Doing my best Lumiere voice: It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that I welcome you to this blog post, which I wasn't even going to write, because I have today off work...
But last night at 10:30 pm I saw Beauty and the Beast: Alone, at Cinerama, and it was so very fantastic, so thoroughly joyous, suspenseful, gorgeous, alive with invention, different from the animated version but not too different, bursting with new jokes, packed with amazing performances by Emma Watson and Luke Evans and Kevin Kline especially, that I had to hop on Slog here and tell you that whatever you planned to do this weekend can be cancelled, and you should get yourself down to Cinerama or Pacific Science Center in 3D or whatever your favorite big screen is and see it. Take everyone you know. They need it as badly as you do.
You can dress if you want to: A woman at the late showing last night at Cinerama was dressed as Belle, and a man was dressed as Gaston. From what I could tell, those people did not arrive together or know each other.
Special-effects-heavy movies that Beauty and the Beast is better than: Lord of the Rings (deal with it!!!!), La La Land (ugh!), anything in the Star Wars franchise (first amendment, guys!!)...
On the question of whether Belle is "basic": Someone lodged this accusation in my Twitter mentions last night, and I almost reached through the internet to strangle him. Belle's not basic, y'all. Belle's the least basic Disney girl there is. Belle is a bookworm, she doesn't take guff from anyone, and everyone in town thinks she's weird (remember the townsfolk singing: "Look, there she goes, that girl is strange, no question..."). She's a singular character and one of the final creations of the lyricist Howard Ashman, who wrote the words to all those iconic songs (and also the songs in Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, and half of Aladdin). As recounted in the new book Tale as Old As Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, Ashman asked the Disney animators before writing the lyrics to "Belle," that early-morning opening number: "Why are we writing this song?" As the artist Chris Sanders recalls, the animators had all flown to Fishkill, New York, Ashman's hometown, where he was dying of AIDS. Sanders says they asked Ashman, "'What do you need?' He replied, "'Part of Your World' in Little Mermaid could have been titled 'I Want Feet.' It has to be about something.' What we worked out as a group was, Belle is weird, she's the odd person in town. He said, 'Okay, Belle is weird. I can write a song about that.'"
Speaking of Howard Ashman: If you are still grieved by his one-of-a-kind brilliance being snuffed out at the age of 40, as I am, you've gotta see this movie. The film's director, Bill Condon, reveals in Tale As Old As Time: "In reviewing the original charts for the animated film, our music department came upon an Ashman lyric for the title song that had never been used, or even heard. As sung by Emma Thompson, it ends this latest version of the story on a deeply felt note of hope and renewal." That lyric?
Winter turns to spring
Famine turns to feast
Nature points the way
Nothing left to say...
Beauty and the Beast
How did Ashman and composer Alan Menken write such amazing songs for Beauty and the Beast, anyway? According to the book, Ashman led the way, with Menken at the piano, improvising, trying to keep up. Menken explains: "Howard would have an idea for the kind of song he wanted to write and maybe even a title, then he'd say, 'If we were to write this kind of song with this title, what might the music sound like?' I'd sit at the piano and just kind of play around. He'd say, 'Could you do a B section to that?' or, 'I like the B section, but could I have a new A section to go into it?' or, 'What if instead of a French musical it were a Polish musical?' We'd play with those ideas, then he'd make a tape and write to it. I would write basically for Howard—sometimes he'd be throwing lyrics in, sometimes he'd be dancing around the room."
Just to completely break your heart about Howard Ashman: Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen, and a few other producers went to visit Ashman in the hospital in March 1991 after an "overwhelmingly favorable" press screening of the animated film, which would not open in theaters until November 1991. Producer Don Hahn remarks in Tale As Old As Time that he'd sent Ashman "a Beauty and the Beast sweatshirt the week before, and his mom had put it on him. He had lost his voice and his sight by that time, and his organs were failing. We all knelt down by his bed and said our goodbyes. David [Geffen] made an amazing plea that miracles can happen, 'and if they can, no one deserves it more than you. Your work is spectacular.' A really heartfelt speech you wouldn't expect from a mogul. Jeffrey, Peter, they were the same way. I said, 'Howard, you wouldn't believe it! They really loved it! Who'd have thought?' He whispered, 'I woulda.'" Saying something like that was not like Ashman, who was normally "very self-deprecating," Hahn says. He adds, "The four of us went downstairs, got in the car and went back to our hotels without saying a word. It was obvious that was the last time we were going to see him." Ashman died March 14, 1991.
OK, back to the movie—the time you should go to the bathroom: Is when Belle leaves the palace with the Beast's permission to go help her dad. There's a song there that you won't be familiar with that the beast sings to himself while stalking around in CGI and this is the absolute best part of the movie to skip for a potty break.
Biggest oversight: Not having Angela Lansbury reprise her role as Mrs. Potts. If it ain't broke...
And by the way, if you think of this material as a '90s throwback: That's not how it feels. It feels timely in a new way. It's about what jerks horrible blond rich guys who grow up eating dinner off of golden plates can be, and it's about how appearances can be deceiving. It's also about how people can be wrong and base and choose the bad thing and it can seem like the end of the world, like life itself is hopeless, like despair is the only way forward, but then, somehow, everything can, miraculously, eventually, recover.
This review is a counterpoint to Ciara Dolan's more negative take, "Beauty and the Beast Is Like The Bachelor, but There’s Only One Rose and It’s Dying"