Last night, I took my two daughters, ages 14 & 9, and my son, turning-8-in-two-weeks, to see the debut of Disney’s live-action film,”Beauty & the Beast”.
If you haven’t heard that Disney recently remade their classic 1991 cartoon, you must not live on planet Earth. My social media feeds have been buzzing about this movie for weeks, including giving away spoilers (which I tried not to read), and obsessing over the film’s “political agenda”…. because everything is political in 2017.
“Beauty & the Beast” has always been my favorite Disney film, and I have been waiting to see this movie since 6th grade. From the beginning, my friends and I knew that the story would be best told with live actors, and we even planned our own backyard stage production in the summer of ’92. Of course, Disney realized this potential as well; the Broadway version of “Beauty and the Beast” opened in 1994, a mere 3 years after the cartoon ~ with 8 new songs added to its catalog.
As much as I do enjoy stage musicals, there are always limitations with sets and special effects when working within a theater box. A movie shot on location has the potential to open up an entire world to explore. The musical-turned-movie “Les Miserables” benefited, in my opinion, from breaking free from its stage shackles.
I had high hopes for this film as well, although it appears most of “Beauty & the Beast” was shot on a soundstage with incorporated CGI backgrounds. The obvious “staginess” of this movie disappointed me a bit, especially the crowded buildings in the village scenes. Though perhaps the claustrophobic feeling was intentional, as Belle feels like a prisoner in this “small, provincial town”.
However, the sets were well constructed and beautiful, and I especially like Belle’s front garden …although I wish her yard were larger! She lived smack-dab in the center of town. :D
Not surprisingly, Emma Watson was the perfect choice for Belle. She brought the right blend of sweetness and fiesty spice.
After she is introduced in the villagers’ song, my 9-year-old leaned over and whispered to me, “Mom, Belle looks just like you!” I don’t resemble Emma at all, except maybe our hair color, but since Belle has been my Disney role-model for over two decades – it was an ‘awwwww’ moment for me. :)
I also felt Luke Evans played the villianous Gaston wonderfully. He created a darker, more calculating character in counterpoint to the 2-dimensional arrogant buffoon from the cartoon.
I was less impressed by Dan Steven’s Beast, but I believe it was due to his character being completely CGI. They couldn’t just dress him in a furry suit and make-up? The authenticity of his performance was lost to me in the digital effects. I do have to admit, when he transformed *back* into the Prince, it was the first time I actually felt glad to see the human behind the beast! The cartoon ending was such a let-down for us animal lovers. We wanted our Beast back! Haha!
There was a moment at the end, where Belle flirtatiously says, “You should grow a beard”, and the human prince growls in reply. That was funny! :D
Overall, I was pleased with “Beauty & the Beast”. My Facebook feed spotlighted friends’ reviews this morning, and a few of them were not impressed – saying Disney just recycled the exact same script (well, yeah?!) and there wasn’t anything “significantly different” about the film.
Personally, I’m a purist, and I dislike when a movie re-make tries too hard to deviate from its source. If a separate studio (i.e. LionsGate) had created this movie, then yes, I would expect something entirely unlike Disney. However, you need the songs, the characters, and the memorable lines from the original… or it wouldn’t be Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”.
Actually, there *were* changes made to the storyline, and two scenes in particular felt inconsistent….
The first scene that felt odd to me happened directly after Belle’s “escape” from the castle, when the Beast ultimately saves her from a bloodthirsty pack of wolves, and she assists him in returning to the castle. The next scene shows Belle nursing him back to health, surrounded by concerned pieces of furniture ~ and Belle questions why they care so much for the Beast.
AND THEY TELL HER ABOUT THE CURSE.
They tell her everything: the prince’s wicked past, the enchantress who placed a spell upon the entire castle, and the time limit signified by the magic rose petals. They reveal everything except the “cure”, and naturally she asks, “How can the spell be broken?”
I think it is Mrs. Potts who brushes off her question, insisting that [their doom] is not Belle’s problem. Let the furniture worry about it, okay?
Belle offers her assistance in that scene, but after that, we don’t see her actively trying to find answers. One would think, someone with Belle’s intelligence and curiosity wouldn’t accept this inevitable curse without a fight, especially since she has started to care for the castle’s inhabitants.
Why doesn’t she seem more concerned for their welfare, and dig deeper to find the truth? There must be some endtable or bookcase with loose lips, willing to spill the beans, since Belle’s assistance in lifting the curse would mean their freedom. Granted, you can’t fall in love with somebody on demand, but it just seemed odd that they told her everything else. Why hide the *one detail* that would break the spell?
The second scene, that seemed completely out of place, involved the discovery of the enchanted book that could teleport Belle & the Beast anywhere in the world they wished to go.
This item was used as a plot device, I guess, so that Belle could find out what happened to her mother. With the help of the magic book, she and the Beast were instantly transported to Paris – to the attic where she had been born.
There was a little flashback scene, showing her mother dying from the plague, a conclusion they reached from remnants left behind (e.g. a plague doctor’s mask). Belle realizes that her father ran away to this “quiet, little village” to save her life. She feels homesick, so they return to the castle… and the magical book is NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN.
The book’s appearance and convenient disappearance felt totally random. If the Beast had this magical, teleporting book in his possession, why couldn’t he use it to locate somebody to break the spell, rather than sitting around waiting for a woman to get lost in the woods, and stumble upon his castle?
The powers of the book also make the original “magic mirror” redundant. Couldn’t Belle simply take the magic book home, to visit her father, instead of the mirror? It would save her a long journey back to town. Gaston could steal the book (instead of the mirror), and travel to the castle to confront the Beast.
At the very least, the writers might have brought out the book again in the finale. After the wedding, the Prince/Beast could hand Belle the magical book and say, “Where would you like to go?” and they would be magically whisked away on a honeymoon adventure! Haha!
Disney wanted to delve into Belle’s backstory, but there is a scene early on between Belle and her father which would have worked beautifully with the flashbacks. Instead of having Belle’s father reluctant to talk about his deceased wife, they could have shared that special moment. Having the Beast share it with her just felt odd.
Had I read any of the early reviews online, I would have already known that the director chose to commission 3 brand new songs, in addition to the original 1991 soundtrack (which was included), instead of recycling the music from the popular stage show.
However, the score from the Broadway production is nearly as iconic as the original musical numbers. “Beauty & the Beast” is Broadway’s 10th longest running production in history for good reason! With its debut only 3 years after the cartoon feature, those songs have become canon material.
I know I am not the only person who wanted to watch Belle and the Beast perform “Home” and “If I Can’t Love Her” respectively. Google Search brings up several articles questioning why the Broadway songs aren’t included in the movie.
I found one interview with composer Alan Menken, in which he states:
“For a live-action film, there’s a really limited number of songs you want to put into a live-action given the length of time, the amount of dialogue, other kinds of scenes…”
That’s ridiculous, considering they wrote THREE new songs (four songs, if you include the short “Aria” sung by Audra MacDonald in the beginning), plus a reprise of one song, “How Does a Moment Last Forever”. They did, in fact, play the melody of “Home” in the background of the scene where Belle might have sung it… but she didn’t.
Regarding my favorite song from the Broadway soundtrack, “If I Can’t Love Her”, Alan Menken said,
“Bill [Condon, the director] felt that rather than the moment where the Beast out of anger, drives Belle away and says ‘How will I ever get anyone to love me? If I can’t love her, who could I ever love?’ Instead, it’s the moment where he lets Belle go out of love, knowing that the spell will never be broken.”
“But rather than try to adapt that number for the later spot, which as Tim [Rice] said ‘would have been like writing ‘Don’t Cry For Me Brazil.’’ Better off [leaving] that where it is in the Broadway show, but dealing this new moment as a new moment.”
I just don’t buy it. Creating “new moments” didn’t work at all, because NONE of these new songs were memorable in the slightest. I couldn’t recall a single line in any of the songs’ lyrics with which to identify and Google them. Instead, I Googled “Beauty and the Beast 2017 soundtrack” to find them.
People like me, who have been Disney fans for decades, know the original songs by heart… and many of us own the Broadway soundtrack as well, and know THOSE songs by heart. It will take us awhile to accept these new songs as part of the canon, if we ever do.
Even Andrew Lloyd Webber kept his enthusiasm for his “Phantom of the Opera” movie under control; he only wrote ONE new song for the soundtrack, “Learn To Be Lonely”, which was sung by Minnie Driver in the end credits. He could have gone crazy and written an entirely new score!
Instead, he wrote a horrible Broadway sequel! LOL!
(But I digress…)
As Cogsworth the clock wisely said, “If it’s not Baroque… don’t fix it!”
My kids gave “Beauty & the Beast” two giant thumbs up, and even my son enjoyed the action scenes.
We will be looking forward to owning it as part of our Disney collection.