Be Our Guest

So, I finally saw a movie opening weekend! And I have so many thoughts!

This Sunday, with a new friend, I saw my first movie in my new home. And of course it's Beauty and the Beast. It's been about twenty-four hours since the credits rolled so I'm ready to assess.

First, I love the original animated film and there is no way I can be impartial here. Second, hell is other people. This is the first time in maybe years that I've been in a super-crowded theater opening weekend. The place was packed. I don't know if it's because there were a lot of bored parents in the audience or people in Rhode Island do not know basic movie-going etiquette or if theater manners are just really that bad everywhere, but the crowd was terrible. At least a dozen people were constantly on their phones. These people were also incapable of dimming their phones. What were they doing? Okay, answering ASAP text messages, sure. But taking selfies and playing games and browsing Facebook? Come on! You paid so much money for this! So, trying to ignore that cunt a row over who decided the middle of the ballroom scene was the best time to pop out her phone and check the 'People You May Know' section of FB (this literally happened) as I write this.

Let's get the basics out of the way: Cinderella is a better movie than Beauty and the Beast (the latest iteration of live ones, anyway). Cinderella embraced the heart and themes of the original but not the imagery. It had the bravery to be its own thing, fancy blue dress aside. Beauty and the Beast went a very different direction, embracing its own iconography. Every scene was an homage or recreation of the animated classic. This made any deviations from the original jarring (e.g., new verses in "Gaston") while also tying the film down to the limitations of the original.

But I really did like this movie.

Would BatB have been more successful if it had eschewed the songs, like the aforementioned film did? Eh, maybe, but I enjoyed the songs. That being said, the pains they took to recreate the original musical bits was obvious. Most galling were "Belle" and "Be Our Guest." Guys, you have real people and it's twenty years later. Think outside the box! There don't have to be fireworks and awkward dancing silverware!

Most of the new songs were unnecessary filler, though the Beat's solo after Belle returns to her father was honestly a revelation for me, someone who has seen the original animated version a dozen times. I always thought everyone understood Belle would be going to see her dad, make sure he was okay, then return to her new BF. Maybe I just knew the ending too well to see anything else? But this version, especially his song, really made me understand the sacrifice the Beast is making by letting her return to Maurice. It was an effective, lovely song and nice to see the movie do something new. That being said, I've never seen the stage production, so maybe they pulled it from there. Whatever works!

That's the music. What about the changes to the plot? First, that enchanted map thing was just dumb and unnecessary. No offense to the talented people in the props department. I just know that the scene where they go to Paris will be the one I skip when I have it on Blu Ray. Side note: don't got to Paris and rub it in that most of the cast randomly has a British accent instead of French. And while no one cares about the two leads' parents (except to answer those pesky Beast age questions), I did appreciate Mrs. Potts' explanation of how the people of the castle were complicit, allowing the abuse of this little, innocent boy so they could keep having fun. While making the whole curse more understandable, this story also went a long way to humanizing the Beast and transitioning to the next section of the film where the two fall in love.

Other changes I did not love - that time Gaston basically leaves Maurice to die. How was that going to get him Belle? Making him a war hero though, good call. Other random thoughts - the wolves were really inconsistent on who they wanted to attack and when. Be evil or note, wolves! Also, were they part of the curse? Or was the castle just in a really shitty part of town? Similarly, how did Maurice get back to the village after Belle takes his place? In the animated version, there's a special magical carriage that whisks him away but the film makes no mention, yet Phillipe is available for Belle later, when she tries to escape. Did he walk and leave his horse for his daughter's escape? Or is the film assuming we've also seen that magic carriage in the original? I think if I didn't know the original, I might not have minded, but I kept waiting for that scene from the animated version. Also, there seems to be more magic in general. See above comments about the map. And what was that with the yellow dress and sparkly bedroom hanging things? Another random complaint - Belle was way too excited and directional when she went to the West Wing. Slow down, explore, maybe try to be quiet. And finally, the CGI. I read a review ahead of the viewing that basically said, wow, that CGI was bad and distracting. And you know what, I didn't mind it. It never stuck out as especially terrible. It never distracted me from the story itself. I do wonder what the Beast would have looked like if the creators weren't so limited by the cartoon version of the Beast. But hey, I'll take it. 

Overall, I was surprised by how quickly everything happens. Belle and Beast basically fall in love in one song. While the library scene lost some of its romantic grandeur with this film's plotting, I like the character changes in the Beast in this scene. Instead of an illiterate savage (Belle teaches him to read in a deleted scene of the animated version), he's this well-bred snob, which makes way more sense; he was a prince, after all. I liked seeing him quote Shakespeare and make jokes in the library. And Belle's pure glee at the library was infectious. Some of it is in Greek!

I also loved the ending, not-so-gay controversy and momentary nod to bestiality aside. I thought it was very smart to have the forgetting part of the spell and have loved ones reunite afterwards. In addition to answering very serious questions about the basics of the curse, it also gave more weight to the curse and the struggles of everyone in the castle. The ending dance was just so romantic and lovely and I would absolutely watch a sequel. Disney, you've got me.

Finally, let's chat about the cast.

Emma Watson as Belle. She really looked like Belle but will always be Hermione to me. She seemed young next to Stephens, especially when he was in human form. Maybe in part because of that, she was most effective with the Beast himself, in buffalo form. I especially was fond of the quiet moment outdoors, when they reflect on being lonely. Her singing was fine but she's certainly no Audra McDonald.

Dan Stevens as Beast. Okay, A plus. I think reviews have been mixed but I really enjoyed him. I thought he was great as the Beast, bringing a gentleness and pride to him, growl auto-tuning aside. And when he becomes human? I don't think there's anyone who fit the Jesus character at the end of the animated film better. Which seems to be what the filmmakers were going with. Good job, basically.

Luke Evans as Gaston. Sure! His singing and swagger were good but he definitely had this vulnerability masked by false bravado that fit the character. Plus he looked just like him, which was obviously very important to the casting folks.

Josh Gad as LaFou. Ah, the gay controversy that wasn't. I think he's really gifted musically and was especially effective in "Gaston" and during the big fight at the castle.  I did appreciate he was given a character arc. Good job, LaFou! Anyone from the Book of Mormon OBC is going to get a pass from me.

Maurice. Kevin Kline should be in more things, in general, though the changes to his character were the least interesting.

The Objects. I liked the look of them and really enjoyed how they become less human over time. It raised the stakes of the curse, made it more than just getting stuck in this castle forever. How about stuck and inanimate! As for the actors, Ewan McGregor was fine as the candlestick but, while watching it, I totally forgot who was voicing him, and I spent most of the time trying to figure out who it was. Cogsworth, played by Ian McKellen, was fantastic, as clock or human. The friendship between those two guys might be one of the better ones in the Disney Renaissance phase. Let's see, it was nice to see the feather duster have more to do. Mrs. Potts and Stanley Tucci were excellent, as expected. And Audra McDonald was perfection and didn't have enough to do. However, the wardrobe mouth was disturbing. Right? I get they wanted it to look like a stage but instead it just looked... cavernous.

Overall, the film wasn't perfect and maybe you need the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia to have a fun time at the theater. It will be interesting to see the animated version after this. Maybe it's just a blind cash grab from Disney. But you know what, to have fun and forget about the outside world for two hours? Here, take my money.

I can't wait to see it again, preferably in the comfort of my own home, without assholes who don't know how to dim their phone.