Movie

Benjamin: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ smashes the record books and the tear ducts

Photo Courtesy of Disney

I never really cared about “Star Wars,” but watching “The Force Awakens,” you could feel the hype in the air. When the film was over and I discussed it with my “Star Wars” loving friends, I pointed out issues in the film. While they agreed the issues existed, they dismissed them for the pure emotional ecstasy the movie created. I never really understood this sensation until I saw the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.”

This film was literally a staple of my upbringing. The remake is not only an exciting opportunity for one of my favorite movies to be revived, but was an unexpected emotional journey of surprise, fulfillment, and nostalgia. While I feared this film would let me down, it did nothing but lift me up.

“Beauty and the Beast” was the crown jewel of my childhood. While raised in a Jewish household, my VHS tape — and subsequent special edition 2-disc DVD — of “Beauty and the Beast” was my sacred text. I used it as my moral compass, with Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs providing me more guidance than any biblical diddy ever could. I wore these discs out, and subjected my friends to endless viewings of the movie, where they would have to sit and listen to me babble along with it. I wanted nothing more in life than to be Gaston, which in retrospect is somewhat disturbing, and I even tried unsuccessfully to grow my hair out.

When my dream came true and I saw the Broadway show, I was faced with the ultimate dilemma: Watch the showstopper “Be Our Guest,” or make a very necessary trip to the restroom. In that moment, I chose the former. While there’s a cleaning staff at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre who probably made a horrifying discovery, I stand by my choice 15 years later. Luckily, I have seen a production of the show around eight more times, and have avoided such confrontations since.

While I have had all these fond memories for years, I maintain the original is one of the greatest films of all time, I had forgotten simply how much I loved the movie. I’ve gone back and watched the film many times, each time it was great, but the new version was a special experience.

For the first time in almost two decades I remembered what it was like to discover “Beauty and the Beast.” With new songs and plot additions, it was like I was hearing this story for the first time. In all of my movie-going years, it was the greatest sense of wonder I have ever felt. When the film concluded on the gorgeous reprise of “Beauty and the Beast,” my eyes welled, as not only was I moved by the sensational composition, but the joy and magic that story creates.

This remake is far from perfect. While some of the plot changes were daring and inventive, others were unnecessary and convoluted. Emma Watson got on my nerves at first, her acting seeming a bit forced and her singing feeling a bit too auto-tuned. But as the film progressed, I was increasingly charmed, and her chemistry with Dan Stevens was palpable, despite how unrealistic the Beast — and how creepy his servants — looked.

I could go on and on about the flaws of the film, and as an outside observer, I would probably give it three stars out of four. But as someone who really treasures and values this movie, it was a slam dunk in every direction, and was a refreshing reminder of the power of film.

This movie is lighting up the record books, appealing to many audiences. In a time where we are so divided, there was a special feeling to sit in this dark theater and be transported together, all feeling a similar childlike wonder. The visuals of this movie and its already iconic music transcend class, political parties and even language, speaking to us on a visceral level. While this film is not particularly political, the idea of turning people away from our doorsteps, and then coming after innocent people with pitchforks felt relevant, yet it never was preachy or forced. This is a movie that has something to say, yet speaks to many without patronizing.

Throughout my life, I’ve made friends and bonded with family over the power of the original film, I feel this remake could bring us together again. Watching this, the first thing I thought was how excited I was to eventually show it, and the original, to my children, and watch the sense of discovery that I felt on their face. They will show it to their friends and bond over it, and who knows, maybe in 30 years we’ll get a remake of this film for whatever the hot medium is. “Beauty and the Beast” is not only a tale as old as time, but a story and property that are timeless.

Erik Benjamin is a junior television, radio and film major. His column appears weekly in Pulp. He can be reached at ebenjami@syr.edu or on Twitter @embenjamin14.

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