Beauty and the Beast (1991)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Knock on Wood (1954)
My Favorite Spy (1951)
Some exciting releases in the space of a couple of weeks, the best of which may be the three-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo “Diamond Edition” of Beauty and the Beast — far and away the best film of the Disney renaissance, ranking alongside the early classics (Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi) among the studio’s best work ever.
Hard to find on DVD for years, Beauty and the Beast has become one of Disney’s most elusive animated classics. Packed with extras, this new edition offers the original film as well as the 2002 extended edition with an added musical number, “Human Again.”
The movie is at once the studio’s most emotionally resonant fairy-tale romance and its best-staged musical, with the best use of anthropomorphic sidekicks and the only such film with a main character who undergoes such a radical change. Belle is a delightful heroine, and the Beast’s gradual transition from monster to beau is deeply satisfying. A must-have!
Debuting on DVD and Blu-ray, How To Train Your Dragon is one of the year’s brighter family films, an uneven but entertaining mash-up of Vikings and dragons that combines a gorgeous and vividly realized world with energetic creature designs, awesome flying sequences and some real heart.
Characters could be better: The young hero Hiccup’s wounded irony wears thin, and the father is a one-dimensional overbearing patriarch — though there’s a more sympathetic patriarchal figure, the old trainer, and father and son get a belated but moving rapprochement.
I like the emphasis on book smarts and the way Hiccup slowly wins the respect of the ice-maiden Astrid as well as his dumb jock peers. Hiccup may even have Providence on his side: After a humiliation, Hiccup bursts out, “The gods hate me!” — but what happens next suggests the opposite.
New on DVD from Olive Films are a couple of classic spy-caper comedies from two of Hollywood’s best-loved comedians, Danny Kaye in Knock on Wood and Bob Hope in My Favorite Spy.
Both men play entertainers caught up in a world of espionage: Kaye plays a neurotic ventriloquist unwittingly transporting secret documents hidden in his dummies, while Hope plays a burlesque actor who’s a dead ringer for a 007-like superspy (Hope also).
While both films may appeal to their stars’ fans, I prefer Kaye’s versatility and energetic desire to entertain over Hope’s dry one-liners and penchant for womanizing.
Content advisory: Beauty and the Beast: Animated menace and action violence. Fine family viewing. How to Train Your Dragon: Intense animated fantasy violence; scary images; brief mildly risqué humor; a few Norse polytheistic references. Too much for sensitive youngsters. Knock on Wood: Stylized violence; brief mildly risqué humor. Fine family viewing. My Favorite Spy: Stylized violence; romantic complications and innuendo. Teens and up.