I've now seen Beauty and the Beast in theaters three times. I watched it the first time on opening day, and loved it so much that I immediately bought tickets for after school that same day so my daughters could see it. ;)
My Funko Mystery Minis Beast and Belle enjoying the theater.
And the "behind the scenes" photo my friend took of me getting that perfect shot. ;)
The big display in the lobby...
...and my three girls.
Trying to condense my thoughts on this film into one blog post has been a challenge. As you all know, I could go super deep into my Disney nerdism and give you a never-ending post about every little detail. However, I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it, and I also don't want to bore everyone to death with non-essentials. ;)
I thought I should start off by saying that, obviously, this is my favorite Disney story of all time, so I might not be the most unbiased opinion out there. Of course, that also means I could be way pickier than the average viewer in some instances. So, consider yourself warned, and don't feel you have to agree with me on everything. ;)
Okay, on to the actual review.
Original image found HERE.
Things I LOVED:
First off, the nostalgia of this movie was epic. Seeing a beloved cartoon come to life in such a beautiful, breathtaking way was magical. From the moment the opening credits began and Disney used the BEAST'S CASTLE (eep!!) as the "Walt Disney Pictures" castle, I was hooked. I felt like a little ten-year-old girl again, with the same wonder and excitement I had when watching the original release in 1991. And, of course, the moment the beginning notes of "Belle" filled the theater and Emma Watson, as a living, breathing version of my very favorite Disney princess, walked through the town singing those iconic words, I wanted to cry with happiness. :)
I loved the depth added to each of the characters in this new version. The Beast had this quirky, dry sense of humor that gave him extra dimension. He had some of my favorite lines and facial expressions in the movie. Maurice was no longer the bumbling, silly father of the animated cartoon, but a sweet, if rather absent-minded, older man with a haunted past and a quiet dignity. You could immediately see why Belle loved him so much.
I know that some of my acquaintances were worried by the "feminist" touches Emma planned on adding to Belle's character. I myself am not a feminist, but had no problem with the changes. The strength of Belle's character did not diminish the male roles around her, which is the trend I have seen again and again in many movies with feminist input. The changes made were consistent with Belle's original character. She was still portrayed as a loving, beautiful person with a strong personality and a brave spirit. I also appreciated that some of the additions to the story made her feel less like someone with "Stockholm syndrome," which is a common complaint about the Beauty and the Beast story.
Gaston and LeFou, played wonderfully by Luke Evans and Josh Gad, were given more character development as well. I thought Luke Evans' Gaston was brilliant and believable, yet even more despicable than the animated character. The second time I watched it, the audience actually cheered when he met his doom.
Um, hopefully that wasn't too much of a spoiler. I mean, you've all seen the cartoon, right? ;}
And honestly, the entire cast was just spot on. I felt that each of the actors embodied their characters perfectly. From the main characters, to the enchanted objects, to the townspeople, no one seemed miscast or out of place. Except maybe Lumiere, but I'll get to that later. ;) I loved the inclusion of interracial couples in the film, too.
It's obvious that the director and screenwriters paid attention to many of the plot holes pointed out about the animated version of Beauty and the Beast over the years. Many of these were addressed, including the problematic ten years of the curse referred to in the original "Be Our Guest," and how that would have made the prince an eleven-year-old child who didn't let a stranger in at the door. ;) Plus, what happened to Belle's mom? Why didn't anyone in the village know about their former ruler whose castle was within walking distance? These and other problematic plot points were solved. If you don't mind spoilers, you can watch a fun video that explains some of them in detail on YouTube HERE.
One thing that was NOT addressed was that the Prince was not given a name. I can actually understand why this happened, because there wasn't a great spot for it in the flow of the film. Still, it would have been nice for him to have an actual name. (I still don't hold to the claim that his name was originally Adam, since in the commentary of the animated film, the filmmakers talk about the fact that they never gave him a name. Just sayin'.) While this was a bit disappointing, it wasn't the end of the world for me. My 13-year-old was quite irritated by it, though. ;)
I also appreciated the beautiful costumes and sets of the film. I know many (myself included) had our doubts about Belle's yellow ball gown when we first saw photos, but it really was lovely in the movie. Simpler, yes, but it flowed beautifully and looked elegant on Emma. And while I loved the live-action version of Cinderella, the bodice of her ballgown was pretty plungy. It was nice to see a more modest version of Belle's dress for this film. Even Belle's simpler hairstyles and more practical shoes were fine with me. She looked like the type of girl ready for anything.
Things I Didn't Love:
There were a few things that I wasn't quite so enamored with, but they were pretty minor. One of those was some of the computer animation, especially for the Beast. I felt like the animation on the enchanted objects worked pretty well, but there were several scenes where Beast's animation felt unfinished or over-stylized. The best way I can think to describe it is that it's the type of animation that will look really fake in ten or so years...kind of like the animation of Andy and his mom in the first Toy Story movie when you watch it now in 2017. That being said, Dan Steven's acting was so wonderful and the character of the Beast so compelling, I found myself ignoring the animation, even when it was distracting, because I loved the character and the story so much.
I had my concerns about Ewan McGregor's "French" accent from the time I watched the very first trailer. He sounded like someone attempting a French accent and sounding more Mexican. In subsequent interviews, he even admitted the accent was a challenge for him, and explained that because of the way they instructed him to do it, it ended up sounding more Mexican than French.
I will say that the accent wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and didn't distract me as much as I thought it would. However, it definitely didn't sound as natural as some of the other accents. I thought Ewan's acting and singing were nice in spite of his accent challenges, though I must confess I will always prefer Jerry Orbach's Lumiere. ;)
I was also a little disappointed with the fact that they didn't actually show the full transformations of the Beast and the enchanted objects at the end of the film. However, after talking to my friend Sarah, I realized that I probably would have been disappointed by the transformations anyway. Maybe it was best that they left that to our imagination.
Things that Caused Controversy:
I feel like I can't do this review without addressing the "elephant in the room," so to speak. As most of you know, shortly before the film's release, director Bill Condon revealed in an interview that they had decided to make LeFou's character gay in this version of the film. There were heated reactions on both sides of the issue, and for a while, this was all people were talking about when Beauty and the Beast came up in conversation.
As most of you know by now, I'm a Christian, and as such, my standard for truth is the Bible. The Bible tells me that God's intention for love and marriage is between a man and a woman. However, I fully realize that not everyone holds this view. I can't expect companies with different belief systems to make movies the way I want them to, and I know that the Disney company has long supported the LGBT rights movement. I also know that Howard Ashman, the brilliant talent who co-wrote the original songs with Alan Menken, lived a gay lifestyle and died of AIDS before the film was completed, so this has always been a message close to the hearts of many involved in the original Beauty and the Beast. Because of this, I can't say I'm super surprised by their decision to include this in this particular film.
I do feel that the subject was handled tastefully. I don't know if my younger two girls would have even caught on to what was going on if we hadn't talked about it before. Going into the film knowing that LeFou was gay, I could definitely read into a lot of his behaviors, gestures, and facial expressions, but even this was more understated than overt. And really, a lot of it just reminded me of the cartoon character.
There are three main moments that might cause concern for those of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are still undecided as to whether to see the movie or not. (Spoilers ahead.)
First, at one point during the "Gaston" song, LeFou wraps Gaston's arms around him while singing, then asks Gaston, "Too much?" Gaston replies, "Yep." (Side note: throughout the movie, Gaston remains completely clueless to LeFou's feelings.)
Next. during the battle scene at the castle, Madame Garderobe (the wardrobe) attacks three men (Tom, Dick, and Stanley of "Gaston" fame) with ribbons and other accessories, dressing them like girls. Two of them run away screaming in horror, while one gives Garderobe a delighted smile. She tells him, "Be free!" and he trots off.
The other main scene is at the very end of the movie, when everyone is dancing once the curse has been broken. LeFou is dancing with a woman, and in the course of the dance, he switches partners and accidentally ends up dancing with the man who enjoyed being dressed like a girl. They spin once, giving each other a rather startled look, and the camera pans away. This, by the way, is the "exclusively gay moment" referenced in Bill Condon's interview.
On a more minor note, LeFou confesses to Mrs. Potts during the battle scene that he and Gaston are "so in a bad place right now," and Mrs. Potts tells LeFou he deserves better than Gaston. While this is obviously meant to play into LeFou's feelings for Gaston, it's subtle enough that it could even be taken as just two friends having a rough patch in their friendship.
After watching the entire movie, the conclusion I came to is that this subplot was minor and subtle enough that I had no issues taking my girls to see it, even though I personally wish it hadn't been included. For those of you who want a more detailed look at everything in the film, you can read Plugged In's review HERE.
I realize this is an issue that is sensitive and divisive, but I felt I couldn't do this review in good conscience without mentioning it. I know I have readers who fall on both sides of this, and I welcome discussion in the comments as long as it is kind and respectful.
I thought I'd end with some thoughts on the music, since it played such a huge part in this film.
The singing was not as good overall as the original animated voice cast, especially Emma's singing as Belle. Her voice had a bit of a manufactured sound to it. She took breaths in odd places, which could either be her take on a unique interpretation of the songs, or just a lack of breath control. And there were several places in "Belle" that were in a lower key for her, as if she couldn't reach the original notes and they had to transpose it to fit her range. (Interestingly enough, the Broadway version of "Belle" is in a higher key than the animated version. Just in case you needed to know that random Beauty and the Beast factoid to make your life complete.) ;) Still, Emma wasn't unpleasant to listen to, and her voice had a kind of everyday girl quality to it that made her more believable. It sounded like a "normal" person singing to herself while walking down the street, rather than a professional singer.
Luke Evans, Josh Gad, and Audra McDonald all had outstanding voices. Since all of them have performed in musical theater before, that's no surprise. I have to admit, though, I kept picturing Olaf singing "Gaston" because Josh Gad's voice sounds exactly the same. (Seriously, someone needs to do an animated version of Olaf singing "Gaston." It would be hilarious. No one gives warm hugs like Gaston?) ;)
Dan Stevens is not known for his singing, but I thought he did a great job on "Something There" and his new song, "Evermore." I'd actually love to hear his singing without his Beast-synthesized voice. ;)
Speaking of new songs, this movie had three: "How Does a Moment Last Forever," sung by Maurice (and later Belle), "Days in the Sun," sung by the enchanted objects, and "Evermore," sung by the Beast. All three were written by Alan Menken. The first two were rather short, and their melodies were used two separate times in the course of the film. In addition to this, both "Gaston" and "Beauty and the Beast" got additional lyrics, unused in the animated film.
My favorite of the new songs was definitely "Evermore," with "Days in the Sun" coming in second. I wish both "Days in the Sun" and "How Does a Moment Last Forever" had been longer.
As much as I enjoyed the new songs, I couldn't help but compare them to the Broadway version of Beauty and the Beast. Not only have I memorized most of the Broadway soundtrack, but I had the privilege of seeing it performed live twice (not in New York, sadly). ;) And I have to say, on every count, I felt there was just a bit more to each of the additional songs in the play than in the movie. As beautiful as "How Does a Moment Last Forever" is, I think I prefer "No Matter What," the sweet song Belle and Maurice sing together. "Days in the Sun" is lovely and melancholy, but I've always loved "Human Again" and its inclusion of all of the characters, including little Chip. And as gorgeous as "Evermore" is, I can't help thinking of the heartbreaking "If I Can't Love Her" that the Beast sings after scaring Belle away from the West Wing. (Here's a recording of the 1994 Tony Awards Performance of Beauty and the Beast, which highlights some of these songs.)
And I'm sorry, but NOTHING can beat the amazing tankard dance during "Gaston" that was performed in the play. The movie's choreography was boring by comparison. (This video doesn't quite do it justice, but it gives you a little idea of how cool it was.)
The tone and pacing of the play was different than the movie, so I can understand why those songs wouldn't have worked for the live action film, but I loved every extra Broadway song as much as the originals, while the extra songs from the movie left me wanting more...either more verses or more depth.
Bottom line, the music from the movie was enjoyable. The orchestration was beautiful. I especially loved the inclusion of an instrumental version of "Home" (from the Broadway version) whenever Belle went to her room. The singing was nice, especially with the visuals. But I have to admit, if I was going strictly for a soundtrack without the visuals, I'd choose either the original or the Broadway version...and maybe Dan Stevens and Josh Groban's versions of "Evermore." ;)
Also, I hate to even bring this up, because I really was pleased with the casting, but I would love to see the Disney company cast actors who can act and knock it out of the park with their singing in the future. Emma wasn't bad at singing, but if they could have found someone who could really sing those songs the way they were meant to be sung, I think it could have been so much richer. But then again, I thought her acting was wonderful.
In spite of these few, nit-picky issues I had, I fell in love with this story all over again and enjoyed it thoroughly.
One of my favorite parts? The amazing, wordless acting in this scene right here:
Original image found on Pinterest HERE.
I still get teary just thinking about how beautiful it was. :) The look of wonder on the Prince's face as he turned around and gazed at Belle, the same glorious music playing in the background from the animated version, the joy of true love and reunion after death...Eep! I'm going to geek out again!!
My other favorite parts were the Beast's facial expressions after he tried to ask Belle to dinner politely, and his reaction upon finding out her favorite book was Romeo and Juliet.
So, those are my thoughts on Beauty and the Beast 2017. I think I still prefer the 1991 version for the most part. Not only is it beautifully animated, but the casting is perfection and it's a huge part of my childhood. But 2017's Beauty and the Beast will definitely have a spot on the shelf right next to it. :)
Have you guys seen it yet? What were your thoughts?