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Great Wide Somewhere: A Mom’s Review of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”

Let me start by saying that I am a Disneyphile. My in-laws hypothesize that I escaped from a Disney movie, because I use a sing-song voice at almost all times, and I love to sing, and I just lo-o-ove! all things. (They have a list going of what I “love” — it includes Pudge Rodriguez, cheese, and almost everything else on God’s green earth.)

Also, I absolutely LOVE the original 1991 incarnation of Beauty and the Beast. Paige O’Hara is incomparable, and I can mimic almost every inflection of every line in the movie. Gaston’s voice is beyond imitation. And while I used to think this made me weird, apparently every female within ten years of my age drooled over that library.

Let’s be honest: I really would have been fine with a live-action movie that was shot-for-shot, word-for-word identical to the animated one. But Hollywood isn’t going to do that.

Additionally, I absolutely loved the live-action Cinderella with Lily James and Richard Madden. I found every detail exquisite. The whole movie was lush and extravagant and – dare I say it? – magical.

So really, I went into the theater on Friday knowing that, with all probability, I would LOVE this movie too.

Walt Disney Pictures

Friends, it did not disappoint.

No Spoilers!

If you’re looking for spoilers, you can just hit your “back” button right now. I’m not here to ruin anything. (Someone in high school ruined The Sixth Sense for me, and I now live my life in a way to never do that to anyone else!)

The Players

Okay, a word first about vocals. Paige O’Hara, Richard White, and a lot of the original 1991 cast were Broadway performers. Those are going to be hard shoes to fill, vocally. And with an original cast including David Ogden Stiers, Jo Anne Worley, and Angela Lansbury, it seems like casting this movie would be an enormous and terrifying ordeal.

Belle

I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Emma Watson being cast as Belle, at first, despite being a GIGANTIC Harry Potter fan. Could she sing? Was she really the Belle-ish type? She’s brunette, and she’s beautiful, and really, she’s made astonishing progress as an actress since The Sorcerer’s Stone, but… did she belong in such an iconic role?

Having seen it now, I think she was delightful. Who can really live up to Paige O’Hara? Emma has a sweet, pure voice, and while it doesn’t pack as much Broadway punch, you have to hand it to her for doing her own singing.

The Beast

Dan Stevens won my heart in Downton Abbey, and I was overjoyed that he would be the new face of Prince Adam. (Okay, one spoiler: they don’t actually name him in this movie, either!) He’s such a fabulous figure of a man. Even in a LOT of makeup, or fur. And while it’s historically accurate, I’m just not a huge fan of big, powdered wigs.

Also, the man can sing. Who knew?! That lucky Mary Crawley… ahem… Back to Disney.

I’ve heard a lot of people whining about the CGI work on the Beast. As far as I’m concerned, it was remarkable for how much screen time he had. His legs could have used more work, in my opinion. His face wasn’t as beastly as it could have been, but really, in a live-action movie, I was afraid he would be SO inhuman that he wouldn’t be believable.

Walt Disney Pictures

Gaston

Girl, hold my coffee, because I have a LOT to say about Gaston. Luke Evans is one hunk of a retired French military officer. He is every bit as sleazy and narcissistic and primeval as he should be, but Lawd if he isn’t a studmuffin. The iconic red jacket is in residence, and it clings to this vision of a man, and apparently I should be one of the triplets who live in Villeneuve and make it a full-time job to drool over him. (They’re back in this one, too, but they’re brunette and bear absolutely no resemblance to Ariel.)

And the man can sing! He belts it out quite beautifully (and dances!) in the barroom spectacular, “Gaston.” He has swagger, he has heartthrob appeal, and he even has a few tiny minutes of true, unblemished humanity, which is a far cry from cartoon Gaston. (Also, apparently he’s not “covered with hair” anymore.)

Walt Disney Pictures

LeFou

This was one casting announcement that made me say, Well duh! Josh Gad was born to play LeFou. And in my opinion, he does it beautifully. He brings a depth to the character that we definitely didn’t see in the animated version, and I’m not just talking about the “depth” that has been broadcast all over social media. (As to that, it was very very subtle and I think it will fly right over my almost-6-year-old’s head when I take her to see the movie.) LeFou does seem to really be a good friend to Gaston, he helps to ground him when he gets riled up, and he even (gasp!) has a conscience.

Maurice

Kevin Kline is spectacular. He plays Maurice in a completely different way from the awfully oblivious inventor in the animated movie. Maurice has a quiet dignity and is at least aware that Gaston is nothing approaching what his daughter would look for in a husband. In addition, Maurice and his conspicuously-absent-from-the-1991-version wife are given something of a backstory.

The Beast’s Household

Okay, did anyone ever find out if the prince lived in an entirely unfurnished house before the enchantress ruined his life? And, once the spell was broken and he and Belle lived happily ever after, did they have to start out at Target to buy all new furniture? Just a thought…

In terms of the Beast’s servants in this movie, though, I felt the casting was good. Sir Ian McKellen was a good Cogsworth. Emma Thompson would have made me happy if she had just imitated Angela Lansbury, but I can understand that she wanted to make the role her own. (Mrs. Potts’s animation blew me away. So cool!) The addition of Maestro Cadenza and Madame Garderobe was a little odd, but I thought they were a nice touch for new characters. (I love me some Stanley Tucci!) I love that Plumette, the feather duster, is given a bigger part. Chip is adorable and hyperactive.

One role that I would have cast differently is Lumière. (I was dumbfounded to find out that Jerry Orbach of Law & Order fame voiced the original!!) Lumière was the only character in the original who really sounded French. Ewan McGregor made a valiant effort, but in my opinion (which is admittedly hugely influenced by French-speaking Cajun grandparents as well as a college French minor), this should have been a true French actor. Or at least someone like Jerry Orbach who (wonder of wonders!) does a great French accent. (May I present for your consideration Vincent Cassel, the Frenchman who played François Toulour in Ocean’s Twelve? He might not be interested, though, since he just played the role of the Beast in Christophe Gans’s 2014 La Belle et La Bête.) I felt McGregor’s attempt was a mere shadow of the earlier incarnation.

Song As Old As Rhyme: The Music

The fact that Alan Menken returned for this movie has really made this something special. I adore Alan Menken and all of his work, and this is a great example. I hadn’t heard any of the music prior to seeing the movie in the theater, and I couldn’t wait to get home and buy it.

“Belle,” complete with colorful and narrow-minded townspeople, is charming. “Gaston” is epic. (A highlight for me is that the line “I’m especially good at expectorating!” wasn’t cut.) “Be Our Guest” is a masterpiece. (What a hard number to top, even with today’s technology!)

Walt Disney Pictures

New songs including “Evermore” and “How Does A Moment Last Forever” and “Days In The Sun” are a delight to hear, and I can see my children singing them with me in the very near future. We hear just about everybody sing, which is a real treat.

Consensus?

My oldest turns six next month and she lives for the original animated movie. She hasn’t been to see a movie in the theater yet, and I think I will make this her first, as a birthday present. She has been ecstatic, watching the trailers with me on YouTube, and I was so worried that Disney had way overblown the LeFou subplot, which might have kept me from sharing this movie with her until she’s older. (I’m not trying to start a fight with anyone — we are raising our children in a Lutheran Christian household and I don’t feel it’s Disney’s job to initiate this “talk” with my children for me.)

Luckily, as I stated before, LeFou is subtly and beautifully played by Josh Gad. I don’t think this will raise any 6-year-old eyebrows. The Wardrobe dressed a guy in drag in the animated movie, remember? And Timon “dresses in drag and does the hula” in The Lion King. This isn’t significantly different.

The costumes are exactly something out of a fairy tale. (I was disappointed at first at how seemingly simple Belle’s golden ballgown was, but everything else was so sumptuous, it really did make it stand out. And it wasn’t as simple as I initially thought.) I love how she tucks her skirt into her belt so it won’t bother her, during the town scene. I love all the embroidery on everything. The Beast’s castle is breathtaking and complex and different from any castle I’ve ever seen in a movie. Every detail is enchanting. New embellishments on the story are delightful.

So please, RUN, don’t walk, and see this glorious movie. In the theater. Your 1991 self will be disappointed with you if you don’t.

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