Beauty and the Beast is a classic of our time. The 1991 film had gorgeous visual, a great story, fun characters and, most importantly, had amazing music.
So it was of little surprise that the film was turned into a Broadway musical. Said musical proceeded to run for years and bring even more amazing music into the fray.
Now we’re seeing the live action film hit theatres, which offers new interpretations of the songs and new songs as well.
Sooo let’s compare these songs, shall we? I’m talking of the songs common in each film (such as “Be Our Guest”) and the song types they have in common (such as the Beast solos). I’m going to offer my opinion as to what version I think is the best of all three. It’s not going to be a clean sweep for the animated film because I think each soundtrack has its strengths. We want to highlight that here.
So let’s get started, shall we?
The live action wins this one for me. The animated film has the classic opening of Belle walking through the town, totally oblivious to what’s going on as the town talks about her. Yet, in both the animated and musical opener, I always felt like the villagers sounded too happy to have her. If she was such an outsider, then I wanted to get the feeling more from the songs. The versions are fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but in the live action film I felt how much the village did not like or trust Belle. How gossiping was just a part of life for them. Even more, I could feel Belle’s isolation as she wants a bigger world.
Are Paige O’Hara and Susan Egan technically better singers than Emma Watson? Yes. I felt with Watson’s quiet yet certain voice more as everyone seems to not get her.
Of course, this also means that the reprise of the song goes to the live action as well. I think what really sealed it for me is the disgusted noise that Watson makes about being Gaston’s “little wife”. Egan, just made me think of Megara from Hercules, and O’Hara still sounded too sweet. Here Watson’s Belle sounds bound and determined to get the hell out this small town life.
First off, shout-out to “Me” from the Broadway version of the show because that song freaking rocks. Now don’t get me wrong, Josh Gad and Kenny Raskin bring their A-game as LeFou. It was serious neck and neck between the animated and the live action version here. The live action brings a whole new level of pathos to the character of Gaston who is clearly trying to recapture his glory days in some fashion. So why did the animated version win out for me? Gaston himself. Luke Evans is a FANTASTIC Gaston as is Burke Moses. Yet well no one can quite matched the deep voiced bombast of Richard White. Gaston just needs his ego stroked and I feel like White captures that best. Plus no one has quite matched that deep voice in my mind.
“BE OUR GUEST”
You just can’t beat Jerry Orbach. Don’t get me wrong Ewan McGregor and Gary Beach bring a lot to this number and to the role of Lumiere. This may just be a limitation of stage and live action vs animated. But the animated number just cannot be beat. It’s grand. It’s huge. It’s glorious to watch. It’s something that everyone remembers from this movie. You can really feel the excitement from the staff at the chance of having a guest here and that they want to their best. Also again, you just can’t beat the late and the great Jerry Orbach. You just can’t.
This is a transitional song, but it’s always been one of my favorites from the Disney canon. Maybe because it just feels like time is passing quietly yet efficiently for the storytelling. Susan Egan, as mentioned is best known for Megara from Hercules, so maybe character association and coming into play here. Her Belle’s reluctant fondness for the Beast is just so great here. Terrence Mann brings his A-game from his shame over not knowing how to read to his lovestruck voice. Out of all of the animated songs, I always felt like this was the weakest number for that film. In the live action one, there’s a great little harmonizing moment between the staff and an adorable joke with Chip. Yet I feel like the stage show utilized this song to its fullest potential.
“HUMAN AGAIN” / “DAYS IN THE SUN”
This may be a cheat as “Human Again” in the animated film was released as part of an anniversary edition. This is my list so I’m making a judgment call here. These songs fall under the umbrella of ‘castle staff longing to be people’. “Days in the Sun” has the inclusion of Belle and Beast, but it’s the moments between the staff that really shine through in the song. It has a lullaby quality to it, which is actually a nice sort of breather for the film. “Human Again” in the animated film is done as the winter thaws. There are a lot of funny sight-gags during the song. Yet the musical slays this category. Not only does Beast ask Belle for their legendary dinner here, but there’s something so joyous in the hope of the castle staff. They really believe that this will be the time when they will be human again. You’re drawn into the hopeful joy as well. It’s definitely something to sweep you up in.
“THE MOB SONG”
Now this is how you do an angry mob. Luke Evans is at his most villainous here with the townspeople practically demanding the blood of the Beast. (Plus it sets up LeFou’s redemption in the film.) Evans’ Gaston is definitely super compelling in the moment. He wants blood. He wants to capitalize on this moment. More importantly, he wants revenge for this creature winning Belle’s heart. Seeing this in the theatre, especially with “Belle” in mind, you definitely see how something like has been simmering in the town. The animated film and the stage play both have their charms as well, but the live action really really does it right here.
“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST”
Do I really even need to go into detail? If you have to ask me what I think a perfect cinematic moment is? Then I’m going to name this song. It’s simple yet gorgeous, timeless in a way that makes my heart ache. When I think of a fairytale moment, then this is what I see. It’s just so…pure and real and magical. Angela Lansbury’s voice just kind of wraps up in the moment. Like hearing your grandmother tell you a well-worn story, loved with age and soft with time. Emma Thompson and Beth Fowler do try their best, but (much like with “Be Our Guest”) this is Lansbury’s song utterly and her moment to shine.
Although, I will give props to Audra McDonald in the finale version of the song in the live action version. Mainly because she’s Audra McDonald. And I’m sure some way, some how she will a Tony for her vocal work in this film. She’s just that damn magical.
Now for my favorite songs in both the musical and the live action film, the solo of the Beast.
“IF I CAN’T LOVE HER” vs “EVERMORE”
Missing from the animated film, probably cut for time, is a song for our Beast. If I had one problem with the animated film, then it would be that cut song. I always felt like the guy had a lot to say because I just found him to be a fascinating character. When I finally saw the Broadway version with “If I Can’t Love Her”, then I was like ‘yes you were missing’. For a lot years, it was my favorite song from the show. It still is. Which I’m certain says a lot about me. It’s a very tortured number as the Beast ruminates on his fate and how this is really it for him if he can’t find some common ground with Belle. Then “Evermore” happened and things changed for me. Dan Stevens delivers a beautiful solo number that really shows how much the Beast has evolved over the film. I think what I prefer on “Evermore” is that well it shows the power of love. You’re irrevocably changed by it whether or not the person returns your affections. I think it’s showed best with the line “She will still inspire me/Be apart of everything I do”. I just feel like it only serves to highlight the growth of the Beast. Like seriously movie, this is the song you should submit for the Oscar noms. (Also be prepared for the all of auditions of this song, high school theatre directors.)