Sing-A-Longs. I can remember back to the day of the old Disney Channel programs where they would have some song and then a bouncing ball over the music. I was a wide-eyed music fanatic, even from a youth. The music came along and it inspired me to sing and dance around to the bouncing ball floating across the television screen. It was me and the music. I didn’t care how many people were watching or what they saw me doing. Singing was a part of who I am.
The fact I would fall in love with karaoke when I experienced it for the first time, seemed natural. I might not be dancing around on the stage while singing, but I love feeling the music course through my veins as each word passes through my lips. Yes, it’s amazing when you see someone out there dancing to what you are singing. It’s completely gratifying when someone comes up to you and appreciates what you did and how you made them feel. There is nothing like that feeling. I can see why music is a high for the artist. As any great piece of art, music needs to be shown and not buried. The songwriter not only gets to create the music, but they get to perform it live, to adoring fans. Nothing can compare. Music not only stimulates creativity and stirs the soul, but it gets adulation as well.
So when I was invited to my first Sing-A-Long to The Sound of Music, for a date, I was excited. The Sound of Music wasn’t necessarily my favorite musical, however. Several songs I loved. I figured it would be a great time of music and fun. Let’s just say that afterward, I decided taking a first date to a Sing-A-Long wasn’t the best idea; or, a second date for that matter. In fact, I would see Sing-A-Long come up for some movie and I would cringe. The person who would dance around to “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” from Guys and Dolls, would cringe at any movie that would encourage you to sing during it.
As a result, I decided that sing-a-longs were a gimmick, meant to torment first dates. Ok, maybe not first dates. Third dates. Fifth Dates. Tenth dates. Why would anyone take a person to see them? They would not unless they were doing it to torture the person they were with, or to punish themselves for something that they had done wrong. I convinced myself masochists and torturers invented it.
Lately, Disney films have gotten into the business of sing-a-longs. Seeing Disney has had a recent spate of movies they have turned into sing-a-longs, I was convinced that they were doing it either to torture unsuspecting dates or to squeeze every last penny from a particular film. Watch it once as a movie. Watch it twice as a sing-a-long. Come back a third time and watch it turned into a third rate horror film with bloody beasts. Something like Mickey put in the Halo video game series.
So this weekend, when my friend convinced me to have dinner and a movie, with our daughters, I was a little nervous knowing we were going to watch a sing-a-long movie. I knew my daughter would love such a thing. She loves music. This is the child who sang “Good Ship Lollipop” the first time someone said she looked like Shirley Temple after first watching the movie Miss Temple sang it in. She, like myself, is moved by music in a way that can drown out the world. But I had sing-a-long-a-phobia. I worried it was incurable.
Here is the point in the blog where I have to admit I hadn’t seen the new live-action Beauty and the Beast yet. Why had I not done such a thing? It was one of my Disney favorites of the cartoon musical renaissance they had in the late 80s and early 90s. And I love musicals. LOVE musicals! Have I said it yet? I love musicals. But this is one of those things I wanted to see with my daughter. Secondarily, I had things that conspired against me the last few weekends and made me unable to watch the movie. Sure, I could have set aside time. But I wanted to take my daughter. Of course, the fact my daughter had seen it twice by this point did not discourage me from seeing it. And I wanted to see it so much I was going to risk a sing-a-long.
Was I going to enjoy it? What was I going to think? Would someone have to pull my corpse out of the theater this time? (I am here and writing this now so I hope you aren’t seriously waiting until the end of this blog to find out if I made it out alive. For those who are, I’m dead and my ghost is here to torment you for the rest of your lives. So keep reading.)
Beauty and the Beast – Review
I suppose this isn’t quite fair as most of you know the previous Disney movie . . . unless you have been buried under a rock for the previous 20 years. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a classic. It was and will be the only animated feature ever, EVER, to be nominated for a Best Picture award. Hollywood would never have allowed it to win for reasons that you can read about in this blog post. But the fact that it did scared Hollywood so much that it created the Best Animated Feature category. How many movies actually had an Oscar category created specifically for it? I am guessing that number is pretty low.
Given the animated features critical acclaim, I was very curious to see what they were going to do with this movie. The live action feature was going to have to do some heavy lifting for me to enjoy it. But consider that I was going to add sing-a-long baggage to this feature and I think the film’s chances for success, in my book, ranked between seeing flying pigs and Donald Trump’s hair magically turning purple. (I know you read that last sentence and thought, “so there’s a chance, right?” Hmmm….)
For those who have been hiding under a rock, Beauty and the Beast begins with the narrator describing the back story of the Beast (Dan Stevens). A prince turns down a rose from a beggar woman she offers as payment for lodging. Hearing his laughter and scorning tone, she warns beauty is beyond skin deep. He continues to mock and sends her out. At this point, she turns into an enchantress and curses the household. The prince is turned into a beast and the servants into house furniture. She leaves one way to break the curse. But in the cruelest of fashions, to break the curse the prince must convince someone to love him. He has to convince someone to look past appearances. This is not an easy task. Appearance dictates what we think about a person. It looks like the audience is in for a long ride.
What I love about this sequence in the film is that it changed the stained glass sequences from the animated feature into something of flesh and blood. We are in the era of opulent France where men wear tons of face powder, makeup, and wigs. The prince invests in appearance as much as anyone else and we witness a ball in the background, complete with opera singer and dancing. Everyone is out there for show. They want to know and be known. The audience instantly understands what’s missing from this prince’s life visually, before we hear a word from the characters. It was a brilliant change.
From there we move to Belle (Emma Watson), a beautiful bookworm. She does not fit in the small town. LeFou (Josh Gad) questions Gaston (Luke Evans) about his desire for her, as she has read books and he is into looks. They may rhyme but they don’t match. Gaston intends on having her. And Belle, if she were one to judge by appearances, should want Gaston. Society dictates she should desire like Gaston, from her station.
Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who she is bound to, has to go into town. Belle admonishes him to be safe, which is intentional irony. He heads into the forest and escapes wolves before being captured by the Beast. Belle, of course, comes to the rescue and secures her father’s release, in exchange for her own imprisonment.
I could get into a description of everything and explain what I loved but I think I will leave the rest to watch and hit a few of the highlights and changes. I loved the fact they brought the rose back into the story as Maurice is taken for stealing of the rose, not merely for trying to get warm from being chased by wolves in a snow storm. This is true to both the original tale as well as the story as a rose is essential to everything. The Prince denied a rose which turned him into the Beast. The rose is what controls everyone. And ultimately Belle’s request of a rose gets Maurice imprisoned.
Another change is that there is a magical book that can transport the Beast to anywhere. This addition allows the story to explore some of Belle’s past with her mother. We never really learn anything about her in the animated tale. In this story, we get an extra connection between Belle and the Beast. They both have lost parents. They might have behaved differently as a result. But they also had very different parents which taught them to value things differently. The Beast father taught him to value things and appearances. Belle’s father taught her to value knowledge and people. I like this addition as the background provides depth.
The other change I really loved is the song “Evermore” which is sung by the Beast post the release of Belle. It’s his sincerest expression of love for Belle and his humanity. There are beautifully stirring lines. “Now I know she’ll never leave me, even as she runs away. She will still torment me, calm me, hurt me, move me, come what may.” “I’ll fool myself, she’ll walk right in, and be with me for evermore.” It’s a both haunting and joyous expression of love. (And for my part, it will be the frontrunner for Best Original Song.). The music and lyrics stir me the moment the leaped off the screen.
*End Of Spoilers*
As far as the casting, Emma Watson does a more than creditable job of the role of Belle. Maybe her singing voice isn’t quite as strong as the original animated Belle. But she does have a very pretty voice, and they accentuate that beautifully. Dan Stevens I have to give the most effusive praise to. His eyes can haunt you and yet show great joy. And his singing is the big revelation from this cast. I hope to see him do more.
With the supporting cast, Josh Gad and Luke Evans ham up their roles with a side of relish. They are joyful characters, even if in the wrong. And LeFou isn’t wrong except where he places his affections . . . and maybe spelling. (Gast…. t….. something…) Ewan MacGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson Ian MacKellan, and the rest beautifully portray their roles as the staff dedicated to serving the prince and his personal transformation. I think Kevin Kline is more pivotal in this movie and they selected well as he conveys the haunted father of Belle. He brings a depth to this role that I cannot imagine anyone else doing. And it’s important as we highlight Belle’s backstory more in this version.
The special effects and scenery are gorgeous. I suppose I should expect nothing less from Disney. But I really have to say that they outdid themselves with the “Be Our Guest” number. I thought it was beautiful in the animated feature but it was so much more than that in the live action film. You need to see it. The big ballroom sequence is still gorgeous. And when all of the room lights up, it is still movie magic. The castle was gorgeous and will definitely go down as one of the best Disney castles of all time. (I really need to get to Paris Disneyland.)
The choreography mesmerizes. My daughter after three performances still raves over the Gaston number where they are dancing amidst the chaos. The bookend ballroom sequences are a revelation. Whereas the first one is more programmatic, the sequel is intimate somehow. I don’t know how they do it. Whether it’s how the dance or the lighting, but it just adds to the piece.
Last but not least, I have to discuss the nature of the sing-a-long. Given that I am reviewing a sing-a-long version of a movie and for those who think about rewatching the picture, I need to discuss how that worked throughout the piece. Maybe it’s my connection to the music, or Alan Menken has a key to my soul that he isn’t releasing, but I think it was perfect for just such a piece. Everyone knows that when they watch a movie with music that they have an affinity to, they are humming bars, or singing softly under their breath. Go to a good concert and if the band stopped singing, the audience would continue.
Good music works that kind of magic. I know I started with my lips super glued together, but by the end I was singing along with the picture. And they still had me singing even with amazing songs that I didn’t know before like Evermore. They do a good job of not making it obtrusive, yet encouraging you to participate in the festivities.
Other films might not work as well in the regard, but I do think that Beauty and the Beast invited its audience to participate in the joy. I know most musicals have that kind of joy with it. But even with the joy that they may have, they don’t reach the climaxes that Menken puts in his music. His larger ballads have soaring music so you don’t ever feel like you need to carry a tune to be singing there. You are singing for pure joy. And with a sing-a-long, I think that is the point. And if you can’t get enough of the music afterward like me, pick up the sound track here. You will still find yourself singing along. (Personally, I love the fact that they have Alan Menken takes.)
So should you watch this movie? And should you watch it as a sing-a-long? So as I’ve spent the last several paragraphs talking about how beautiful and amazing the movie was, I’m going to recommend that you avoid the movie at all costs. Wait! No! Go see it! Fly, you fools! (Gandalf enough?)
**End of Review**
So what movies are you going to see this weekend? What movies have you loved so much that you watched multiple times at the movie theater? And have you ever gone to a sing-a-long? If you did, what did you think of it? I would love to hear from you about any and all of these questions. And if you loved this review, please check out some of the other reviews on my blog. I have reviewed Movies, TV Shows, and even Theater Productions. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life