Thanks to a couple of advanced tickets from Walt Disney Studios to view their latest film, I had the chance to see Beauty and the Beast earlier this week. It’s taken me two days to come put my thoughts on
paper screen, and I fear instead of finding the right words to share, those thoughts have only gotten more disjointed.
First, a little background –
I’m 33 years old, which means that I had just turned eight when the original animated classic was first released. I’m also a girl, so it will come as no surprise then when I tell you that I adored Belle. Like, have lost count of the times people have commented on my keen ability to sound just like the incredible Paige O’hara – not at all based on talent, but based on the mere fact that I have sang (and spoken) along with the entire soundtrack 16 million times. Give or take a few.
Being just 8 years old when it was released though, means that I don’t really remember the first time I saw the movie. It wasn’t instantly life-changing; in fact, I generally recall watching both Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid (released two years earlier) around the same time, approximately the same number of times, intermittently throughout my childhood and adolescence. I actually recall so, so many early conversations (which I still have to this day) where I feel that, as I grew older, I started to understand just how incredible a character Belle truly is… but then wrestled with the idea that I was cheating on my former “favorite princess”, a spunky and defiant mermaid with whom I had also related so well.
We all know it to be true, though: Belle has it all. She’s smart, brave, beautiful, and yes, even a little spunky herself. And thankfully, I was one of the few people on the planet that wasn’t going to have a hard time seeing Hermione Granger as our lovely protagonist, since I’ve barely seen any of the Harry Potter films and have read exactly zero of the books.
So, how was
Honestly…..? At first I was really taken out of the movie by her singing. I didn’t watch a single preview, and would’ve probably benefitted from a little heads up.
I know it’s been reported that Emma Watson worked tirelessly on this character, even singing for hours with Ms. O’Hara herself. The original Belle even spoke very highly of the casting, and of Watson’s work. It’s truly not that she’s “just not Belle”, as I’ve heard some say. I am among the first to say that a singer needs to sing, not to do an impression of someone else. (And as a side note, Emma Thompson freaking slayed the Mrs. Potts role. Angela Lansbury is a legend, obviously, but I may have just bought Thompson’s mama teapot even more. She’s that good.) It’s truly just that it sounded green, unpolished. I definitely wondered – and the thought still crosses my mind – if there was nobody else in the entire population that could’ve played Belle as well, and sang in such a way that would make me want to actually listen to the new soundtrack.
But notice I said “at first” I was taken out of the movie. That was before Emma Watson works some serious magic. She is so believable – and downright wonderful – as Belle, that I hardly noticed any lack of vocal chops later in the movie. I’ll have to see it again to determine if she performs the subsequent songs better (or differently), or if I was just so very sold that I was watching Belle that it no longer mattered. Besides – in the real world, not everyone has the voice of a Disney princess, amiright?
What about the story?
Like many of you, my friend and I were talking as we waited for the movie to start about how genuinely nervous we were to see this particular film. Disney has knocked recent live-action movies out of the park, but this one felt different. This was our princess. We talked about how some critics lamented there weren’t enough changes, that it felt like the same movie; for many of us, we would be crushed to have it any other way.
You guys, it was just right. From little details like the tearing of a tapestry to many of the very lines from the original movie, it was familiar and comforting from start to finish. Very, very few things were out of order, and nothing that was established in the film was changed.
What was different was purposeful. I found myself time and again wondering as I watched, Oh my gosh. Do I like this better than the animated movie?! The one that wins every single Disney Animated feature showdown and bracket and contest I’ve ever seen?! The one that has been called a near-perfect masterpiece?! Surely that’s not possible… But [as she looks around for someone to take away her Disney fangirl card] it really might be possible. I’m not saying I do like it better, because I’ve seen this version a single time. Lots of movies are flawless in the honeymoon period, and the original classic has stood the test of time and a multitude of repeat viewings.
It fills in details the story so, so nicely though, that I found myself wondering things like,
“Was Gatson really that bad in the original (I mean, before he tried more than once to kill the Beast)?”
“What was his motivation anyway, to go from pompous frat boy type to murderer?”
“And why was the little prince such a snot, anyway?”
“Why didn’t I ever care what happened to Belle’s mom? It literally never even crossed my mind.”
“Oh! Did everyone else watch the animated movie and think about the fact that all of those enchanted objects were really people? I mean, obviously they were people. But people with lives?!”
I found myself wondering if this newfangled Beauty and the Beast had managed to ruin – or at least tarnish – the original by pointing out the times it made us take fairly large leaps. *gasp!*
Oh, wow. So it was pretty much flawless?
Of course it wasn’t flawless. As I said, I doubt it will even ultimately dethrone the original Beauty and the Beast as the definitive version. (Can I please have my fangirl card back now?)
A few nods to some of the songs in the Broadway version of the show were nice, but didn’t stop me from wishing the actual numbers had been included. One or two of the new songs didn’t really do it for me. I still can’t quite tell what percentage of Lumiere is motion capture and what is CGI (though dang, I may have squealed when Gandalf and Obi-wan became human again). I can’t decide if the “Be Our Guest” scene was perfect or irritating, without a second viewing.
And then there’s the whole media mess. Le sigh. The only thing the uproar about Lefou served to do was distract me from a fantastic performance by Josh Gad. Almost every move the man made or word he uttered I overthought: Oh, how’s that going to play? Is that what everyone was wondering about? How does that compare to the original (or to a dozen other characters, or to a million real people who may be gay or straight)? Ultimately, this was the exact same character we’ve all watched countless times before.
Your family has to make its own choices, but my $0.02 is that if you were going to see the movie before all the news and backlash, you will enjoy it now. Just maybe a little less than you would have had things not been overanalyzed and brought to your attention that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought twice about.
Besides, you have FAR more to worry about during the movie with those daggone wolves, which are scary as heck in Imax 3D and in scenes that seem to go on a little too long for this easily-spooked girl.
My final thoughts. for now.
I am convinced that it is the innate human-ness that is possible with a live action movie that made this one truly spectacular. The additions to the story were great, and the movie was visually stunning. It was the eyes of the Beast though, and even a look or two from Gaston, that made me connect with them in a way I never could with an animated character. Characters like Lefou were able to portray such great emotions – and changes of emotions – even in smaller, more “background” roles requiring much more subtlety. Belle became even more of everything she is (more curious, more fearless, more feisty, more caring…) because Emma Watson was able to make so many choices that simply cannot be drawn, even by the best animators.
For two years I have squealed every time a new casting announcement was made for this film, and not a single performance negated those squeals. Emma Thompson nearly made me sob, and she is a piece of china. Luke Evans really might be flawless as Gaston, a character who is afforded much more depth in this version. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellan are the most perfect Lumiere and Cogsworth I could have imagined. Kevin Cline as Maurice brings such humanity and grace to that character, without losing his eccentricities. (Oh – and said eccentricities, like many other attributes of the movie, feel more natural and less slapstick.) Even the Beast, the character whom I was most concerned by given the CGI load required, never once seemed like anything less than 100% real and firmly in the world that was created.
The scenery is beautiful, the score is a lovely balance of the familiar with the new and nuanced. The choreography is breathtaking, making many of the songs feel like major musical numbers – but never in an overstated way.
I’m specifically baffled when I read reviews that say things in this version of the film felt forced, or inauthentic. If anything, I think the movie adds a ton of authenticity to the relationships and a number of believable, organic storylines to fill in gaps of the original. The live-action movie only serves to make the animated classic even better, and vice versa. I think they’re more like two halves of a whole, but maybe I just need to see this one again a few (dozen) times.
I’ll gladly start right away.