Plenty of children grow up faithfully watching Disney musicals such as the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast, and become inspired by the book-loving character of Belle.  However, many kids are now getting the chance to experience the story in both animated and live-action movies, thanks to Bill Condon, director of the 2017 Beauty and the Beast. The movie that came out just this March is quite an exciting experience, but certainly not without its flaws.   The musical motifs of Beauty and the Beast in both versions express themes such as love, magic, triumph, and even evil. However, there are several differences and additions to the music of the new version.  The original music created for this year’s movie seemed quite disjoint to me at first, but it became clear to me as the movie progressed that it actually was very reflective of the movie’s mood because a few things had been changed and added in the story.  The song that seemed to tether the different attitudes of the songs was the Beast’s solo called “Evermore”, which displays the Beast coming to terms with his decision to do the right thing and free Belle.  In addition to being comprehensively creative, all of the the new music was much more rhythmically free – for example, Emma Thompson took some tasteful rhythmic liberties when singing the iconic, “Beauty and the Beast”.  While on the whole it was freer rhythmically, it was certainly also a trend with this cast to sing Senza Vibrato, or in English, straight tone (a vocal technique more closely identified with pop singing).  For some voices, such as Ewan McGregor’s Character Lumiere, this worked quite well – possibly due to this style being a distinctive that has worked for him before in musicals.  However, the technique did not treat Emma Watson as well; her auto-tuned melodies seemed to have no growth, and it seemed she could not produce any sound worth listening to for longer than a few bars.  Her timid vocal interpretation of Belle was bland and frankly disappointing for me, despite her sensational acting.

A few other actors’ voices also stood out to me as I watched this movie.  Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad) stole the show as they put on a number celebrating the character Gaston. While Gaston was different from the original movie in that Luke Evans created a character who I grew to hate more and more over time, the song “Gaston” remains an extremely fun scene with astounding improvement in energy from the original version. In both this number and later on in the movie, Josh Gad creates even more character depth than before for the character LeFou, as well as utilizing his incredible upper range and impeccable comedic timing. Finally, it is necessary to restate the brilliance of the heart-wrenching solo by the Beast called “Evermore”.  His outstanding vocals crafted a beautiful piece of music that, to me, was imperative to the pinnacle of the story.  Alan Menken quite literally outdid himself with these pieces, both vocal and instrumental,  as he composed for the 1991 version, as well as the 2017 version.

Now what does Beauty and the Beast have to do with a library? Over the past 25 years, much has changed about Beauty and the Beast, but certainly not Belle’s love of books, learning, and the thirst for knowledge that drew the Beast and Belle together.  It’s a “tale as old as time” that learning new things can help us know each other better, and inspire us to love each other deeper.

For a Juvenile version of the book click here.

~Maya Neal

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