If you know me, you know how much I love Beauty and the Beast. Belle is my favorite Disney princess, the 1991 animated film is my favorite Disney film, my internet handle is inspired by it (@enchtdrose) as is the title of my blog, which you can read all about in a previous post. Obviously I was quite excited for the live action film, especially since the cast includes actors from some of other beloved franchises (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Downton Abbey) as well as beloved Broadway talents. Basically I was set up to love this movie from the very start.
And I did. I loved it despite some small critiques I have with the film. I haven’t done a film adaptation review in a while, so I’m totally counting this as an adaptation (of the original animated version as well as the original fairy tale). I just got back from seeing it a second time, so here it is! Be warned: it contains spoilers. And it’s long.
One of the things that could have gone terribly wrong but didn’t was how closely the movie followed the original, down to the lines and even camera shots. I think Disney was on a bit of a tightrope here. Their other live action films of Cinderella and The Jungle Book do not attempt to closely resemble the original animated versions – their plots are different enough that audiences shouldn’t get caught up comparing them to the originals as much as if the filmmakers tried to make straight-up duplicates, which was smart. Deciding to recreate verbatim much of the original Beauty and the Beast was risky and could have just resulted in a poor, pale imitation. But the original Beauty and the Beast is arguably the best Disney movie of all time. What can you change about it? How can you possibly make it better? Answer: don’t. Just keep it the way it is, mostly. It worked. The live-action version had just the right mix of the original elements with new lines/characters/music/scenes. The same can be said for the Broadway show. The live-action film completes the trifecta Disney has been talking about for years: animated film, Broadway show, live-action. All three totally hold their own because they keep most of the original material while having unique elements that distinguish them as wonderful in their own rights.
For instance, the music. I’m glad they decided to keep the original songs, leave out the Broadway ones, and write a few new ones for the film. The music is the biggest element that now distinguishes the three productions. And because Alan Menken is literally the best, the new songs for the film are absolutely beautiful and flow perfectly with his originals. *Moment of silent appreciation for Alan Menken*
So the song “Home” from the Broadway show is one of my favorites. In the live-action film, you can hear “Home” play in the score each time Emma Watson is in her bedroom in the castle! Then later, Emma calls the castle “home.” I loved that nod to the Broadway version. My other favorite Broadway song is”If I Can’t Love Her.” This was replaced by “Evermore” in the film, and it absolutely worked. I didn’t think it was possible to have a song on par with “If I Can’t Love Her,” but Alan Menken proved me wrong. Seriously. Alan fucking Menken. “Evermore” might be my favorite of the new songs. (Aside: How did the Beast NOT have a song in the original!?) I also adored the song “Days in the Sun,” which basically serves the same purpose as “Human Again,” but it’s SO much better. The little song Kevin Kline sings at the beginning, “How Does a Moment Last Forever” was also lovely. Really the thing that made all the new music work so well was how it was incorporated throughout the film – for example, the Aria at the beginning is a Baroque version of the “Days in the Sun” melody, and when Belle sings during “Days in the Sun,” she sings the “How Does a Moment Last Forever” melody. The repetition of those motifs at the right moments worked beautifully and created a cohesion with the new music throughout the film.
The only song I didn’t love was Emma Watson’s version of “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” not because of the song itself (as I said, I loved it) or the auto-tune (which I’ll get to shortly), but because I felt that particular scene brought the momentum of the movie to a screeching halt. I understand the purpose of the scene. We get to learn about Belle’s mom, we develop both the Belle/Beast and Belle/Maurice relationships and learn that the enchantress is one cruel bitch. But was it necessary? I appreciated learning about Belle’s mother. That was a great addition to the story. However, they could have placed a flashback in a different spot in the film. Even watching it a second time and knowing it was coming, it (literally) took me out of the castle – it felt jarring and out-of-place.
Now that I’m on the subject of critiques, the other element I was not a fan of was Agatha’s appearance at the end. It was cool that they incorporated the enchantress more into the film, but the way they set it up was predictable. You see her walking into the castle at the end and you know what is going to happen. In the original, you hear Belle say “I love you” just before the last petal hits the pedestal, and you think the Beast might be dead, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he changes! It’s so magical! Adding the enchantress to that part took away some of the magic because it became even more expected. You saw her enter the castle, you see her watch Belle say “I love you,” and the impact of the transformation is lessened. The emotional impact of the previous shot where the objects turn back into, well, objects, may have been a fair reason to have the enchantress have to fix it all, but was that little bit worth putting her in as an unnecessary character? Maybe, maybe not.
*Takes a breather* Ok… I’ve avoided it so far, so I guess now I have to talk about the elephant in the room.
Yes, I am one of those people who is bothered by auto-tune. I’m sorry if that makes me sound snobbish, but I am a theater/choir kid, my ears are attuned to these things. If you’re unfamiliar, auto-tune is a sound editing tool used to literally auto-tune singers’ voices, and the result is often an unnatural, digital-sounding vocal quality. (Similar tools are used to create that robot-like singing in hip-hop music.) I was prepared because I’d listened to the clips that were released prior to the film so I went in with a generous mind, trying to ignore the auto-tune so as to not detract from my enjoyment of the film. It was hard to ignore the first time around – probably because I was trying to; I didn’t notice the auto-tune as much the second time because I wasn’t trying to ignore it. It’s most obvious on Emma’s voice, of course – sometimes in such a glaring way that I was waiting for T-Paine to pop up as one of the villagers and say “Bonjour!” I didn’t notice any on the Broadway voices like Josh Gad or Audra McDonald (cause we all know the 11th Commandment reads “Thou shalt not auto-tune Audra McDonald”), though I’m sure they edited anyway to get a cohesive sound with the rest of the film (i.e. when Audra and Emma have to sing together in “Days in the Sun” – how do you manage that blend!?). They did a great job on the other voices; you can notice it a bit on Kevin Kline and Dan Stevens, but the other singers – Emma Thompson, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor – sounded great and natural, even though they were touched up. Point being: it only bothered me on Emma, but that’s something I just have to get over, I guess. She is Belle in every other way, so it’s fine, whatever, cool. *Eye twitch.*
Moving on: Luke Evans, can we just talk about him for a sec? Like. Luke Evans. I LOVED his portrayal of Gaston. “The Mob Song” was incredible. I liked the added complexity of La Fou’s relationship to Gaston; La Fou sees how crazy and evil he is and literally switches sides at the end. Great touch. (Also shout-out for the gayness – subtle, but you gotta start somewhere!)
Next, Dan Stevens. I loved how they made the Beast a reader so that he and Belle have a common interest to bond over. That to me was a more interesting relationship dynamic than in the other versions where the Beast doesn’t know how to read and Belle teaches him. (But I appreciate how each of the adaptations explores their relationship in a new way!) I also loved his costuming and make-up at the beginning (pre-Beast) that made him look like a vain (yet still incredibly hot) fool. But man, the best was at the end when Beast turns around and I get ALL THE FEELS (which might be a little due to Downton – #TeamMatthew4Life).
I guess what I’m saying is that everyone, as expected, was PERFECTLY cast. Except Ewan McGregor. That man cannot fake a French accent. Sorry.
But speaking of Lumiere… OMG there were CHOREOGRAPHY JOKES in “Be Our Guest!” CHOREOGRAPHY JOKES! When Lumiere sings “cabaret” he does a Fosse move to the opening rhythm of Mein Herr. During the sad part, he uses a Martha Graham “Lamentation” tube costume. And of course there’s an Esther Williams bit like in the original, too. If you simply watch the way Lumiere dances throughout the entire number, you will see how his moves are legitimate dance steps and they match the tone of the music as it changes, down to barrel turns at the end. It’s brilliant animation work and will delight any dancers in the audience. As it turns out, the number was legitimately choreographed, and it took 18 months to film. It paid off.
The last thing I’d like to mention was the nod to the original fairy tale: Belle asking her father to bring her home a rose. Not much from the original tale made it into the Disney versions, but this was a really nice touch. It also serves to explain why Beast has the motivation to lock Maurice up – he’s a thief. That was a nice explanation. Overall this version handled previous plot-holes so well, probably because they’ve been pointed out so often on the internet: like why is it snowing in June, and why do none of the townspeople know there’s a giant enchanted castle like 5 miles from town? Those questions were wonderfully handled in this version and it was great.
There were just so many delightful details throughout the film that I loved: the design of the wardrobe to look like a stage, the “new” Howard Ashman lyrics, the costumes! The sets! This review is so long and I didn’t even talk about costumes or sets! In short, they were BRILLIANT and MAGNIFICENT. There were probably other details that I missed, but I have to stop somewhere.
If you can’t already tell by now, I am very excited and very in love with this movie. I did have some issues with it, but none of them seriously detracted anything for me. I am so relieved that the live-action version turned out well and that, for me and Disney and most fans, the trifecta comes to a happy completion. I was going to give the film 4/5 stars, but I think the things I loved about it make up for the things I didn’t love. So I give it 5/5, a tale as old as time.