As soon as I got home from seeing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ on its opening night at our local cosy, far cheaper cinema (7.20 vs the eleven pound rip off, just sayin’, Odeon), I quickly tapped all my initial thoughts into a note on my phone, reeling — no, practically shining from the inside out at having seen my childhood favourite film brought to life. I’m going to let the iPhone note do the talking, because I think it captures, for the most part, everything I was feeling in those initial moments once the credits started to roll. But, first things first…
I will preface by saying, yes, I know there are elements of Disney films that aren’t perfect. Heck, a lot of the ‘happily ever after’ versions of fairytales rely heavily on women being saved in a massively heteronormative romantic narrative. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ has its own particular question marks with the concept of Stockholm Syndrome at play and, you know, a Beast — to which, all I have to say is it’s a Disney movie, it’s magic and he’s not actually a beast. It’s not as if they do anything, anyway. Stop making it weird; it’s a kids film and there haven’t been any reports of media effects causing an increase in beastiality, so… Honestly, chill out. But, fine, I will relent that it’s not perfect. C’mon though, its original animation came out in the 90s and we can all, in recent years, see the importance of growth and development. Progression takes time. Just compare ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Moana’ and you’ll get it. Still, I would never turn a blind eye to something that is problematic, I promise and I know this film, even with its feminist twists and turns, isn’t without its faults. But let me relish in all my five-year-old self’s hopes and dreams and talk, just for a minute, about what watching this film meant to me, about how it reached through the screen and brandished its mark on my heart…
17 March 2017 at 22:54
I just got back, this very minute, from seeing ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and I have thoughts. Lots and lots of thoughts. All of them good, because my favourite Disney film, favourite film — that is every essence my childhood — has been made into a live action retelling that moved me to tears. And, remember, books and films and the like don’t generally have that deep an effect on me. Which I’m honestly kind of sad about, because crying over something that has touched you that much feels like it puts air in your lungs and a beat in your heart. It feels cathartic to feel.
Belle made me stubborn in my reading as a child and as I grew into my teenage years. I grew a thick skin and didn’t care that people judged me for reading. Especially when I started at secondary school and reading became decidedly uncool. But there was me, still managing to squeeze any bit of reading time I could between lessons and before the register was taken in tutor, morning and afternoon. Belle encapsulated my love of books and the worlds they take you to, and the line in the opening rendition of ‘Belle’, in which Belle tells the librarian he has the whole world in his shop made my heart sing. Because, yes! That’s it. That’s exactly it. I knew it made me different, I knew it made me a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’, especially with the added bonus of my glasses, which I’ve more or less ditched because of the internalised notion that they somehow make me any less pretty. (Now I just hate the idea of them hiding my sharp AF eyebrows and strong winged liner.)
But Belle was an outcast in her provincial town simply for opening a book and I think perhaps that resilience rubbed off on me. Watching this new version as an adult also made me realise just how similar Belle and I are in other ways, too; more than even our bookworm tendencies. Because she wants to escape her small town, she wants to see the world and live in the bigger picture. So much of me is filled by the city lights and getting away from where I grew up. Not because I don’t love my family and my home friends, but because there’s always been this innate feeling in me that I’m meant to be a part of something huge and so much more than my hometown, with its small minded people, can ever offer me.
That’s all I managed to get down in the note before that morning’s bout of food poisoning got to me and I relented and went to sleep. But I wanted to enhance on that, because, whilst that shows the sheer emotion that originally tied me to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Belle’s character in particular, it doesn’t entirely pinpoint where this revelation came from and why I physically cannot stop thinking about it now. I’ve never experienced such a pull to pay out over and over for cinema tickets to see the same film over and over again until now.
The whole production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was astounding. The songs were louder and more colourful, and there was this whole musical feel about it that wasn’t there in the animation. It felt like it was being carried out on stage, and that more or less got its claws into me. Of course, I’d never want to take away from the original animation, because that’s where my love for this story truly began. Equipped with a big budget, though, this live action version was really able to make a name for itself in its own right. The addition of the new songs added to those wonderful music motifs, which has always been one of my favourite features in any given musical; being able to pick out the melodies harping back to previous songs or foreshadowing those to come. The score became that much more epic and spellbinding and, with the additions of ‘Aria’, ‘How Does A Moment Last Forever’ and ‘Days In The Sun’ in particular, the songs showcased glorious tones and vocal abilities. The operatic singing of Audra McDonald was one of the real surprises and absolute highlights for me.
I also completely loved Gaston and LeFou in a way I didn’t expect. In the original they were a funny duo, but there was such a great rapport between Luke Evans and Josh Gad, especially with the inclusion of LeFou being gay, which really seems like a fact that should have always been in the story, because of course LeFou was in love with Gaston. The scene in the pub with the performance of ‘Gaston’ is actually one of my favourites, both in the way it was executed and the music itself. The interlude in which they get on the table and do some kind of folk dance was wonderful and every time I get to that part in the soundtrack I can’t help but smile.
A mention is needed for the script, which I was pleased to find kept so closely and loyal to the original. But the changes in the story that were made were such wonderful and important additions, such as the background to Belle’s family life and what happened to her mother, the fact that she is the inventor and that she makes a washing machine so she can read! The inclusion of the Beast’s background also felt really necessary, because in the animation I realised he doesn’t actually fully redeem himself. Sure, he falls in love with her and takes down the wall and stops being miserable and cruel, but we never really understood why he was that way; we just sort of took him for being an arsehole and accepted that Belle changed him. Knowing that he had legit daddy issues and that he lost his mother, sure, doesn’t make him any less of an arsehole, but it gave him depth. And also, just… Dan Stevens. We finally got the human transformation we deserved!
As well as some of the bigger script changes, I loved the small tweaks in dialogue, my favourite of course being the scene midway through the first rendition of ‘Belle’ when Belle goes to the library to fetch another book. He has a meagre set of books, which makes the library scene in the castle that much greater. But the bit I loved, the bit I can’t stop thinking about, is when the librarian asks, ‘Where did you run off to this week?’ to which Emma replies ‘Two cities in Northern Italy.’ And she leaves the library, having borrowed one she’s already read before and says, ‘You make our small corner of the world feel big.’ It just *clenches fist* completely portrays what it is to be a book lover who invests so much time in other people’s stories, travelling the globe, travelling the universe, all of them, without taking one step out the door. And as much as I will always have that original line in my head in which she basically describes how the rest of the story she is living is going to play out (‘far off places, daring sword fights, magic spells, a prince in disguise’), there is something extra special about this particular rewrite.
The live action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was beautiful. Stunningly recaptured with a brilliant set of actors, brought into this century with subtle, remarkable changes. I cried. I managed to hold it together until the end, but I cried. Because it’s so completely magical and enchanting, and because I love these character and the music so much. It’s nostalgic and inspiring and so uplifting, and I want to see it again, right now. Even with all these words in this big, waffly post, I am failing to eloquently get across how much this film meant to me. And, yeah, fine, it’s a Disney film, but so much of its magic is in me and, it would appear, so much of Belle is too.