By the opening sequence of Beauty and the Beast à la IMAX, my seven-year-old niece and I are exhausted. We could spin our own adventure story worthy of Disney based on the trials we endured just to get to our seats at this "media screening": navigating the labyrinthine Sunset Place; following the man in black; enduring the torture of standing among a bunch of hyperactive kids in a line that didn't budge for more than half an hour; braving the gauntlet of Ronald McDonald and trays of spinach hors d'oeuvres.
Safely seated at last, we're beside ourselves with excitement. Finally Disney's Oscar-winning feature about a prince-turned-beast who must redeem his princeliness for the love of a good woman gets rolling. We've got popcorn, soda -- and hope. Townspeople are singing, Belle is singing, Gaston is singing. Wait a minute.... We look at each other, dumbfounded. Do you hear what I hear? When the characters open their mouths, a muffled mumbling results. After some time a theater employee dashes up the aisle to the projection area. The sound returns to normal. The employee descends. A few minutes later, mumbling again. We can handle the technical difficulties. It's the IMAX format itself that does us in. Why does it have to be so big? Our magical Disney moments abruptly halt during the dark forest scene as my niece anticipates the onscreen arrival of enormous wolves.
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Others are likely to fare far better with this epic-size fairy tale, offering bright animation, robust dialogue, and Broadway-quality showstoppers like "Be Our Guest." Directed again by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, the tenth anniversary re-release of the popular animated musical has been reformatted frame by frame to IMAX proportions from the 1991 digital version by many of the same animators. Cast members who lent their voices to the former production include Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, Robby Benson, and Paige O'Hara. Big fans will notice a bonus musical number, "Human Again," written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman and intended for release in 1991.