There are a few films my parents can still recite by heart due to repeated viewings in my youth. Their favorite songs to sing when thinking about them are still The Cat in the Hat and Gaston.
As a young person obsessed with books and already over machismo, I felt akin to Belle and who she was. She was independent, smart, and yet wonderfully empathetic. I still watch the original film to this day with the same love I had as a young girl, which is why I was a perfect mixture of excited and nervous when they announced a live-action version of the Disney classic.
Last night, I went to the theater for the first showing with my roommate, who is very aware of my sentimental attachment to the film. We wanted to see it without any preconceptions or other random viewers perspectives in mind.
Here is my review. Avert your eyes if you don’t want spoilers.
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My Snippet: Overall, the journey through this film was fun and filled with dazzling special effects and nostalgia for a classic. Would I watch again? Certainly. But would I ever choose this new invention over the original? Never.
Belle: Upon first viewing the trailers, I was nervous that Emma Watson brought a certain weakness to the character, even though she had always inspired strength and intelligence to me in my younger years. I was happily proven wrong. She brought all the right components to the character (except the singing, but we will get to that).
Reinvention: I completely understand that fidelity is dead – and in fact if I had walked into a play by play of the same film I probably would have walked out. The history that joined into the traditional story was great – the powdered wigs and exaggerated fashion that existed in French court was on display in a brilliant way. I love that they fleshed out Belle’s backstory and Maurice’s character. I don’t think they did enough to expand on the Beast, and I do wish they had cut one of their new songs to do so. Adding in the Enchantress as a character was also a great choice, but she was far too shallow for me – I wish she had been expanded.
The Singing: This movie was more auto-tuned than the Top40 charts. And not the kind of auto-tune you can forget about in time. Each time Belle opened her mouth to sing, she seemed to be lip syncing, because no human can make those noises with their throat. And she wasn’t the only one. In fact, there were only two singers in the whole movie who seemed truly talented: Luke Evans (Gaston) and Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe). My roommate made a great suggestion, which is that if these Disney films want to keep casting A-listers who don’t sing for a living, dub in a real singer. As much as I love Emma Thompson, she just did not hold up to Angela Lansbury vocally.
The Beast’s Solo Serenade: Okay, up until this point, I was able to deal with the changes and additions in the musical – but this was just bad. After Belle leaves to go after her father (in a ballgown without a coat?!), the Beast sings a song full of hope and love. It was sung in the tradition of Go the Distance in Hercules. And whatever belief I had suspended to dive into the film at that point disappeared, and I am almost positive I made an audible no in the theater when it began.
The Love Story: This one was more subtle, but was obviously purposeful. Many of the the moments that showed Beast’s humanity early on were given to other characters. The first, most obviously, being that he was not the one to give her a real bedroom. The library was showed to her out of spite for her literary choices, not as a gift to fuel her passion. There is no understanding after he saves her life on her part. Without these early moments, the love felt rushed, forced, and without any other reason than convenience. Both actors did well, so I believed it, but I also doubted it, and couldn’t fully feel the love there.