Loving and Hating Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Disney movies have always played an important role in my life, being Disney-obsessed for as long as I can remember. The first time I saw Beauty and the Beast was the first time I found a princess I understood and related to. Long hair, nose in a book, different; here’s my soulmate. Thus began my obsession with Beauty and the Beast. And then it got better. Disney found a way to improve the story in a Broadway show—incredible costumes, spectacular effects, new songs that I now count as all-time favorites. Plus, some of my favorite Broadway actors in main roles. Needless to say, I followed the recently-released live action film VERY closely during production. This past weekend, I made time to see this next step in my Beauty and the Beast journey. Conclusion: overall, I enjoyed it, but there were some sticking points.

Before I go on, I just want to warn readers, there could be some small spoilers. Overall, Disney has managed to create a gorgeous retelling of the classic animated feature. They stuck close enough to the original film to appeal to die-hard fans, while answering some long-time questions about the film. Yes, part of the curse is for the town to forget about the castle and its residents. Yes, Belle actually wants to escape. Plus, Maurice actually sees how wrong Gaston is for his daughter, causing some of the later tension with the townsfolk. I also liked how the Broadway storyline for the castle folk was integrated: every time a petal fell—the castle and its occupants moved closer to destruction. All the household servants would move one step closer to inanimate, always stiffer and more ornately decorated. And my favorite storyline decision for the movie was to return to the original fairytale motivation for imprisoning Maurice, stealing a rose to bring Belle as a gift.

Disney also had their usual magic picking the best actors for the roles. They made Belle even more independent, even giving her the inventor’s role, with Emma Watson very capably and believably filling this role. Dan Stevens brought humor and grace to a monstrous beast learning to be human again. Luke Evans’ Gaston was a quirky blend of the massive egotist from the movie with a touch of war-scarred town hero. And then there was Josh Gad as the sidekick LeFou, absolutely perfect from jokes to physical comedy to eventually seeing Gaston for the villain he is. Many of the household staff were nice additions to the cast, like Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenzas) and Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe). However, while I love the actors, I felt Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere and Emma Thompson’s Mrs. Potts fell a little flat.

So what disappointed me about the movie? If you can’t guess, it was the music. For the most part, the actors were acceptable vocally, all the voices were very “Disney” in style. The sound mixer, however, gave everyone an auto-tuned or electronic sound. While some of the auto-tuning may have been necessary, I know some of the actors are strong singers; they shouldn’t have needed it and it was very distracting. Other actors did seem to have issues while singing. I found Ewan McGregor funny to listen to, as he struggled to maintain his French accent while singing. Also Emma Thompson’s singing voice was a bit annoying. I know she can sing (as evidenced in Live from Lincoln Center: Sweeney Todd in Concert), but she seemed to be trying too hard to be Angela Lansbury—the original Mrs. Potts. 

Finally, the biggest disappointment musically for me was the actual music itself. Despite having several beloved songs from the Broadway musical version waiting in the wings, the producers and composers chose to create new songs. While I understand creative decisions, there were three songs I was hoping had made the cut. I found most of the newlywritten music to be lackluster and forgettable. I also felt the new music did little to move the movie along and could disappointedly see how some of the Broadway music could better fill some of those moments. For example, Gaston’s proposal scene felt like it was almost a throwaway and really could have benefited from some version of Broadway’s “Me.” And while it was nice to recognize Belle’s Broadway anthem, “Home” in the instrumental music, some shortened vocal version could have fit nicely in the same places the instrumental was used. The only new song I felt truly fit its purpose (and that I liked) was the Beast’s “Evermore.” Yet even that song paled to the music I felt was lost in his “If I Can’t Love Her” from the Broadway show. 

As I said, overall I enjoyed the movie. I accepted it for what it is and not what I feel the creators could have done. If you are a huge fan of the animated classic, I definitely say “go see it.” If you are looking for much more story than the animated version, you might feel cheated by how closely the film hugs the original. If you are a classically trained musician (as I am), understand this is Disney and you will probably be disappointed in the quality of performers. I urge you to look past it and enjoy the movie for what it is. If you are looking for a visually gorgeous film, this is it. If you have a small child in your life (yours, a niece/nephew, a friend’s child), don’t be afraid to take them if you need an excuse to go see the movie. My three old did not find the wolves or Gaston’s attack to be overly scary. Finally, if you go to see the movie, be sure to enjoy the good and let go of the bad. It’s worth it. After all, it’s “a tale as old as time.”

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