A long time ago in a faraway land, there was a Prince who threw opulent parties. He taxed his kingdom to pay for them, and only invited the brightest and most beautiful to attend. During one such party, a poor beggar woman arrived to wait out the storm that raged outside. She offered the Prince a rose in exchange for shelter, but he just laughed in her face. She gave him a second chance, but his heart still wasn’t moved. She transformed him into a hideous beast, and the people in the castle who didn’t flee in time became trinkets and furniture.
It’s a Tale as Old As Time.
In 1991, Disney brought Beauty and the Beast into the world and a classic was born. When Disney announced they were filming a live-action version with Emma Watson in the title role, I was really apprehensive. I’m not a Watson fan, and I have always adored this story, so what was she going to do with one of my favorite princesses? As the months progressed and the rest of the cast came out, I found myself getting excited. Kevin Kline as Maurice? Ewan MacGregor as Lumiere? Ian MacKellan as Cogsworth? Audra MacDonald as Garderobe (the Wardrobe)? Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza? EMMA THOMPSON AS MRS. POTTS?! This was a cast of epic proportions, and I was positive that no matter what I felt for Emma Watson, this film was going to be as good, if not better, than Cinderella in 2014.
And you know what? I was right.
They added a bit more backstory to make the Prince less of a spoiled child, and more of a misled young man. It was in the time before the French Revolution, which makes it historically accurate for him to throw these extravagant parties at the expense of his people, whereas in the cartoon, we only knew the story took place in France in a fairy-tale time period. What I love when films do this is that it makes it feel like magic is available in our own world.
As a longtime Disnerd and Beauty and the Beast music fan, I was extremely concerned with how they’d handle all of the music. Emma Watson has an okay singing voice, and her songs were fine, but when it came to the other characters songs, they completely blew her out of the water.
Ewan MacGregor’s take on Be Our Guest was one I waited with bated breath to watch. If you recall in 1991, computer animation was still relatively new, and this was the song they used to create quite the visual treat. Could they do that again in live-action form? They did on Broadway, why not Hollywood? Well, to say they did would be a gross understatement. Plates and food were flying everywhere, there were feather dusters doing synchronized swimming, Belle tried to get a bite of everything they pushed in front of her, and you just got the impression that the showman that was Lumiere had been preparing for this moment his entire life, even before he became a candlestick.
I was a bit surprised that they didn’t include the songs Human Again or If I Can’t Love Her from the Broadway show, but they did give them new songs which added more characterization. The entire cast had the song, Days in the Sun, where they talked about their former lives and how they felt trapped because of the curse, and the Beast had Evermore where he sang about his former life and how he doesn’t think he has a future, especially with his newfound feelings for Belle. The chills were there. It was amazing, and Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey) has got some pipes on him.
I do have to say my favorite transformation throughout the entire film isn’t the Beast or any of the staff. It’s the unwitting character, LeFou. No, I’m not going to get political. But LeFou is this kid who has admired Gaston and has acted as his best friend for years. He would do anything for Gaston, or so he thinks. We all know Gaston to be a tool of epic proportions, but it’s only when his actions become unsavory that LeFou starts to see him for who he truly is. That transition is a beautiful mirror against the transformation of the Beast in the castle. It was my absolute favorite part of the film. It was really, really great.
The only real thing I didn’t care for was Emma Watson. I’m just not a fan. I think she’s a wooden actress, and was when she got into her older Hermione days in Harry Potter. I did like everything they did with Belle, though (she’s the inventor now, and invented a washing machine so she could read instead of work. Props, girl!), and she also taught a town girl to read, much to the resentment of the town school master who didn’t want “another one” to know how to read. Small minds, I tell you.
Okay, I didn’t care for Ariana Grande’s half of the Beauty and the Beast duet, either. She’s in her twenties now. She should know what consonants are. Use your teeth to sing. Learn from Audra MacDonald, who didn’t have nearly enough singing time, despite being half of the castle’s entertainment with Stanley Tucci’s Maestro Cadenza.
This film is filled with the same amount of fun and warmth and beauty as its predecessor, and then even more. It was well worth it to see it in theaters, and now that it’s available in DVD and Blu-Ray, I’ll be getting a copy to watch again and again. Please see this movie. Enjoy the magic, and mystery that the cast brought to a timeless tale.