The tale as old as time is timeless, and so is its music. With the recent release of Disney’s smash success Beauty and the Beast, let’s unpack the music box that is the film’s soundtrack. With all of the original tunes from the 1991 film, as well as some new additions, this new version blends classic and contemporary almost seamlessly, with a few exceptions.
Here is my review of the soundtrack for the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast.
First, it is worth noting that Alan Menken has once again delivered a magnificent and rich score for the movie. Some cues pay homage to the Broadway version, as in musical touches to “Home” from the stage production, and references to all the main musical numbers are scattered throughout the score. It’s one of his strongest Disney scores in years. Perhaps not since during the Disney renaissance has Menken crafted such an immersive and lush experience for the ears. Though he is known for his songs, which he developed with Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, we cannot forget that Menken’s scores have won him four Academy Awards. I would award the score alone an “A” in my book.
As for the songs, let us go through each of them.
First off is “Aria,” a gorgeous waltz performed by Broadway legend Audra McDonald, who plays Garderobe the Wardrobe with her signature soprano. It only lasts a mere one minute, but sets the (film) stage for the musical that feels like a showstopper. B+
Next is Emma Watson‘s turn. While she does not have the same vocal range as some of her on-screen contemporaries, and does not deliver a master class performance like Paige O’Hara did for the 1991 Beauty and the Beast, it’s a commendable effort. There’s a certain modesty that she lends to Belle that lends a distinct and delightful vibe. Some will claim she cannot hold a note. I would contend that Watson’s performance is not so much a reflection of her own abilities, but rather that she is on screen with some stars who are known for having successful stage careers. I, for one, think she was a marvelous choice for Belle and reveals a more introspective side of the character. We also hear in “Belle” the insertion of new lyrics and consequent absence of some, such as “Marie, the baguettes.” Major Beauty fans will identify similar lyrical changes in other big numbers, but these do not compromise their integrity. “Belle” has always served as my favorite song from the production due to enveloping viewers in the tone of the poor, provincial environment that the leading lady inhabits. It still holds that place. Luke Evans, the unexpected surprise of the film as the villain we adore hating, is fantastic as Gaston. He has a classic stage sound to his voice that befits the guy in love with himself. The five-minute song is sensational. A+
“Belle (Reprise)” delivers on all fronts, albeit short. It’s an opportunity for Watson to sing solo, reaffirming her desire to not settle for a man like Gaston. Once she reaches the top of the hill, akin to the original, it echoes memories of The Sound of Music. The moment, in Beauty and the Beast, has the same magic as Julie Andrews discovering that the hills are alive, even if the vocal quality is not comparable. A
“How Does a Moment Last Forever” is one of the new songs. The first time we hear it, the piece is sung by Kevin Kline‘s Maurice. It’s a simple song that gives more context to Belle’s father as a sentimental man who still pines for the memory of his late wife. Later in the film, a more extensive version is performed by Watson’s Belle as she is virtually transported to her Parisian origins. The instrumentation in this is quaint with its music box touches and sense of reflection. The longest and most notable version is performed by none other than Celine Dion, whose cover for the 1991 version of “Beauty and the Beast” reached the top of the charts. Her voice has not changed more than 25 years later and is a peaceful power ballad for the Canadian superstar. Without a doubt, this end credits piece encourages viewers to stick around. The song, within the film, feels somewhat unnecessary, but manages to carry the film nonetheless. I would give the two versions in the film a B, whereas Dion’s version gets an A.
Josh Gad’s LeFou admires Gaston in more ways than one in the 2017 version, and we feel that adoration in “Gaston,” the bombastic pub song. Gad tries to shy away from sounding like Olaf from Frozen, as his voice is not as cutesy here, but some of his deeper moments echo Olaf belting out “In Summer.” Evans carries the song well, though he is often drowned down by the chorus. New lyrics are welcomed, playing off Gaston’s manic hunter mentality, though we will never know if his chest is covered by hair, referring to a playful set of lyrics from the original that are no longer in the song. An interesting instrumental section has a Wild West sound with the strings, but somehow still works. Indeed, everyone, including me, is “awed and inspired by” this take on Gaston. A
“Be Our Guest” lacks some of the same magic without Jerry Orbach, whose French accent was absolutely more convincing than Ewan McGregor here. The same goes for Emma Thompson‘s voice, who is not as enrapturing as Angela Lansbury. Maybe they should talk with Dick Van Dyke, whose Cockney accent as Bert in Mary Poppins was met with criticism, but he remains fondly remembered for that role. Accents and vocal quality aside, the elaborate and excessive extravaganza is a feast for the eyes. As for the ears, it’s pretty strong throughout. All of the singers, which also include Ian McKellen and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Cogsworth and Plumette, respectively, sound like they are trying their best. By all means this cannot compare to the original Beauty and the Beast, which was novel for its ability to harken back to movie musical moments from the 1940s, though it’s still loads of fun. B+
“Days in the Sun” serves as a replacement for “Human Again,” the song from the Broadway version later added to the IMAX release of the animated film in 2002. It centers on the enchanted objects longing for their good old days as people. I quite enjoy “Human Again,” but its omission here for “Days in the Sun” is reflective and romantic in such a lovely way. Who would have guessed that this rather needless song could be so compelling? Thanks to the combined musical talents of much of the principal cast, it’s startling. B+
“Something There” is sweet and kind, like the song suggests. Fill up your sap count for Watson, Dan Stevens, and company making sense of this unexpected romance. The orchestration almost outshines everything, but I was enchanted by Watson the more I listened to her. B
“Beauty and the Beast,” the Oscar-winning tune, varies little from its classic treatment, save for some instrumental alterations. Thompson sadly cannot reach Lansbury’s heights, despite her best efforts, and this sacrifices the song to a degree. Not completely, but Lansbury is in a league of her own. I’m an Emma Thompson fan and think she was a solid choice for Mrs. Potts, but perhaps think someone else should have stepped in for this song. Do remember that many Disney singing voices are sung by different actors and actresses from the primary voices. That said, it’s rather beautifully done. I give this a B. The pop version by John Legend and Ariana Grande, on the other hand, got on my nerves a little. They are no Peabo Bryson and Celine Dion. Legend is pretty solid, though Grande always sounds like she is on autotune. I would stick with the original for this one. C+. Ultimately, the finale in the film, as led by McDonald and followed by Thompson, is the best take. With the full ensemble it closes the movie with unfiltered Disney magic. A-
Consider me on Team Beast. Now that I am familiar with Dan Stevens, I want to see and hear more of the Downton Abbey star. Much like Terrance Mann, who played Beast in the stage production, Stevens’ voice has a weight and heartiness to it. This is most evident in “Evermore,” which takes the role of “If I Can’t Love Her” from the stage show. Beast longs to be in love, and with Stevens stepping into this role, he is more winning than ever before. The lyrics, grand orchestration, and the character leaping around the castle give off the feel of Quasimodo running around Notre Dame in “Out There.” “Evermore” is one of those songs you want to listen to several times more to catch all of its beauty. Then there’s Josh Groban. His supreme voice is a perfect match for the almost melancholic vibe conveyed in the lyrics. It’s flawless. Stevens’ take gets an A, whereas Groban’s snatches an A+.
“The Mob Song” is as powerful now as in the original. With Evans leading the way, it still sends chills with its harshness and, more recently, political undertones. New lyrics like the following demonstrate its effect. “Call it war. Call it threat. You can bet they all will follow, for in times they’ll do just as I say.” Very powerful. A-
All songs considered, I would award the new Beauty and the Beast soundtrack an A. It’s a must-purchase addition to your collection, whether or not you’re a Disney fan. You can grab a copy on CD or Digital from Amazon.
This is Brett Nachman, singing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.