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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty and the Beast live action movie soundtrack: a review

With the recent release of Beauty and the Beast live action movie, I've been reading several reviews that compare this version of the story with that of the original 1991 animated film that has enchanted millions around the world.  While I haven't seen the film yet, I'm troubled by how much these reviews focus on making comparisons instead of examining this film on its own merits.

Recently, Disney sent me a sample of the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack and I'm going to try to avoid making such comparisons as I review the soundtrack.  Having not seen the film yet, this review will focus exclusively on the music and vocal performances.

First, let me say that the music overall stays very close to the original score, and does justice to the original.  This should be no surprise as Alan Menkin, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice created the music and lyrics of this version.  To Disney and Beauty and the Beast fans, these names should be very familiar.  Menken and Ashman created the music and lyrics for the original 1991 film.  Rice joined the duo when the musical version of Beauty and the Beast first premiered on Broadway in 1994.  Suffice it to say, this new soundtrack truly sounds like Beauty and the Beast and evokes the same feelings using traditional and very memorable melodies.

However, if you're thinking this new version of Beauty and the Beast is just a remake of the original including some elements from the musical, you'd be incorrect.  Menkin and Rice teamed up to create several new songs for this film, including "Days in the Sun," a reflective and dreamy song that reveals the wishes of the enchanted characters in Beast's Castle.  This song, in some ways,  replaces "Human Again" that was cut from the animated version, but revived for the musical.   "Evermore," is a strong and powerful new song performed by Dan Stevens that showcases the depth of the Beast's despair and remorse at his past deeds, and, at the same time, his love for Belle and the transformation that she has brought about within him.  Josh Groban performs the same song with equal splendor.  "How Does a Moment Last Forever," is a song with several renditions, performed by Kevin Kline (Maurice), Watson, and Celine Dion (during the credits).  These new songs fit in right alongside the classic melodies and are welcome additions to the Beauty and the Beast canon.

Beauty and the Beast includes a star-studded and singing cast.  Emma Watson delivers a charming, while reserved, performance as Belle.  Let me be the first to say that Emma Watson is no Paige O'Hara (the original voice of Belle) and she shouldn't be.  This isn't Paige O'Hara's Belle.  This is Emma Watson's Belle.  This Belle is bit more reserved and Watson's singing reflects this character trait.  Her voice is dainty, yet forceful when it needs to be, especially during the reprise of "Belle."  Listeners (and viewers for that matter) have to get past the notion of "Hermoine Granger playing Belle."  This isn't Hermoine in any way, shape, or form.  This is Belle and nothing more.  Watson's Belle gives the character a new vision that pays proper respect and homage to the original, while being unique in it's own right.

Gaston, played by Luke Evans, is a different character.  This is not the baritone, brash, brawny (and few brain cells) character originally played by Richard White.  Evans performs Gaston in a somewhat higher octave.  Fans may long for the traditional deep tones, however, like Watson, Evans breathes new life into the character of Gaston.  This Gaston actually has some brainpower, though it comes with additional cruelty.  In some ways, Evans has found the true nature of Gaston -- the person who is so self-centered that he will do anything to get what he wants, no matter what.

Lumiere, voiced by Ewan McGregor, is a wonderfully unique performance.  No one could do Lumiere like the late Jerry Orbach, so McGregor doesn't even try.  His rendition of the famous French candlestick is fun, enjoyable, familiar, yet unique.  Teamed up with Emma Thompson, playing Mrs Potts, "Be Our Guest" is a grand production number that is fantastic, toe-tapping and great entertainment.

Speaking of Mrs. Potts, Emma Thompson also puts her own mark on the character.  Mrs. Potts is very English (yes, we're in France, but it works well), and she does a masterful job of portraying a servant in a French castle.  Thompson's performance of the iconic "Beauty and the Beast" is charming, simple and classic. 

The one character that I feel most fans could have the hardest time with is that of LeFou, played by Josh Gad, especially when listening to the soundtrack.  The reason is that Gad created such an incredibly memorable and unique voice for Olaf from Frozen, that some may get stuck on the mental image of Olaf as LeFou.  Gad's voice for LeFou is similar to that of Olaf, so it's understandable that some may connect Olaf to LeFou.  Put it aside.  This is a fun LeFou, again different, but no less enjoyable, especially during "Gaston."

The weakest moment of the soundtrack comes not during any of the songs included in the movie itself, but during the credits.  Ariana Grande and John Legend sing a duo of the signature song "Beauty and the Beast."  Legend gives a fair performance, but just can't overcome the disappointment that is Ariana Grande.  "Beauty and the Beast" is a Broadway-style song.  It is not pop music, yet Legend and Grande attempt to "popify" the song.  It just doesn't work and feels forced and false.  Frankly, I thought the same thing of Demi Lovato's performance of "Let It Go" from Frozen.  I suspect this is an effort to get the song on the pop charts, so whatever.

The 2017 live version of Beauty and the Beast is a welcome addition to the Beauty and the Beast franchise.  This version stands on it's own, blending original content with traditional music. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Beauty and the Beast is out! Win free tickets!

Enter here:

Punchbowl is giving away free tickets to see Beauty and the Beast!  Just use the service to create free e-invites and send to four friends.  You could win tickets!

Good luck!

Already seen Beauty and the Beast?  What did you think?  Post a comment!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

UPDATE: Rumor mill no more - gondolas are coming to Walt Disney World

UPDATED April 18

In early March, broke a story that suggested Disney possibly was considering creating some sort of gondola network connecting the southern portion of Epcot (near the International Gateway) to the Caribbean Beach/Pop Century/Art of Animation and then to Disney Hollywood Studios.

In late April, the Orlando Sentinel confirmed that Disney is indeed creating a gondola network to connect Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Caribbean Beach and Pop Century/Art of Animation.

While Disney has yet to officially comment, this report has the online WDW community buzzing.  For years, there has been a call for Disney to expand the current monorail system to include DHS, AK and southern area resorts.  While this is just about an impossibility these days (the costs are more than astronomical), the thought of a goldola network is a very different animal.  

Here's where we leave the world of RUMOR and enter SPECULATION.  This is your fair warning.  Nothing that I discuss from here on is based on any fact.  I am carrying the rumor forward.

Ok, caveat statement done.  Let's have some fun.

Let's take the idea of a gondola network even further.  Why stop with this small, limited system?  Why not create an entire network that services the entire southern portion of the property?

Fan imagination of a WDW gondola map
Click here for a larger view.

So let's give this some serious consideration.  Above, you will see a wide-view map of a gondola network that serves many of the key areas in the southern portion of the Walt Disney World Property. Each red square is a station.  The yellow lines between each station represent a two-way line with gondolas traveling in each direction.

Thus, if a guest wanted to travel from, say, Epcot to Disney Springs, he or she would first take the gondola from Epcot's International Gateway to a main terminal area located in between Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort and Disney's Pop Century Resort.  This is something like the Ticket and Transportation Center (just without the large parking lot) and would be a hub for multiple gondola lines.  From the Hub (for lack of a better term), the guest would then switch lines and take the gondola to Typhoon Lagoon.  Again the guest would switch lines (or perhaps stay on the gondola) and proceed to Disney Springs.

You can quickly see how this sort of network has all sorts of possibilities.  Having such a network would remove some of the strain on the already overtaxed bus lines, especially during peak hours.  Also, the gondolas would bring an additional entertainment and another unique feature to Walt Disney World - guests will be riding the gondolas, just to ride them - much like the monorail.

And then there are the environmental benefits - gondolas are much cleaner to operate than any sort of expansion to the current bus network.

Sure, there are some mitigating factors - high wind and thunderstorms being chief among them.  However, gondolas are used in some of the more mountainous areas of the world, and these places also are known for thunderstorms and wind, so I suspect there's been some developments to address these concerns.

What I don't know is the cost - are gondolas cost-effective?  I do know that several communities are looking to gondolas as a possible solution, especially for mountainous areas.

What do you think?  Could this new project be the initial phase of Walt Disney World's newest transportation network?  Where there is nothing to indicate anymore more than what's been confirmed to this point, it's fun to consider the possibilities.  After all, isn't that what Walt Disney had intended for his original EPCOT?

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