time for the Christmas shopping season. The DVD will likely get royal treatment along the lines of the Toy Story Ultimate Toy Box 3-Disc set and the Fantasia Anthology 3-Disc set. And should all these likely scenarios come about then fans of Beauty and the Beast will likely live happily ever after.


Joe Tracy is the publisher of Digital Media FX and the author of Web Marketing Applied. All Beauty and the Beast press images used are (c) Walt Disney Pictures.

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