A few days ago I re-watched the animated Beauty and the Beast, and now I’ve seen the new movie twice, as well as listened to the soundtrack an embarrassing number of times. My last post was my spoiler-free first impressions after seeing the movie at an early screening. Now that it’s out, this review is basically a spoiler-filled feelings dump. So if you haven’t seen the movie yet and you care about spoilers, turn back now. I’m not really sure how to organize this, so I’m just going to list stuff and talk about it.
The story is just like the animated version, but more fleshed out. I loved how they showed the Prince and the castle staff as humans first, before the curse. I loved how they added more to the Prince’s back story, since I always thought that the Enchantress seemed harsh in the animated version for punishing a boy, whose parents didn’t seem to be around, for being wary of a stranger. I loved how they added a part from the book where Belle asks Maurice for a rose before he leaves, and that’s what gets him into trouble with the Beast. I love how the Montmartre scene adds so much to the development of Belle and the Beast’s relationship.
The new songs, and even the changed lyrics in the original songs, give the story more depth. I was worried that any change to the songs would feel like sacrilege, but I love every change. Like I said, I’ve played the soundtrack an embarrassing number of times, and if anything the songs are more fun than before. I don’t think I appreciated The Mob Song at all until this version. All of the new songs are just as good as the others. I especially love “Evermore.”
In spite of how much I love her as Hermione, I tried to somewhat contain my expectations for Emma Watson as Belle. I was sure she would be good, but I love the original Belle so much that I wasn’t sure who if anyone could be amazing. Emma was amazing. She embodied the spirit of Belle so well that I don’t think I thought about Hermione once during the entire movie. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and Emma has always been directly associated with Hermione in my mind until now, so that’s a compliment to her success at becoming Belle. I loved how they added Belle inventing a washing machine and teaching a girl to read, since it gave the townspeople more reasons to distrust her. The backstory about how she lost her mother also added dimension to her character and to her relationship with her father.
Dan Stevens was fantastic. His performance was excellent and his singing was beautiful and heartfelt. It’s so weird to think that he did all of his acting either on stilts in a huge motion capture suit or inside a box with his face sprayed with dots with a bunch of cameras surrounding his head. While technology still can’t make a CGI face look 100% real, the Beast’s face is as close as I’ve ever seen it. Sometimes it was a tiny bit distracting, but overall it didn’t bother me.
I found Gaston pretty flat in the animated version. He’s a jerk who beats up his sidekick, expects everyone to think he’s the best, and goes crazy when he gets rejected. The live action Gaston has more depth. The town loves him because he’s a war hero. He has a legitimate claim to praise to some extent. Instead of beating up his sidekick, he does something more sinister and interesting: he manipulates him. Gaston’s manipulative behavior and darker character is something that grows over the course of the movie and is shown both in his actions and in lyrics that weren’t in the original. “Gaston” hints at his willingness to shoot from behind, which later pays off when he shoots the Beast from behind, and “The Mob Song” has a new verse about how he knows he can get the villagers to do whatever he says. The new version also shows that Gaston is capable of the murder of other human beings (leaving Maurice for the wolves), not just monsters whose humanity he could deny.
As in the original, LeFou starts off blindly following Gaston, but that’s the only thing that Josh Gad’s version has in common with the cartoon. In the new movie, LeFou is basically a different character. The animated LeFou was an evil dimwit who was frequently the object of violence-based humor. He was drawn so that his appearance was as unappealing as his character. But with Josh Gad’s kind eyes, sweet voice, and palpable likability, LeFou is immediately sympathetic. From the beginning of the movie there are hints that he is much less simple than his animated counterpart. He insults Gaston without him noticing. (“She’s so well read and you’re so…athletically inclined.”) There are hints that he’s more articulate and discerning than Gaston. Even before Gaston’s true darkness comes out, when LeFou still idolizes him, he still questions certain things Gaston says. (“Then I shoot from behind.” “Is that fair?”)
LeFou reveres Gaston and is infatuated with him. He has at least one good reason to see him as a hero, since he saved their village from marauders. When Gaston’s dark side starts to show, LeFou is slow to abandon his loyalty to him because he’s his best friend, he has romantic feelings for him, and he remembers the good things he’s done. Of everyone in the town, LeFou has the most reasons to want to think the best of Gaston, yet he’s the only one (except for Père Robert, the guy with the books) who questions his actions. When LeFou begins to question, Gaston’s manipulative side comes out. He uses LeFou’s feelings for him to get him to lie for him when Maurice tells everyone that Gaston left him to the wolves. While the rest of the townspeople (again, except for Robert) are swayed by Gaston’s fear mongering and follow him to kill the Beast, LeFou admits that the real monster is Gaston. LeFou’s name turns out to be ironic because he’s one of the least foolish people in the town.
Which version is better:
I mentioned in my last post that I was pretty sure I like the live action version better than the animated one. This might sound blasphemous to some, but I can now confirm that I definitely like it more. It’s everything I loved about the original, but deeper and more beautiful. It also eliminated my least favorite element of the original, which is the overuse of slapstick and violence-based humor. I also love live action musicals more than any other genre, so a live action Beauty and the Beast is a dream come true for me.