If you don’t read this intro like a group of provincial townspeople then you aren’t the target audience for the newest adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast (1991) is an all-time classic. Who can forget the saucy French maid/duster, Belle’s eccentric father, Gaston’s raw egg-eating ways and Mrs. Pott’s beautiful warble when she sings “tale as old as time.” There is so much to love. The newer version adds its own flavor to the story. While it was lovely to look at old friends in a different light, there are some problems that need to be addressed. Here’s a rundown of what worked well and what didn’t.
Belle’s Backstory: Upgrade
The newer adaptation takes a small detour to address what happened to Belle’s mother. Initially, the time spent dwelling on her backstory seemed unnecessary. Now, Belle has a magical map that will let her travel anywhere in the world. Once she is able to picture in her “mind’s eye” where she would like to escape, she we be transported there instantly. The magic map was a “wait, what?” moment, but the ends justified the means. For Belle, the map provides the answers to the question her father has failed to answer, what happened to her mother? The map also seemed like a call back to Emma Watson’s Harry Potter days with Marauder’s Map. If the Beast dragged out an invisibility cloak I was prepared to riot.
The Songs: Downgrade
In 2013, the Internet became obsessed with the “botched Jesus fresco.” An 81-year old artist attempted to “freshen up” her old church’s depiction of Christ. The results were catastrophically poor. The original was natural, worn and well-loved. The new iteration was pudgy and smudged. Josh Groban’s “Evermore” is the blurry Jesus of the Beauty and the Beast fresco.
With all due respect to Groban, he is hilariously perfect on Twitter, but “Evermore” is off. The song narrates the Beast’s thoughts and feelings. The lyrics are literal. As he watches Belle runaway to her father, he sings “Even as she fades from view/She will still inspire me/Be a part of everything I do.” At the theater, I actually winced at the mention of the word “love” in the song. Like comedians using curse words as a crutch in their act, leaning on the word “love” to give your love song meaning is cheap. “Evermore” is disappointing for that reason. There’s something there that wasn’t there before. That something is telling the audience what they should feel and not let them figure it out on their own.
Gaston: Lateral Move
In the adaptation, Gaston has leveled up his evil villain game. Instead of being just burly and dull-witted, he is now legitimately evil. Gaston has upped the stakes of the Disney game. He is no longer just an obstacle to overcome but is now an actual threat. The intentional change tells us about where the writers were attempting to steer their ship. The 2017 version is determined to give the characters more depth, both literally and figuratively. Even though Gaston has more clear motivation, he still is the worst. I forgot how much I enjoy the three nitwits who constantly fawn over his crossfit-like lifestyle.
-I don’t understand the tucked in skirt look. I know her pantaloons were cute and all, but why highlight them so much?
-The “controversial relationship” was about five seconds of screen time. I was more concerned with Belle falling in love with a beast and her pantaloons showing all the time.
-”Be our guest” was equal parts stupendously impressive and somewhat disappointing. The song was almost completely CGI. I wanted to see some Cirque du Soleil type of a situation.
-The castle is made up almost entirely of stairs.
-Yes, Angela Lansbury is still alive.