“So, on a scale of 1-10, how excited are you?”
“Like….a 10-11. I just can’t believe it’s finally here”
Late, late, Friday night I sat in a dark theater, whispering with my friend. I LOVE Beauty and the Beast. I’ve been looking forward to the live action movie since Disney
A) Casted Josh Gad as Le Fou (“If it’s crap, THAT’S still worth my $12”, I thought)(Yes, I’m a bit of a theater nerd)
B)Confirmed that the live action adaptation would be a musical
With every promotional image and trailer and interview, I was more and more excited. In the same way that I was ecstatic to see “the tale as old as time” on the Broadway stage, I was thrilled to experience this story in a new way. And it exceeded my expectations. I’ve bee walking on air since I’ve seen it. The aspects that make Beauty and the Beast exceptional are the story, characters, music and animation. So, here’s how I felt the live action adaptation followed through in those areas.
SOME SPOILERS WITHIN. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.
Guys, it’s the tale as old as time. The story isn’t that different. However, there are a few interesting adjustments.
First of all, the time line has changed. The Prince is a grown adult when he’s cursed by the enchantress. The length of the spell is not specified; just that it will last until the last petal falls UNLESS, well, you know. Be Our Guest, which previously told us “10 years we’ve been rusting”, in the live action adaptation only tells us, “too long we’ve been rusting.” I got the impression that the spell had lasted 1-3 years.This addresses the criticism that maybe it was a tad harsh to curse a 11-year old, as well as general confusion over the time-line.
Belle’s time at the castle has also been changed. In the 1991 film, it was implied that Belle was at the castle for roughly a year. In the 2017 film Belle is at the castle for roughly 2-3 weeks. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this because I like that Belle took a year with The Beast before falling in love with him. That she didn’t fall in love overnight. But then again….she didn’t here, either. It wasn’t overnight. In terms of the overall timeline, this makes a little more sense (the townspeople seriously didn’t question Belle’s disappearance for a full year?). I’ve accepted it because of that reason, and because Belle does not let Beast off the hook easily and they fall in love in a way that makes so much sense for Belle’s character (more on that later).
Secondly, the townspeople’s lack of knowledge of the Prince, the castle, a whole Kingdom is also explained. The Enchantress also placed a spell on the townspeople, erasing the memories of the Prince, the castle, of the entire Kingdom.
Lastly, many back stories are provided. We also discover what happened to Belle’s mother, and without giving it away, it is DARK. However it does explain why Maurice doesn’t talk about her mother. It isn’t because he didn’t love Belle’s mother, it was because her death was very traumatic. We also find out a little bit of the Beast’s backstory as well, which is also dark. It’s a bit of an overdone backstory, but one that makes sense and really the audience just wants to know why he’s so harsh sometimes. The reason for Gaston’s celebrity status is implied as well, which I found intriguing.
The story stands strong.
Audiences loved Beauty and the Beast’s story, sure, but what is a story without good characters? I can’t be the only one who was looking forward to meeting these characters again and to see what the actors would bring the companions of my childhood. I am happy to say that I felt like I was meeting old friends. But let’s talk about a few that stand out (this isn’t a slam to the characters not mentioned).
In the 1991 film, Maurice was a bit of a caricature. He’s a punchline and a goofball. A very loveable punchline and goofball, but still not a ton of depth to him. Belle’s love for him is really more an indicator of her character as a person than it is anything else. So I was surprised when Disney chose seasoned actor, Kevin Kline, to play such a two-dimensional character. The reason, is that in the new adaptation, Maurice is quite three-dimensional. I was not expecting to leave the movie saying, “I LOVE MAURICE”, but I did. He is sweet and gentle, full of integrity and composure. He is definitely not “crazy old Maurice” anymore. His reputation as a “loon” is conjured up by Gaston and that Maurice cannot lead the townspeople to Belle or prove his outlandish sounding story.
Speaking of caricatures, let’s talk about Gaston for a second. Gaston is certainly a caricature, but I have always argued that Gaston is one of the most terrifying villains in Disney’s cannon. Gaston is such a loveable villain, UNTIL HE’S NOT. Gaston, to me, remains one of, if not the most realistic evil villains. He is misogynistic, violent, and manipulative. Luke Evans balanced that baffoon to menace transition BEAUTIFULLY. Actually, in the moment where you realize Gaston is not funny anymore, I JUMPED OUT OF MY SEAT and VERBALLY said, “DANG!” He scared me. A grown adult. I say, job well done.
Now, Belle. What I love about Belle is that she isn’t a character that story-tellers give depth, they can only give her more depth. She was a ground-breaking heroine for her time. The stage musical gave her more depth, and the live adaptation continues this tradition. Belle is an inventor, the only woman in town who can read, refuses marriage to Gaston despite the (at the time) very real threat of becoming a spinster. When she does fall in love, it’s through reading and education. She is heroic and daring. I can’t wait for my nieces to have Emma Watson’s interpretation in their lives.
The Beast was delightfully human. Dan Stevens, under pounds and pounds of prothetics, performing on stilts and then being covered MORE with CGI, still manages to deliver a dynamic and humanizing performance of the Beast. This is imperative for the audience to begin cheering for The Beast. Also, his acceptance and encouragement of Belle reading (compared to the vicious discouragement of the village) made my heart flutter. I guess it made Belle’s heart flutter too.
The side characters also brought new life to the film. Lumiere is charming but his relationship with Plumette has real substance, whereas in the original, I always saw it as a playful flirting (“Oh, he’s kissing the feather duster again”). Cogsworth is noticeably not as vocal in the live action adaptation but still manages to make an impression and is still endearingly worrisome. LeFou has an INCREDIBLE character arc, which includes a recognition of Gaston’s true nature. However, he still delivers as the goof-ball sidekick that we all love.
The characters carry the story in a believable way.
The story and the characters are solid, but what brought Beauty and the Beast to life was the music. I purposefully withheld from listening to the new soundtrack because I wanted to experience the new arrangements along with the visuals. I wanted the whole package and I highly recommend viewers following suit. With that said, here are some things to look forward to:
Belle. While a slightly different arrangement, it steals the show. It sets the stage. There’s also some incredible “staging” choices (surrounding Belle in flowers, Gaston and Lefou riding into town, ect).
How Does a Moment Last Forever? I have been singing this new tune since Friday. Maurice gently sings the song as he is creating a music box. It’s simple and, well, enchanting.
Gaston. Gaston is one of my favorite villain songs. It’s just, so, fun. An alternative verse, penned by Howard Ashman, is featured in the new adaptation. It also has this AWESOME dance break started by this build in the music that has an a great, swelling payoff. I laughed through the entire song. Partially because it’s a funny song but mostly because I was SO HAPPY AND HAVING SO MUCH FUN.
Beauty and the Beast. My friend reached over and squeezed my hand when the piano music began to play. This is easily one of the most powerful, romantic, hopeful, beautiful songs that Ashman and Menken created. And it was beautifully delivered by Emma Thompson. Films do not make me cry. But I cried during the title song. It was perfect and I was so happy to see and hear this song come to life, yet again.
Evermore. While the original film did not include a song for the Beast, the stage musical included three (including a reprise). It was one of the most memorable aspects of the Broadway show for me. This tradition lives on in the live-action adaptation with the song “Evermore”. While, “If I Can’t Love Her” is one of my favorite songs from the stage musical, I understand Menken and Cordon’s decision to not include songs from the Broadway show(they felt like they wouldn’t translate). “Evermore” is a fantastic, emotional, and moving song that is very reminiscent of “If I Can’t Love Her”.
The Mob Song. The 1991 animated film and the 1994 stage musical arrangements of this song are almost identical. The arrangement for the live-action film is slightly different, but possibly even more powerful. There is a new verse referencing that Gaston might be the real monster in this scenario. The line, “We don’t like what don’t understand. In fact it scares us and this monster is mysterious at least” is hushed and piercing. The line was powerful before, but this slight adjustment made it even more so. Just listen closely, because I missed it the first time and was wrongly pissed off.
Beauty and the Beast (Finale). Audra McDonald should have been singing Disney ballads a long time ago, honestly. I hope Disney takes note of that. McDonald delivers an operatic and celebratory verse of Beauty and the Beast and then, Emma Thompson sings. I knew there were a couple verses included in the live action movie that Ashman had written but had been cut from the original movie. I was pretty sure that a verse in Gaston was one. But when Emma Thompson began to sing, “Winter turns to spring. Famine turns to feast…” I knew. It had Ashman written all over it and it was the PERFECT way to end the movie. I cried again.
The overall score of the movie was sweeping and fitting. I LOVED the small instrumental pieces of music that were from the stage musical. I guess some of it did translate after all. It was surprising and delightful. My ONE criticism of the music is that 14 measures were cut from Transformation. I personally feel that the Transformation is some of Menken’s best work and I still don’t understand the need to cut it down. Because of that, the ending of the entire film felt a little rushed to me. However, it wasn’t a bad choice, just different. The transformation was still wonderful and relieving, so it accomplished its goal. I might feel differently when I see it again and am not expecting a CGI replica of the 1991 animation/music.
This is the last section, I promise (but in all fairness, I TOLD you that I love this movie). While this is a live-action adaptation, there is plenty of CGI animation. However, it was seamless and balanced with the physical set. I’m saying that as someone who was pretty nervous that the CGI would be overdone. I was easily able to suspend my disbelief and embrace that the CGI objects were part of the world in front of me.
The cinematography was gorgeous. The camera seemed to zoom in and span out at the perfect points. The colors were vibrant.There are some people I know who are waiting to see it until it becomes digitally available, but I really think they’re missing out. It is a visually stunning experience on the big screen.
In a single word, it was, breathtaking.
So, if you (somewhat understandably) skipped over my ramblings to just get to the dang point, here it is. I’m not star-struck. I do have criticisms of the film (you will find them peppered in ramblings). The thing is, that they are minor issues, and I can count them on one hand. The original Beauty and the Beast was a spectacle, as well as a musical and a strong story. It was hopeful and touching and a lot of fun. That’s what I took away from the live-action adaptation as well. That’s what audiences wanted to experience again. Regardless of technology and adjustments to the movie, the “tale as old as time” is still timeless.