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The Disney company is giving us all a wonderful New Year’s present by issuing a bigger, spiffier version of its ten-year old masterpiece, and you should respond with a resolution to see it. “Beauty and the Beast,” still the only animated feature ever nominated for the best picture Oscar–and well deserving of that honor, even though it might soon have company–reappears in enhanced form, digitally remastered and resplendent on the giant IMAX screen, and sounding wonderful when played through that format’s incredibly powerful sound system. Moreover, it’s been lengthened through the addition of a musical number, “Human Again,” which was written for the original 1991 version but unheard until its inclusion in the later Broadway adaptation; it’s now been lovingly animated and seamlessly integrated into the film, and proves of equal quality to the much-beloved numbers already found there.

The new “Beauty and the Beast” runs 94 minutes (as opposed to 85 in the first cut), but it’s every bit as lean and perfectly gauged as it ever was. What’s remarkable about it–especially in comparison to a recent Disney effort like “Atlantis: The Lost Continent,” with which it shares directors–is that not a moment in it seems wasted. Every shot lasts precisely as long as it should, and each segues effortlessly into the next. The movie remains an absolute, unqualified delight, without a weak stretch or an unwanted second. And now it looks and sounds crisper and clearer than ever.

After the passing of a decade it’s now clear that “Beauty” represents the summit of a second golden age of traditional Disney animation, the one that began with “The Little Mermaid” (1989) and continued through “Aladdin” (1992). For all its success “The Lion King” (1994), which followed this masterful trio (all by the inspired songwriting team of Ashman and Menken), represented the beginning of a decline which has continued until now. The finest Disney animated productions since then have been in the newer CGI mode–the “Toy Story” films, “A Bug’s Life” and, more recently, “Monsters, Inc.” (Just compare the latter to the disappointing “Atlantis.”) A more conventionally-drawn piece like “The Emperor’s New Groove” can still be quite enjoyable, but the future now seems to lie with the likes of “Chicken Run” and “Shrek.” Perhaps in its genre “Beauty and the Beast” will never again be equaled (though that’s what was said in the mid-1980s about the animated films of the first Disney golden age–and it proved to be a mistake). In any case, it’s certainly a blessing to be able to revisit this joyous film in so splendid a form on the big screen. Don’t miss it, and by all means, take the whole family.


There’s no need for anybody to go on at length about the
absolute brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller, which
represented the first stunning cinematic statement about the
effects of the kind of modern voyeurism associated with film
itself (Michael Powell’s later “Peeping Tom” is another
example). The story of the photographer (James Stewart), laid
up with a broken leg, who comes to suspect that one of the
neighbors (Raymond Burr) he’s been watching during his
confinement is a murderer, and who gradually entices his fiance
(Grace Kelly), nurse (Thelma Ritter) and police-detective buddy
(Wendell Corey) to become involved in his ever-more-obsessive
search for the truth, remains every bit as remarkable as it was
nearly half a century ago.

Now, however, you have the chance to experience the picture in
a wonderful new reconstruction by Robert A. Harris and James
C. Katz, who did a similar job on “Vertigo” several years back.
The result, with its luscious colors, is visually entrancing,
and the soundtrack has been digitally enhanced too, so that
Franz Waxman’s jazzy score makes an immediate impact. With its
great script by John Michael Hayes (based on the fine story by
Cornell Woolrich), its first-rate cast (Thelma Ritter’s machine-
gun delivery still works beautifully) and the director’s
unsurpassed gift for generating tension and suspense, “Rear
Window” remains a winner all the way, an absolute joy for all
its 112 minutes. (The Paramount logo is kept at the beginning
and end, by the way, even though the reissue has been financed
by Universal.)

This time around, take special pleasure in watching how
Hitchcock tells much of the story through camera movement
alone, exhibiting a fluidity which virtual no modern filmmaker,
even with all today’s technical improvements, can even begin
to match. And, especially in terms of the protagonist’s
obsessive behavior (marvelously catch by Stewart), savor the
thematic connections the picture has with the later “Vertigo.”

“Rear Window” is one of those classic pieces of cinematic
perfection in which new sources of amazement arise with each
repeated viewing. And this glowing reconstruction allows one
to savor it all the more. Don’t miss the opportunity of seeing
it on the big screen; the film is just too emotionally large
for a TV-sized image.