The world needed Beauty and the Beast. I'm certain of it.
Yesterday a coffee barista asked me out of the blue if I had seen it yet. I gave her a 15 second review. She gave me my coffee for free. Walking the halls at the hospital I stumbled past 3 conversations going on about it. "Have you seen it yet?" "YES!!" "Me too! What did you think?!?" From young and old, male and female, everyone has been touched by the original story, and now this film as sparked something new.
This was not a film for just "Disney fanatics." This was nothing short of a gift. A breath of fresh air. A respite. And the world agrees. It was beautiful, thoughtful, and intentional. And it was all because of the hero, who probably isn't who you think it was. Was it perfect? No. But that plays into my point even more. We'll get to that later.
My family has been a long time admirer of just about everything Disney has had their hand in (except maybe Good Dinosaur). But for some reason, Beauty and the Beast touched our souls. You know, the deep, deep part. Deep.
My brother and I grew up watching the animated classic. We listened to the cassette tape in the car over and over (thank you Alan Menken for shaping my childhood in so many ways). My mom and I started seeing Beauty and the Beast on Broadway in New York followed by every time it came into town (around a dozen times now???) where I got my favorite coffee mug to take to work. The only phone case I've had for the past 2 years has been the famous animated stained glass picture of Belle and the Prince dancing. Performing as Belle in the headlining song "Belle" at a church event was one of the best 5 minutes and 17 seconds of my life. (And plenty of fodder for later Gaston jokes..."I know!!!") Just a few notes of the opening song can make my heart jump into my throat and my eyes burn with the glint of tears. And Beast's song in the musical? Oh heaven help me.
This story is in. my. soul.
So the announcement comes out that the power house Disney is going to tackle Beauty and the Beast as a live film. And I'll admit it. I was nervous. So we wait. And wait. Like a young child for Christmas, we wait.
The trailer arrives. It nearly breaks the internet and is the most watched trailer to date. Tears. Everywhere tears. Yet. We still wait.
We bought tickets for mom's birthday 12 days before the release. And more waiting.
Now something happens a week before the theatrical release. I won't get into the details or even how I feel about some of the things that were said because if you're still reading this, you likely already know, but echoing the brainless townspeople in the film came the cries of our culture, "Kill the Beast!!!" Talks of boycotts and nasty reviews sprang out! (By people who had not seen the movie and were basing their reviews off of...a trailer?? what they had heard through....other reviews???) Jeepers.
The day finally comes. I get dressed in my "Unleash the Beast" t-shirt dress and a Lumiere embroidered long jean jacket, finishing it all off with a red felt rose in my hair. Because after all, this is a monumental event for someone who knows every drop of music from both the animation and the musical. One must look the part.
I anxiously and expectantly sat in the theater for the opening notes of the film to start, wondering, "will this tank? are the awful things about it's shallowness going to be true??" But, I kept my mind open to thinking for myself. (gasp!!!)
Now to the down and dirty. Did I love Emma Watson? No. She was visually beautiful as Belle, but she seemed somewhat timid and flat. I prefer the strong Belle from the animation and even more so the stronger Belle from the musical. Dan Stevens? Wonderful. Magneto as Cogsworth? Perfect. Gaston? Magnificantly evil. A true villian. Not just a good-looking dope that wants a pretty wife. This guy was bad. LeFou - I absolutely adore Josh Gad and will never say anything but praises about his performances. A nice fresh spin on LeFou. A sidekick that thinks for himself. A new kind of funny in unexpected places. Well done. I only wish there were about 5-10 more minutes of the film. It felt a bit rushed like they were pressed for time in spots. And truthfully, with as much ground as they covered, they were pressed for time. Sitting for just a couple of more minutes in the dungeon with Maurice and Belle would have served us a much bigger picture of the sacrifice being made. But even in the light of my criticism, I was mesmerized. And backstory y'all. We get backstory. Praise the heavens!
So. Something wonderful and rare happened. The audience got a beautiful mix of the animated classic, animated spin offs (the addition of Cadenza), the broadway musical, the original fairytale (Belle asking for a rose from her father who finds it in the garden of the Beast), and somethings new. They kept all our favorite dialogue and lyrics from the animation but added some beautiful elements to new songs and a fresh take of the dialogue. They inserted some choreography, staging, and directing that was original to the musical. (Yes, y'all, I recognize choreography from the original musical...judge me. I don't care.) Although they took out 2 of my favorite Beauty and the Beast songs - huge, powerful numbers that drop you smack dab in the middle of the pain that Belle and Beast shared separately in "Home" and the eleven o'clock number "If I Can't Love Her," I surprisingly liked the new songs and felt they added something to the story. (On that note, that's the problem with casting movie actors and not stage/broadway actors in a musical film of this nature. You get "actors" and not strong "singers." But autotune saves the day, in the opinion of some. Instead, "Home" was removed all except for hearing snippets of the melody as the background theme, and "If I Can't Love Her" was replaced with a touching, but much less difficult to sing song for the Beast's heartbreaking realization of reality.)
I saw the story in a new light just as I had done when I saw the musical for the first time. But this was bigger. I realized that the main character in the story is not Belle. It's not the Beast. It's not even the charming, lovable, and relatable enchanted household. The main character is Love with Justice being the best supporting actor. Yes we know Belle and Beast fall in love. Yes we know Gaston gets what's coming to him. But in this adaptation, Love and Justice are deep seeded. It's not just romantic love but familial love and friendly love. It's not justice just for the good guys, but the bad guys too. One of my favorite moments in the film was seeing the heart of LeFou change, namely in the mob song..."There's a beast running wild, there's no question..." It was courageous and raw.
The love I was most pleasantly surprised by was the love between the enchanted household. Wow.
Love. All of it. It's all Love.
Tears. Tears. Tears. Sobs stuck in the throat. And more tears.
Now, Beast's song. Do I even dare. His song from the musical is so moving that I feared what would happen here. I barely moved in my seat when the music started. For a split second I willed time to stop so I could steel myself for the heartbreakingly honest grief that was about to unleash on the audience. (And for those unfamiliar with the musical, first of all, shame on you. You need a spanking. Secondly, there were hints of the original song in this new one, both the old and new were written by my main men Alan and Tim. I believe this new song was written only because Dan Stevens likely doesn't have the vocal range for the original. Because the original was perfect. There is no other explanation for replacing it....I digress.) Obviously, I could discuss this few minutes of the story for hours. So get to it already. Something we see during this performance is again, deeper than romantic love and heartbreak. Those emotions are just the products of Beast's realization of reality: everyone is created for relationship, and he has missed it. Belle or Beast, we all need love. NEED. Beast realizes this in, "I never needed anybody in my life, I learned the truth too late." Even as "she fades from view," he realizes that his love for her has permanently changed him. "She will still inspire me, be a part of everything I do...for evermore." That's what love does. It inspires TRUE change.
All of this is an echo of eternity. Love changes things. Permanently. It makes your last acts ones of service and sacrifice like the doorman. The most beautiful picture of how love changes is the obvious one - when we see Beast's transformation from a hideous beast with horns and claws back into a (beautiful, blue-eyed, long-haired Dan Stevens) prince. The only thing capable of that transformation was Belle's love. Love love love. Do you see?? LOVE was the hero and heroine. Love is the point. Imperfect love is what we are capable of, but God's love is perfect. It inspires us and permanently changes us. Eternally. Even Disney recognizes this! The song sung by Maurice: "Just when we feel all hope is gone....Through the darkest of our troubles, love is beauty, love is pure, love pays no mind to desolation, it flows like a river through the soul, protects, persists, and perseveres and makes us whole....that's how a moment lasts forever..."
If you are not part of the masses that have already flocked by the millions to see this film, join us.
And then join the conversation. I'll be talking about it. Evermore.