To say that I’m concerned about Disney’s upcoming live-action version of the 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast is an understatement. The soundtrack to that movie got me through the start of my teenage years. My sister and I watched it so often I’m pretty sure we wore out the tape (Wiki “VHS”: it’s what kids of the 80s and 90s watched stuff on at home before streaming, downloads and Netflix).
Director Bill Condon is said to be a theatre – and specifically musical theatre – aficionado. This should be great news, but I feel I’ve already been burned once this year with a promise of “a return to movie musicals”: La La Land was not what it said on the tin. I expect a “movie musical” to contain at least eight songs I’ll love, and two I’m indifferent about, and at least two that I'll know almost off by heart after just one viewing. Or, at least, you know, more than four songs in total. After a STUPENDOUS opening number, La La Land (or Blah Blah Bland as I’ve taken to calling it) just ... stops being a musical. I remember there being three songs after the first one, and one of those is repeated about 170 times (or so it seemed). My heart has been broken once in 2017 by false promises, and I’m not sure if I can take the disappointment again.
I mean, I knew this soundtrack off by heart. My sister and I would sing it every time we got in the car to be driven to school, from school, somewhere at the weekend... Off. By. Heart. (Our mum must've gone from amusement, to frustration, to just giving in and singing along, we insisted on having it played so often.) So… I’m nervous. I’m nervous that the timing won’t feel right, or the odd grace note will be different. I worry about “artistic license” taken, understandably and quite properly taken, that will mean the songs are … well, different from the original. I’m kind of excited by the new, original songs because every musical needs more numbers, to my mind, and those added to the stage version of the show distinguished it from the cartoon. In fact, the stage show was a whole different beast (see what I did there) anyway, because any number of actors could take on the roles, and directors and set designers had to get creative with how they represented the characters.
(In a production I worked on, Cogsworth’s costume was too big, and the actor got stuck between two flies in a scene change and couldn’t get off stage; oh, backstage humour)
But here, they are almost EXACTLY replicating so many elements from the original – I mean, the ball dress! Look at the ball dress! – I fear I’ll react (excessively) negatively at every tiny variation. Yeah it’s not logical. Since when was fangirling logical?
Which leads me to casting crises. I love Emma Watson. She is an incredible role model for young women. Her work with the UN and the #HeforShe initiative is gob-smacking. Her reaction to the recent outcry over her Vanity Fair photoshoot proves yet again how firm a handle she has on what feminism is, and what women should be allowed to do (ie. whatever they dang well please). Her feminist book club Our Shared Shelf is an inspiring move to get people reading . Reading anything, really, but specifically empowering, thought-provoking, feminist texts, and she encourages discussion in her ongoing mission to promote equality. She is clearly a brainiac, with her degree from Brown (and year at Oxford), and a fashion icon. And always, always comes across as a really lovely person who’d be great fun and a really supportive friend.
My embarrassing admission is that I just don’t rate her as an actress. I know all the Harry Potter kids were very young, but of the three leads, for me, only Rupert Grint as Ron ever came across as embodying the character, rather than “acting”. Hermione, in the books, is a little irritating, but she’s true to herself. I guess Watson was, too: I was almost always aware that the actress was the actress, and not the fuzzy-haired, slightly awkward know-it-all I’d grown to love in the books. Belle was the first Disney princess to really own the story. Yes, okay, she can’t do everything alone, but she proves that she’s as capable as anyone else, male or female, of getting things done. She was independent, and didn’t care what people thought of her. She refused to follow the crowd. She loved to read. She was a role model to tween me.
One of my biggest worries with this new version of the classic is that I’m not going to be able to forget it’s Emma Watson on screen. And, again, while Watson wows me as a person, I want to forget it’s her when those twinkly opening notes to Belle sound, and she opens her mouth to sing, “Little town, it’s a quiet village”.
And then there’s Mrs Potts. Emma Thompson is a marvel. She’s wonderful on screen, and as a screenwriter. She speaks out about human rights and the environment, seems hugely smart in interviews, almost intimidatingly so before she makes a joke, or pulls a funny face, or just smiles. But she’s not Angela Lansbury, who originally voiced the motherly teapot. Even Thompson acknowledges that that doyenne of screen and stage was “a bit of a tough act to follow”.Yes. Yes, Emma, she is. I’m prepared to forgive a lot where Thompson is concerned. But if she messes this up, I may never watch Love Actually again. I’m sure she’s quaking.
At least, I feel, they’ve hit the casting nail on the head with Gaston (Luke Evans) and Lefou (Josh Gad, aka Frozen’s Olaf, ie hysterical). They absolutely look the parts, and from the clip that’s been released for the spectacular number Gaston, they’ve got it spot on.
And Sir Ian McKellan is in it as Cogsworth, a clock. Sir Ian can do no wrong. He is perfection. He could play an inanimate object and be Oscar-worthy. Oh, wait.
I realise that I am no doubt in a tiny minority here, and that I’m just ranting to the universe. But I have my expectations. There is so much promise in this (not to mention the about-time inclusion of "Disney's first gay moment", as Condon described it, and interracial kisses) and I don't want to be all "get off my lawn" about it, but I'm just preparing myself for disappointment. The original is so special to me, and I don't want to sully that.
Not that any of this spewing has any effect on the fact, when we were sent the invitation to the press screening, I was the first to reply. Of course I'm watching it!