After a long month of delays and “life happening”, I was FINALLY able to go see Beauty and the Beast in the theater and see what all the hype and fuss is about. The short answer is: I liked it!! The long answer…well, keep reading, because I have some thoughts about all of this.
First I will start with what I liked.
The casting: Disney nailed the casting in my opinion, especially with Belle, Maurice, Gaston and Beast. Luke Evans in particular was very believable as the egomaniacal and downright despicable Gaston, though his singing style caught me by surprise (more on that in a minute). I really liked Josh Gad as Le Fou too. And while I initially wasn’t too sure about Le Fou being the first gay character in Disney canon, once I saw it, I realized that it worked super well and it isn’t “in your face” at all! And Gaston is so oblivious to it all that it is really quite funny.
An expanded story: I absolutely loved that Disney filled in some gaps in the story with this version. Showing the Beast’s transformation (including what came immediately before) was well done, as it gave a good idea of what life in the castle was like before the Enchantress came. And speaking of, I liked that we see more of the Enchantress beyond the prologue. Of course in the animated film we don’t get to “see” the Enchantress at all, we only see her depicted in the stained glass pictures. But when “Agathe” rescued Maurice and took him to her home in the woods, I knew instantly that this had to be the Enchantress in disguise, because witches and other magical types would be living in the woods with owls and other magical things, and the only witch in this story is the Enchantress.
But most of all, I really love that we finally got a backstory for Belle as to where she came from and why she and her father had to come to “this poor provincial town” in the first place. In this version, Maurice used to be a painter living in Paris with his wife and newborn daughter, when his wife contracted the plague, forcing Maurice to flee with his daughter so they didn’t all die.
Another added twist (that actually comes from the Broadway play) that I liked is that every time a rose petal falls, the castle crumbles a little more and the enchanted servants become ever more object-like. And I have to say that the scene where our enchanted friends momentarily become regular objects made me cry, because for a moment I thought they were going to give us an unhappy ending.
Homage to the past: As I suspected, this film pays homage to Cocteau’s 1946 version of the Beauty and the Beast story, primarily with Maurice’s initial encounter with the castle, and also somewhat in the look of the castle too. For example, those lights out front that are held by stone arms? That image comes straight from the 1946 film. The rose pavilion out front with statues of the deer and hounds on top? That too is copied almost exactly from the film. In fact, the entire arrangement of Maurice being allowed to come in and help himself to food and shelter, only being attacked when he dares to take a rose, is the exact set-up seen in the 1946 film.
The music: Of course I’m going to be all over this music, the original Beauty and the Beast soundtrack is one of my favorite film soundtracks ever, and I was happy to hear the music I loved largely unchanged. And the new songs were all beautiful, nothing felt out of place. I do have one gripe however; when Belle goes to the West Wing, the iconic “West Wing theme” is missing. I was really disappointed as that is one of my favorite musical cues from the animated film.
Now for what I didn’t like:
The fight between Gaston and the Beast: maybe I’m nitpicking, but the entire scene with Gaston, the Beast and Belle at the end of the film didn’t carry nearly the same emotional weight as the original did. I’m not sure why that is, but Gaston’s death didn’t feel nearly as satisfying, nor did his fatal attack on the Beast. For that last part, I think that had something to do with the fact that it was more shocking for the Beast to be stabbed in the side than to be shot in the back at a distance. Also, Gaston standing on the crumbling rampart felt something like an afterthought. Truthfully, when I saw that we were seeing more of the Enchantress, I was secretly hoping that she was going to punish Gaston by cursing HIM instead. Or, barring that, I was curious to see if Disney would use the original plan for Gaston’s death, which involved him being stalked and killed by wolves.
How Gaston gets Maurice locked up, and Belle’s attempted rescue: In the animated original, Maurice really does come across (a little bit) as an insane person raving about a Beast taking his daughter. But in THIS version, Gaston tries to have Maurice killed by tying him up and leaving him in the woods, thinking the wolves will get him. When Maurice makes it back to town almost a week later, he tells the townspeople exactly what happened and they are all suspicious of Gaston (and rightfully so). But simply because Gaston says it didn’t happen, the townspeople just take his word for it? I know everyone is supposed to hang on every word Gaston says, but this really is pushing it. And then there’s when Belle comes racing in, still in her ball gown, to rescue her father. You would think everyone would take one look at the sumptuous clothes she’s dressed in and realize, “Oh my gosh, I don’t understand how, but she’s telling the truth!” Nope! Belle gets thrown in the padded wagon too.
But these are really only minor nitpicks for me. While I do admit that I still like the animated film better, I can also say that this Beauty and the Beast was a well-done adaptation.
Le Fou switching sides during the fight in the castle was just epic, as was Mrs. Potts comment “You’re too good for him (Gaston)”
The transformation scene was just wonderful/amazing/spectacular. And I loved the shot where the castle is restored to its former glory.
Once again, I did enjoy Beauty and the Beast, it is a good film, if not quite the equal of the animated original.
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