I can’t remember the last time I have been this nervous for a movie. The 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast is easily in my top 5 films of all time. The thought of it being remade almost made me want to vomit. There are some things you don’t touch.
When it was first announced with Bill Condon directing, I got even more nervous. Condon has made some great projects but he’s also made some horrendous ones- hardly a stellar track record. Then when it was announced it was going to be a musical and Alan Menken was on board to completely rework his magical score (the best he’s ever done IMO), I got so excited. Then they announced Emma Watson- ugh. Then they announced an incredible support cast- Yay! The range of emotions this journey has given….
So the film premiered last night and I anxiously sat, like so many, in a dark movie theater…
And it was magic.
Sure, the film doesn’t hold a candle to the original, but should it? They tried to put their own stamp on the story- and while some of it really didn’t work, the overall outcome is pure Disney magic.
Let’s start with what worked on this film. A lot of money was put into the production and you can clearly tell. The production design is a clear early front runner for the Oscar. Some of the sets are absolutely stunning in their detail, grandeur, and scale. The costume Design and the cinematography were both exquisite.
Alan Menken continues to prove that he is an American treasure. His scores are the soundtrack to my childhood and nobody writes a melody quite like him. He’s contributed 4 new songs to this version of Beauty and the Beast and even though they are nowhere near comparable to the rest of the original score, they still fit well within the film (although, so would many of the songs written for the Broadway show- which are far superior, but I digress.) If there’s only one reason to see this version of Beauty and the Beast, it’s to hear Menken’s brilliant score performed by a huge orchestra – it brought me to tears on more than one occasion.
One of the biggest issues I had with the film is how much Condon wanted to stick with the original vs how much he wanted to make this it’s own entity. As soon as you say we’re using Menken’s score again to make a live action Beauty and the Beast, you’re in a sense basically replicating the original Oscar-winning classic. However, transferring a film from animation to live-action provides a series of difficulties that Condon didn’t quite come to terms with.
Many of the issues lie with the script of this film. They felt the need to open up the story a bit to expand it to a 2-hour film rather than a 90-minute animated movie. In doing so, they begin to run off on tangents stories that don’t help the main plot or answer questions from the movie that I never even thought to ask! For instance, “What happened to Belle’s mother?” I’m not sure I ever thought about that – or cared. Having been given an answer in this film, I’m still not sure I care or why that answer helped to further the main storyline. It’s bound to happen when expanding any animated film into live-action, but I would much rather see a shorter, tighter movie that’s still magical, rather than going on all these random tangents.
Now let’s address the issue of the casting. I’ve never been an Emma Watson fan (except her as a human being- she’s such an inspiring feminist!) But Emma Watson (the actress) leaves much to be desired. I was worried earlier this week when I first heard the soundtrack and how overproduced and auto tuned Emma sounded. Luckily, this doesn’t come across in the final mix of the film and most of it is hidden by the lush orchestrations. The same thing goes for a lot of the actors in this film. Singing is not their strong suit. However, Condon embraces a lot of these incredible actor’s gifts and uses them to his advantage. When you have Audra McDonald in your musical, you better expand her role and let her sing lead in the finale!!
I could sit here and nit-pick a lot of the things that didn’t work in this film (there are many), but it’s pointless because the film is still filled with Disney magic. Disney, like no other company, has the ability to make even the most cynical humans feel like a child again. There’s no denying that 2017’s Beauty and the Beast doesn’t accomplish the same magical quality that the classic 1991 version did. The former, however, is well regarded as an animated masterpiece and it’d be hard for any movie to live up to those expectations. But who cares when, in 2017, this movie still makes you laugh, cry, and reminds you of the joy of Childhood?! You never forget that magic.
Awards Prospects: Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Original Song, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects