Friday, March 24, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

Last night, I finally went to see the new live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. I've heard mostly good things, though many of my friends complained that Emma Watson is clearly not a singer, and since most of my friends are singers, it's not too surprising that they were hoping for better singing from the lead. While I agree that Emma's voice was thin and over-produced, I was expecting it to sound much worse than it did based on the descriptions.

No, this wasn't top-quality singing, nor was it Hugh Jackman butchering "Bring Him Home." Other than that, Emma was perfectly cast as Belle and played the character perfectly. While I know the trend now in Hollywood is that we want our lead actors to do their own singing, I would have been fine if they had gone back to the old way of doing things - casting a big name in the lead role and having a professional singer provide vocals.

Perhaps by having an actual singer in the lead role or at least on the lead vocals would have counteracted my complaint about the film: I would have liked more music, especially from the lead and drawing from the great music from the Broadway version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. In fact, the movie annoyingly teased me with the melody to one of my favorite songs from the Broadway version, which Belle sings to the Beast after she agrees to take her father's place:

They actually used this melody a couple times in the movie. So disappointing when it never went anywhere, because it so easily could have been sung when Belle first enters her new bedroom (the first time the theme was played).

The casting in general was perfect, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good Luke Evan's vocals as Gaston were. I would love to see more musicals with him. Audra McDonald is a freaking gift to humanity and I wished she'd had a little more singing. Josh Gad was perfect as LeFou, and the additional element they added to his character (a gay man with a raging crush on Gaston) really just expanded a subtext that was, in my opinion, already there in the animated version; in fact, I loved the characterization of LeFou, his discomfort with Gaston's cruelty, and his opportunity at redemption that in general made him a much more relatable character. Dan Stephens was great as the Beast, but I have to admit, overshadowed by the amazing actors surrounding him.

The movie also changed the prologue just enough to make it much more acceptable. In the animated version, the Prince is only a child when the Enchantress visits him and tries to exchange a flower for a night's stay. We know he has to be young because the flower blooms until his 21st birthday. Can you really blame an orphaned child for not wanting a flower or to have some strange woman stay the night in his place? The curse seems unbelievably cruel. In this version, he is either a teenager or adult, and he has a reputation for being shallow. His house is full of (only beautiful) people when the Enchantress asks for a night's stay, and he responds to her with laughter and derision. The curse is still pretty cruel, but far more acceptable in this scenario.

I also liked that they included the detail that the villagers' memories of the Prince and his castle were wiped as part of the spell, which makes a lot more sense than, "Oh yeah, we have a Prince overseeing us somewhere but haven't seen him. And wait, there's a castle over there with a beast in it? No, that's where the mystery Prince's castle is. You know, the one no one visits and we haven't really thought about for years?"

The visuals of the movie are absolutely stunning. The staging kept the fun of the animated movie while bringing something new. And even though I knew exactly how it was going to turn out, I still cried - seriously, Emma Watson is an amazing actress and brought a lot to the character. I know as a singer I should be more disappointed with her singing, but her acting and characterization made it a non-issue for me. Not to mention, for anyone who saw and loved La La Land, you should know that we have Beauty and the Beast to thank for having Emma Stone in the lead role, as Watson was originally offered the role but turned it down because of her commitments with Beauty and the Beast.

So readers, have you seen the movie? What were your thoughts?

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