glitter_n_gore: (emma)
[personal profile] glitter_n_gore
I finally saw it! This weekend! And that was kind of perfect because it was my mom’s birthday, and this is her very favorite Disney movie. One of the first questions I had when I found out this adaptation was happening was: Will it be a musical? The answer is a resounding YES, and I cannot express how gleefully happy this made me.


GIF of Belle and The Beast dancing.
Source.


However, because the 1991 animated feature is one of my favorite movie musicals of all time, I have a slightly different set of criteria when it comes to reviewing it. Usually my priorities fall this way:


  1. Characters.

  2. Setting / atmosphere.

  3. Plot.


In a musical though? Everything falls somewhere after one question: Can they sing?


This has all the same songs from the animated film, with a few lines changed for context and a couple of additional songs to flesh out the run time. And for the most part, this cast is incredible. Audra McDonald is a career opera singer and multiple Emmy winner, and she gets to open and close the picture. Her voice is the first one you hear in the beginning, and the last one before the credits roll. It was a fabulous choice to have her bookend the movie. Ewan McGregor gives another knock-out performance as Lumière, and steals every scene he’s in. Again, this one didn’t come as a surprise, as I’ve known he can sing since Velvet Goldmine. He was deliriously awesome and perfect. Emma Thompson sounds almost exactly like Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts, which to me is definitely a good thing.

The ones I was most curious about were Dan Stevens as The Beast, Luke Evans as Gaston, and of course Emma Watson as Belle. The former two were absolutely wonderful. Stevens even got his own brand new song towards the end, which ended up being one of my favorite numbers in this version. Evans brings just a touch of self-deprecating humor to his role, which made him a joy to watch despite how repugnant his character is. Watson, though. Goodness, I love her, but I think she should get more on-stage experience before she does a musical again. Her voice has no resonance or shape, owing probably to the fact that she’s never learned to project. She hits all the notes at the right times, but it’s very flat. I feel bad pointing that out, and I should mention it’s not a bad performance, just the least good in a stellar cast who are all outshining her by far. She’s fine, but she needs more experience.

Now, on to the rest of the movie: this is a very close adaptation of the animated feature, down to some of the shots being identical frame-for-frame. Not all of them, and the changes made address some plot holes from the previous movie (How exactly did Belle manage to carry an unconscious and wounded Beast all the way back up to the castle after the wolves attacked?). There’s more detail and explanation for stuff that we skated by on the strength of “Well it’s a kids’ movie, so who cares?” the first time around, and I appreciate that.

Everyone gets a more substantial backstory, and I mean everyone. The village bookseller seems to be the sole voice of reason in a simple, narrow-minded town. Gaston is a jerk, but he’s also clearly feeling directionless and out of place after coming home from the war. The enchantress gets a name, a secret identity, and a more substantial part to play, especially at the end. It’s really remarkable how many characters they’ve managed to make feel fleshed-out and whole in a way they just weren’t in the cartoon--not to mention they’ve clearly made an effort to include a mix of different ethnicities in almost every scene. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Plumette, who is a much bigger character here than she was in the cartoon; as is Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe.

I might as well mention the "controversy" surrounding Josh Gad as LeFou, who is some flavor of Not Straight, I guess? I actually liked LeFou a lot in this movie--he might even be my favorite character--but this interpretation is literally blink and you'll miss it. The main takeaway I got from his character is he's way too nice for Gaston, but more in the sense that he knows his best friend is a self-absorbed monster and he's constantly putting out fires behind him until he decides to do something less soul-crushing with his life. You could take the interpretation that he's gay, but the story doesn't change if you don't.

Visually, the aesthetic leans hard on the opulent foppishness of the French aristocracy, which both grounds it in a real-world time period and makes it distinct from the 1991 film. There’s the over-the-top spectacle of the “Be Our Guest” number, of course, but also the frozen rose garden, the labyrinthine towers at the top of the castle, and the crumbling, dusty ruins that fracture and grow every time one of the enchanted rose petals falls. It is meticulously detailed and gorgeous in this heightened fairy tale reality that almost feels out of place in a live action movie . . . but not quite.

Overall, there’s not much new here, so don’t expect a reinvention of the story you already know. That could be either a good or bad thing depending on how you feel about the few changes they did make. For my part, I thought it was extremely well-done, and probably the best we could have expected. I will definitely be buying this soundtrack.
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