Review: Beauty and the Beast - A 30th Celebration

Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration is finally here, and there's a lot to explore. I had been anticipating this production since it was announced last summer. At the time, it sounded like it would be filmed live like 2019's The Little Mermaid Live!, but it was apparently pre-recorded with a similar format. Both productions played a chopped-up version of the animated classic that was intercut with Broadway-style performances. The biggest difference is that Beauty and the Beast paid more tribute to the original animated film by including cameos of people who worked on it, such as Paige O'Hara, the original voice of Belle, who played a librarian in the opening number, and Alan Menken, the composer, who was seen playing the piano in the background in multiple scenes. Broadway veteran Rita Moreno hosted with tidbits about the original movie while pencil sketches and behind-the-scenes footage were presented in between commercial breaks.

The live performances were a tad avant-garde for my tastes. The interpretive dancers that played the part of the enchanted rose made it feel more like a performance of Cirque du Soleil than a live-action production of Beauty and the Beast. The show starred an R&B singer named H.E.R. in the role of Belle, and while she sounded fine, her voice didn't really match the French princessy singing I'm used to from other performers that played the character. There was a scene during Belle's reprise that felt out of place in which a slew of other girls in every age, shape, and size, appeared out of nowhere wearing their own versions of Belle's blue dress and did a long dance number all around her. It reminded me of the opening of The Little Mermaid's 30th anniversary panel at the D23 Expo, but that was more endearing because it wasn't smack dab in the middle of the film. Josh Groban was a perfect choice for the Beast, especially after contributing his own take on the character during the credits of the 2017 remake. He sounded sensational with and without the metallic steampunk-esque Beast costume that was unlike any other live-action version Disney has created for the character. Shania Twain as Mrs. Potts was a surprising choice since I've never though of her as a stiff matronly British woman.

The production felt more disjointed than The Little Mermaid Live! due to the jarring cuts between animation and live-action and the randomness of their placement. During The Little Mermaid, it was clear when a live-action sequence was about to began because it would cut to the audience watching the show on a screen during the introduction of a song, at which point the actors would walk onto an intricately crafted set for that particular number and sing it. Here, there were parts where the animation would cut to the audience watching it on a screen for no reason as well as random scenes that turned into pencil tests and live-action sequences that had no reason to be live-action, such as when the wolves changed Maurice and later Belle through the woods. It made the both the movie and the live-action sequences feel like they were constantly getting cut off, unlike the strategically placed musical numbers in The Little Mermaid. Even the sets were disjointed at times, such as the opening number in which Belle walks down the streets of the Disney studio lot in Burbank with some fake-looking cardboard cutouts of her small French town that weren't even colored in. I can tell they were going for an artsy look, but it wasn't consistent with the rest of the show.

The most disappointing part Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration was that the performers for Belle and the Beast didn't come out to dance during the title song, "Beauty and the Beast." At first, it looked like they didn't even bother making a yellow ballgown for their Belle until she came out in one at the end as a surprise. I can see that the team behind this production put a great deal of effort into the costumes and sets, but it suffers from a lack of identity. It was as though they couldn't decide whether they wanted to a tribute to the animated film or a modern avant-garde take on the story, so they decided to do everything at the same time and see what happens. There was even a random TikTok joke thrown in! Some costumes and dances felt like they were more inspired by Hamilton than by Beauty and the Beast. This show could have been really good if it had tried to just be one thing instead of fifty different things without a taking the time to fully flesh out any of them.

Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration is a collage of puzzle pieces that don't quite fit together. I could see the live-action sequences working as a new cruise ship show or the behind-the-scenes sequences combining to create a 20/20 "reunion" special like they did with Cinderella. I would even be happy to just sit and watch the entire 1991 animated film again from front to back because it was a fantastic movie. This special had so many moving parts that never quite converged to make a whole. The constant shifts between live-action and animation were difficult to adjust to as well as all of the interpretive dancing, which could have been its own show. Did you think this special worked well the way it was, or would you have preferred to see more of the animation, live-action, or behind-the-scenes sequences? Let me know in the comments!


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