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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty and the Beast live action movie soundtrack: a review

With the recent release of Beauty and the Beast live action movie, I've been reading several reviews that compare this version of the story with that of the original 1991 animated film that has enchanted millions around the world.  While I haven't seen the film yet, I'm troubled by how much these reviews focus on making comparisons instead of examining this film on its own merits.

Recently, Disney sent me a sample of the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack and I'm going to try to avoid making such comparisons as I review the soundtrack.  Having not seen the film yet, this review will focus exclusively on the music and vocal performances.

First, let me say that the music overall stays very close to the original score, and does justice to the original.  This should be no surprise as Alan Menkin, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice created the music and lyrics of this version.  To Disney and Beauty and the Beast fans, these names should be very familiar.  Menken and Ashman created the music and lyrics for the original 1991 film.  Rice joined the duo when the musical version of Beauty and the Beast first premiered on Broadway in 1994.  Suffice it to say, this new soundtrack truly sounds like Beauty and the Beast and evokes the same feelings using traditional and very memorable melodies.

However, if you're thinking this new version of Beauty and the Beast is just a remake of the original including some elements from the musical, you'd be incorrect.  Menkin and Rice teamed up to create several new songs for this film, including "Days in the Sun," a reflective and dreamy song that reveals the wishes of the enchanted characters in Beast's Castle.  This song, in some ways,  replaces "Human Again" that was cut from the animated version, but revived for the musical.   "Evermore," is a strong and powerful new song performed by Dan Stevens that showcases the depth of the Beast's despair and remorse at his past deeds, and, at the same time, his love for Belle and the transformation that she has brought about within him.  Josh Groban performs the same song with equal splendor.  "How Does a Moment Last Forever," is a song with several renditions, performed by Kevin Kline (Maurice), Watson, and Celine Dion (during the credits).  These new songs fit in right alongside the classic melodies and are welcome additions to the Beauty and the Beast canon.

Beauty and the Beast includes a star-studded and singing cast.  Emma Watson delivers a charming, while reserved, performance as Belle.  Let me be the first to say that Emma Watson is no Paige O'Hara (the original voice of Belle) and she shouldn't be.  This isn't Paige O'Hara's Belle.  This is Emma Watson's Belle.  This Belle is bit more reserved and Watson's singing reflects this character trait.  Her voice is dainty, yet forceful when it needs to be, especially during the reprise of "Belle."  Listeners (and viewers for that matter) have to get past the notion of "Hermoine Granger playing Belle."  This isn't Hermoine in any way, shape, or form.  This is Belle and nothing more.  Watson's Belle gives the character a new vision that pays proper respect and homage to the original, while being unique in it's own right.

Gaston, played by Luke Evans, is a different character.  This is not the baritone, brash, brawny (and few brain cells) character originally played by Richard White.  Evans performs Gaston in a somewhat higher octave.  Fans may long for the traditional deep tones, however, like Watson, Evans breathes new life into the character of Gaston.  This Gaston actually has some brainpower, though it comes with additional cruelty.  In some ways, Evans has found the true nature of Gaston -- the person who is so self-centered that he will do anything to get what he wants, no matter what.

Lumiere, voiced by Ewan McGregor, is a wonderfully unique performance.  No one could do Lumiere like the late Jerry Orbach, so McGregor doesn't even try.  His rendition of the famous French candlestick is fun, enjoyable, familiar, yet unique.  Teamed up with Emma Thompson, playing Mrs Potts, "Be Our Guest" is a grand production number that is fantastic, toe-tapping and great entertainment.

Speaking of Mrs. Potts, Emma Thompson also puts her own mark on the character.  Mrs. Potts is very English (yes, we're in France, but it works well), and she does a masterful job of portraying a servant in a French castle.  Thompson's performance of the iconic "Beauty and the Beast" is charming, simple and classic. 

The one character that I feel most fans could have the hardest time with is that of LeFou, played by Josh Gad, especially when listening to the soundtrack.  The reason is that Gad created such an incredibly memorable and unique voice for Olaf from Frozen, that some may get stuck on the mental image of Olaf as LeFou.  Gad's voice for LeFou is similar to that of Olaf, so it's understandable that some may connect Olaf to LeFou.  Put it aside.  This is a fun LeFou, again different, but no less enjoyable, especially during "Gaston."

The weakest moment of the soundtrack comes not during any of the songs included in the movie itself, but during the credits.  Ariana Grande and John Legend sing a duo of the signature song "Beauty and the Beast."  Legend gives a fair performance, but just can't overcome the disappointment that is Ariana Grande.  "Beauty and the Beast" is a Broadway-style song.  It is not pop music, yet Legend and Grande attempt to "popify" the song.  It just doesn't work and feels forced and false.  Frankly, I thought the same thing of Demi Lovato's performance of "Let It Go" from Frozen.  I suspect this is an effort to get the song on the pop charts, so whatever.

The 2017 live version of Beauty and the Beast is a welcome addition to the Beauty and the Beast franchise.  This version stands on it's own, blending original content with traditional music. 


Anonymous said...

Just a slight correction.. Howard Ashman didn't help write the new songs as he died in 1991. He was dying of Aids while writing the music for the original.

DisneyDaddy said...

Quite correct! I've updated the post.

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