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Last week I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in its new IMAX version. I was a bit apprehensive, because I’ve read that IMAX films have to be edited differently because the images are so huge; compositions that are fine on a normal-sized screen become disorienting when expanded to occupy the entire visual range. Happily, this did not seem to be the case except in the action sequences at the end of the film. The final fight between the Beast and Gaston is a bit hard on the eyes with its quick cuts and jolts (it doesn’t help that the sequence takes place outside in the middle of a violent thunderstorm). But other than that, the film is still wonderful and still loaded with the magic that made it the only animated feature ever nominated for Best Picture. I don’t think that Disney has told a love story that was more tender or heartfelt before or since; the supporting characters are wonderfully realized; and the IMAX presentation makes the musical numbers — already one of the film’s towering strengths — all the greater. Most notable are the “Be Our Guest” sequence with its Busby Berkley staging and the film’s title number, sung movingly by Angela Lansbury and animated with romantic wonder. And there is a new number, apparently recorded for the original film but never animated until now: an ensemble piece called “Human Again”, in which all of the castle-servants-turned-household-objects dream of that wonderful day when the castle’s curse will finally be ended.

The most remarkable thing about the IMAX presentation of Beauty and the Beast, to me, was that the larger image allows the Monet-like construction of the backgrounds to be seen in all their glory, with landscapes dappled with color in the finest Impressionistic manner. This can even be seen in a comedic scene where Gaston falls into a mud puddle, the water of which turns out on closer examination to be delicately colored where lesser animators might have gone with uniform brown.

The film was preceded by a preview of next year’s Disney IMAX release, The Lion King. (Actually, it wasn’t a preview per se but rather that film’s opening “Circle of Life” sequence in its entirety.) I will be interested to see how that film’s African landscapes translate to the new format.

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