From the first time I heard Disney was remaking its 1991 animated classic, I knew the music would be a breaking point. Having Alan Menken and Tim Rice return quelled my fears until I realized the singing involved. Movie musicals and good singing go together like BBQ and cole slaw. If one fails the other doesn’t taste as good. The score’s essentially the same from 1991 so I feel no need to review it here. However, the songs are another matter.
We start with “Belle” and Emma Watson’s performance. In short: it’s perfectly serviceable. She’s in tune, in key, and hits all the notes. However, there’s more to singing than that. Compare her to Paige O’Hara in the original. O’Hara clearly loves what she’s doing and it shows in the vocals. Watson suffers from a lack of experience. She has a capable voice and it just needs more time to develop and grow.
Onto Dan Stevens’ big number, “Evermore”. Like Watson, Stevens is in key and hits all the notes. He also has a big voice but holds back too much. There’s hardly any belting and for a power ballad like “Evermore” that’s what you need. I waited for my socks to be knocked off by sheet vocal power but it never came. Again, he’s serviceable enough and I hope his voice develops over time.
Songs such as “Be Our Guest” and “Gaston” are both good updates, partly because they feature actors who have developed singing voices. “Something There” and “Days in the Sun” contain more of the whimsical, playful style Menken’s known for. Neither one’s all that memorable. Both feature more serviceable performances from Watson and Stevens.
And then we get to the title song. I was most worried about this one. Lansbury’s version has become iconic. Sure, I thought, someone else will sing it but it won’t have the same punch. And that’s what happened. Emma Thompson handles singing duties this time around. She’s a fantastic actor and a decent singer but her voice just doesn’t fit with the song. While Lansbury fit like a glove, Thompson is like a tight sweater: it fits in the end but only after you struggle to get it on.
That takes us to the pop rendition of “Beauty and the Beast”. Instead of re-releasing the 1991 version, we have the duo of Ariana Grande and John Legend performing a new mix. The singers are not at fault- I think they both have great voices and talents. Instead, the mix feels too stale and dated. The ’91 version outdoes it both in production value and vocal ability.
By the end of the songs, things aren’t looking Oscar-worthy, to say the least. And then “How Does a Moment Last Forever” erupts. It marks both the best new song on the soundtrack and the return of Celine Dion. Simply put: it’s great. After that we get Josh Groban’s take on “Evermore” to wrap things up.
Beauty and the Beast has its moments but most of it falls short compared to the original. That being said, it is a well-produced soundtrack and the score and songs are as memorable as ever. It gets close to its predecessor but lacks the magic for anything truly spectacular.
FINAL RATING: 2.7/5
UPDATE: I forgot to mention Auto-Tune’s role in the soundtrack. Watson, at least, suffers from its use. However, it didn’t add or detract anything from my thoughts about the music.