Before we go any further, full disclosure: I’m a die-hard BATB fan. I’m also a Harry Potter devotee. Basically, what I’m trying to tell you is that seeing this movie bordered on a religious experience for me, and if it didn’t live up to what I had built it up to be in my mind, I’d probably still be in bed this morning. But it did live up to my hopes and dreams for a live-action remake of my favorite Disney flick, and a lot the thanks goes to a director and a star who brought the most important part of the original to the revamp: the joy.
Everyone knows the tale as old as time: a strong-minded woman falls in love with a selfish man cursed to be a beast until he can learn to love and be loved in return. What made the Disney film an instant classic — and the first animated picture nominated for a Best Picture Oscar — is the strength of the story about two outcasted people who find the understanding they needed in each other, not to mention the incomparable music from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. It’s here that the remake really shines, as not only is the story elevated and fleshed out in the remake, but the soundtrack you’ve grown up loving now has three more original songs to add to the playlist.
Emma Watson, 26, has made it clear in her countless interviews on the BATB press tour that it was important to her to make Belle a more feminist princess than ever before. It wasn’t enough that she loved to read; Emma’s Belle is thirsty for knowledge and intent on sharing what she’s learned with other women. Her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) has not just raised a curious and kind girl; he’s raised a woman who tests the limits of her poor provincial town with invention (the girl makes a damn washing machine out of a barrel!) and refuses to settle for anything less than what she deserves. Watching this expanded version of Belle and learning more about her drive to be a woman of substance was one of the highlights of the film. The Beast (Dan Stevens) and Belle don’t simply fall in love due to circumstances thrusting them together. In the film, their time together is better explored and you learn how much they really have in common, specifically their relationships with their mothers. There’s more of a feeling a genuine progression of love in this story, rather than, well, you know, Stockholm Syndrome.
Then there’s the music. The songs of Beauty and the Beast are so iconic that even when they are covered by greats like Celine Dion, 48, fans are like, “Yeah, but where’s Angela Lansbury?” I had made my peace before sitting down in front of the IMAX screen, knowing that I wasn’t going to love this soundtrack as much as I did the original. In my mind, there’s just no competing with Paige O’Hara, Jerry Orbach and the legend that is Lansbury. Deep down, that still holds true, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much I truly enjoyed the new renditions. Emma has a pleasant voice, fitting for her version of Belle; Luke Evans, 37, had me swooning during “Gaston”, and yes, I confess, I even shed a tear during Emma Thompson‘s ‘Beauty & The Beast.’ I’m glad she took the advice of her predecessor and made it her own. Also, the only real major dance number done strictly by humans in the film, which is a relief.
That being said, the standout moments for me were the new songs. Kevin Kline has a wistful, sweet interlude near the top of the film that really showcases Maurice’s love for his daughter, and there is a ensemble song sang by everyone trapped in the enchanted castle called “Days in the Sun” that pulled at every heartstring in the theater. And last, but surely not least, the Beast gets his own powerhouse ballad. Yes, powerhouse. As Belle runs from the castle to save her father, the Beast roars a lamenting tune to his love leaving him, presumably forever. Dan Stevens has a set of pipes on him. He should sing much more often.
HollywoodLifers, are you living to see this movie? Make sure you get yourself to the theater ASAP on March 17th!