Saturday Matinee #111: Beauty and the Beast & Aladdin in "Deluxe Collector's Edition" VHS Sets (October 30, 1992 & October 1, 1993)
Published February 16, 2013
By Albert Gutierrez
Nearly every week here at Saturday Matinee, we cover a Disney cartoon, film sequence, or some other topic that is related to Disney filmmaking. More often than not, I close out these articles with information on where you can find a particular cartoon or movie on DVD and Blu-Ray. This week, we'll be changing things up a bit. Rather than focus on a cartoon or movie and how to find it on DVD, we'll be taking a look at something a bit more old school: VHS. Whatever you decide to call it - analog bits, videocasettes, faded memories - a whole generation grew up experiencing Disney animation this way. I was part of that generation, and I hope that this week's Saturday matinee will help those outside that generation to understand why I became so excited for a VHS purchase I made a few weeks ago. By some miraculous discovery, I had managed to acquire two things I never expected to find, as they had been out of print for years. They hold considerably less market value now than they did twenty years ago, but have created a treasured connection between my childhood memories and my adult appreciation for my two favorite Disney Animated Classics of all time: Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
I saw both films literally within a month of each other. On October 30, 1992, Disney released Beauty and the Beast to VHS, roughly a month before Aladdin would be coming to theatres for Thanksgiving weekend. Viewers of the Beauty and the Beast VHS tape were treated to a trailer for Aladdin, immediately exciting them for the film's upcoming Thanksgiving release. Our aunt bought the Beauty and the Beast VHS for my siblings and me during a visit to Blockbuster in early November. I still remember the large table display, with the clamshell cases stacked almost like a castle. It was the centerpiece of the store, showcasing that yes, they did have the movie in stock. Naturally, the film was subject to rampant viewings throughout the rest of the month, leading to us always seeing the Aladdin preview, and eventually bringing us to the movie theatre no less than five times before the year was over. The frequency of viewings and the closeness the two movies shared is one reason why I can never, ever rank one over the other. Both of them were major factors that defined my childhood: adventure and romance, merriment and mayhem, always making room for pure and relentless fun. Yet even though my family lived with the VHS clamshell releases, Disney had also released a more extensive and collector-savvy version, which we'll take a look at below.
The two boxes above are the "Deluxe Collector's Edition" VHS sets for the two films, which I didn't know existed until a couple years ago. I had been aware of Disney's "Deluxe Edition" LaserDisc sets, but didn't know that they also created VHS counterparts for a few years. These collections began in 1991 with Fantasia, a set that included the film, a making-of documentary, the complete soundtrack on two CD's, a making-of book, collectible lithograph, and Certificate of Authenticity. On VHS, this was split between two tapes, and on LaserDisc, it was split across two or three discs, depending how long the film was and how many supplements were included. That formula generally remained in place for sets that followed. The one exception is Beauty and the Beast, whose LaserDisc sets were never gathered together in a singular "Deluxe Edition," but remained separate releases.
As far as I could determine, Deluxe Collector's Editions on VHS were made for the following films: the aforementioned Fantasia in 1991, Beauty and the Beast and Pinocchio in 1992, Aladdin in 1993, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1994, The Lion King and Cinderella in 1995, and Pocahontas in 1996. The Certificate of Authenticity was dropped after Fantasia, and some sets didn't contain the soundtrack CD, but some other collectible. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, for example, traded out the soundtrack CD for ten lithographs of theatrical posters.
To be honest, I'm surprised that such deluxe sets were made for VHS. As mentioned earlier, these were the counterparts to their LaserDisc releases. But due to VHS's own limitations, some material would be lost in the format translation. Switching audio on a VHS tape was not possible, so the commentaries for The Lion King and Pocahontas could not be included. Aside from the Beauty and the Beast bonus tape (which had the Work in Progress version), the VHS bonus tapes in other sets usually would only contain a making-of documentary. Due to the lower resolution, VHS tapes could not include any still galleries (one of the benefits of LaserDisc's CAV "Standard Play" format), and although space was available, most of the featurettes and trailers also failed to make it onto the tape. Fortunately, the lithographs remained, as did the collectible books, most of which were soft cover. The exception was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which included the hardcover book, Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs & The Making of the Classic Film.
I knew opening the sets would lessen their value, but let's be honest, the best I could get for them on e-bay would probably be only $20 or so. For the record, I only paid $5 each for them, but I'm not looking to sell them, anyway. They've become part of my Disney collection, and as such, is best enjoyed when opened and explored. I opened the Beauty and the Beast set first. Inside was the theatrical VHS inside a black clamshell case (the regular release used the familiar white clamshell), while the Work in Progress was in an illustrated VHS sleeve. Also included on the Work in Progress VHS is the 1991 documentary, "Be Our Guest: The Making of Beauty and the Beast," along with the short featurette, "The Four Stages of Animation." The soundtrack CD is also included, with cover art different from the commercial release. For print materials, we get Bob Thomas's 88-page book The Making of Beauty and the Beast. The book was not sold on its own, as it was actually the second half of Thomas's book Disney's Art of Animation: From Mickey Mouse to Beauty and the Beast. In addition, there is a collectible lithograph that feature Belle and Beast outside after their ballroom dance.
"Be Our Guest: The Making of Beauty and the Beast" was a Disney Channel special hosted by David Ogden Stiers. He takes us through the making of the film, interspersed with interviews from the cast and crew. The 25-minute piece does its best to not feel promotional, and thankfully doesn't rely too much on film clips. The interviews were done while the crew were still working on the film, so we get to hear their thoughts on the production in the moment. It would later be included on the CAV LaserDisc, but was not on the film's 2002 DVD or 2010 Blu-Ray, having been replaced by new documentaries that covered the same ground, but with more retrospect and reflection: "Tale as Old as Time" on DVD and "Beyond Beauty" on Blu-Ray.
"The Four Stages of Animation" features Brian Cummings narrating as he explains what those four stages are: storyboards, rough pencil animation, clean-up animation, and final animation. To showcase those stages, we look at the moment in the film when Beast is asking Belle to dinner. The scene is shown in each stage, in order to better appreciate the work that goes into creating an animated film. The featurette was also included on the Work in Progress LaserDisc, which also included a few more extras not seen on this tape: the Maurice version of "Be Our Guest," a Camera Move Test for the ballroom dance, Glen Keane's complete pencil animation for the Beast's transformation, the original theatrical trailer, and the "Theatrical Reviews" trailer (which I covered on last week's Saturday Matinee). Most of these extras were later ported over to the DVD and Blu-Ray, although "The Four Stages of Animation" and the "Theatrical Reviews" trailer were not included.
The Aladdin set is similar to Beauty and the Beast's, offering the same type of material. The film on VHS was inside the same black clamshell case. There was no Work in Progress version for the film (though I wouldn't mind watching one), so its bonus tape only has the 1992 documentary, "The Making of Aladdin: A Whole New World." Like Beauty and the Beast, the soundtrack CD here uses different cover art. In my opinion, this is superior to the artwork on the general release. John Culhane's Aladdin: The Making of an Animated Film (124 pages) is included in softcover form here. The general release was in hardcover, which was also available in the Deluxe Edition for LaserDisc (available exclusively in Japan). Finally, we have a collectible lithograph with Aladdin meeting Genie. These are numbered, and mine was 18,887 out of 35,000 (so close!).
"The Making of Aladdin: A Whole New World" isn't hosted by anyone from the film, but instead by John Rhys-Davies, best known at the time as Sallah from the Indiana Jones films. Rhys-Davies would later provide the voice of Aladdin's father Cassim in 1996's Aladdin and the King of Thieves, making his hosting duties here amusingly prescient of things to come. One of the highlights of this 25-minute documentary is footage from recording sessions with Brad Kane and Lea Salonga singing "A Whole New World." It is intermixed with the song's animation, along with pencil sketches and animators at work. Even though we didn't have Disney Channel (where this documentary aired), as a child I vividly remember watching this sequence on television at a cousin's house.
The memory of seeing Salonga and Kane singing to each other remained with me for years, though at the time, I had no idea where it came from. Thus, I was overjoyed to find that a complete version of their "Whole New World" recording session was included on the 2004 DVD, preceded by a then-new interview with Salonga. When I watched this documentary and saw that footage again, I was once again brought back to my childhood, Unfortunately, like the "Be Our Guest" documentary, Aladdin's original making-of program was not included on the DVD. It was replaced by "Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin," an interactive documentary that featured a 43-minute main program, supplemented by over an hour of additional featurettes - the "A Whole New World" recording session being one of them (which I covered in last week's Saturday Matinee).
Given my rampant viewings of the films over the past twenty years, and their DVDs over the past ten years, the real treat for me was in reading their making-of books. I had acquired the Beauty and the Beast book last summer (courtesy of Theme Park Connection), so I already knew what to expect from it, but it was great to re-read through it once more. In addition, I noticed a selection of artwork and sketches in the book that didn't make a transition to the DVD galleries, such as Chris Sanders' story sketches for the death of the Beast. But I was most excited to read the Aladdin book, especially as I'd never seen it in bookstores when I was younger, and my library never had it available to borrow when I grew old enough to want to read it. It's a perfect complement to the 1992 documentary, and is just as extensive as the 2004 interactive documentary.
So there you have it. My return to childhood, with a new, adult perspective, and all it cost me was $10 and my trusty VCR. Over the past few weeks, I've been finding myself revisiting both Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin on the multiple formats I own thanks to my acquisition of these "Deluxe Collector's Edition" VHS sets. It made me realize just how in love I am with Belle and Aladdin, with Abu and Mrs. Potts, with little Chip. The wonderful characters, the beautiful imagery, the unforgettable music. How could I ever live without them? To this day, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin remain part of an elite selection in my film library to receive such a level of dedication. For most films, I'm content with watching their supplements once or twice, even though some would deserve more viewings. But with Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, I feel almost compelled to always peruse through the supplements anytime I'm in the mood to watch one of the films. My love affair with Belle and Aladdin will likely continue for the rest of my life. I savor every chance to fully invest myself into their worlds, not just as an animated escape from my own reality, but to return to a treasured childhood that believed in the magic and wonderment that such films offered.
I doubt any movie from Disney will ever come along to dethrone the pair; they've been reigning at the top of the proverbial list since I saw them in 1992: Beauty and the Beast on VHS and Aladdin in theatres. The two films fit perfectly with Dave Smith's theory which he postulated in an episode of The W.E.D.nesday Show: a person's favorite Disney movie will most likely be what was newly-released to theatres when they were six or seven years old. I can see why such a theory is sound: around that age, the child is beginning to distinguish between a movie and real life, and will be more aware of what is a movie at that age than at a younger one. Thus, the fan will always associate one particular Disney movie with the original excitement of watching a "Disney movie" for the first time. And what a first time it was.