The music from Disney's Beauty and the Beast has become so enduring since the animated film's release in 1991 it's frightful to think it nearly didn't happen.
Beauty and the Beast was originally conceived as a darker, nonmusical adaptation of the French fairy tale La Belle et la Bête, but following the success of 1989's The Little Mermaid, the studio shifted gears and hired Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the Oscar-winning songwriting team responsible for bringing music back to Disney, to save the project.
With Mermaid behind them, the duo reluctantly decided to work on the film, putting their passion project, Aladdin, on hold. What they ultimately created was magical, from Beauty and the Beast's enchanting title song to boisterous showstoppers like "Gaston" that showed off the late Ashman's clever wordplay.
The music lives on in Disney's new live-action remake, starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens. And though all of your favorite songs from the original have been remastered and rerecorded — with some notable changes — there are also several new additions from Menken and lyricist Tim Rice.
I've listened to nothing but the soundtrack since it dropped last week, which, of course, qualifies me to rank all of the songs from the live-action film. The tracks are ordered from Least Likely to Make You Hit Repeat to Most Likely to Play on a Loop from Now Until the End of Time. Agree or disagree with my findings @crystalbell — be my guest!
“The Mob Song”
As a sensitive young girl with a thing for Disney princesses, I was never a fan of this grim operetta about killing the Beast. It was too dark for me then, and it still is — especially now, with lyrics like, "We don't like what we don't understand / In fact, it scares us / And this monster is mysterious at least." (Too real.)
Don't get me wrong: Luke Evans was born to play Gaston, but his smarmy charm and vocal chops are put to much better use in the rowdy showstopper "Gaston." At least this version gives LeFou (Josh Gad) a bit of redemption. That said, I will always appreciate "The Mob Song" for partially inspiring Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton.
OK, so "Aria" is probably my least favorite song in the film, but two words save it from the last slot: Audra McDonald. This ode to opulence could be 12 minutes longer, and I'd still listen to it on repeat. But it's more a showcase for the theater veteran's voice than the sing-along I wanted it to be.
“Days in the Sun”
Of the new songs written for the live-action film, Menken and Rice's "Days in the Sun" is my least favorite. Still, I cried when the little prince stands in front of his dying mother and sings, "Days in the sun / When my life has barely begun / Not until my whole life is done / Will I ever leave you." It's a much more somber song compared with Menken and Ashman's upbeat waltz "Human Again," which was originally written for the animated film.
And although this is arguably Watson's best vocal work in the film, the idea of her "harmonizing" with Audra McDonald still makes me laugh. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Plumette) sounds lovely as well. It's a crime she didn't get a solo in this movie.
“How Does a Moment Last Forever (Montmartre)”
When a charmed book (a final gift from the Enchantress) gives Belle (and the Beast) the chance to be transported wherever her heart desires, she travels to the Paris of her childhood, specifically the cold and dusty attic where she was born. It's there, as she looks around the room singing her father's lullaby, that she finally discovers what happened to her mother. It's a sweet, somber song (I know, I'm a total sap) and Watson carries it beautifully. But it's not all that memorable.
“Be Our Guest”
Yes, Ewan McGregor's French accent is slowly killing me, but at least he doesn't sound Mexican! (Though I don't know what kind of accent that is at 1:53. I digress.) McGregor has a dreamy voice, and that's a fact. "Be Our Guest" has always been a crowd-pleaser, and it's still an undeniably fun, large-scale Broadway number. (Ashman's speciality.) But the exuberance that made "Be Our Guest" such a spectacle in the 1991 original seems to be missing here. However, I'm happy to see "10 years we've been rusting" has now been changed to "too long we've been rusting," so the Beast's age couldn't be questioned. Smart move, Disney.
“Beauty and the Beast (Finale)”
Who doesn't love a celebratory finale? Whoever decided that McDonald should sing "Beauty and the Beast" needs an Academy Award immediately. Maybe even a Presidential Medal of Freedom! That being said, Emma Thompson is the sneaky MVP of this movie. Her cockney accent is charming. And the best part? She's not trying to imitate Angela Lansbury.
“How Does a Moment Last Forever (Music Box)”
Old men make me cry. I can't explain it. It just happens. Kevin Kline sings here for a mere 50 seconds, but I'm a blubbering mess each time.
I might never forgive Hermione Granger for doing this to my favorite song. It's not that I don't think her vocals are sweet, and I don't even mind the Auto-Tune, but there's absolutely no power in this performance. And for a number like this, that's a shame. It's by far the best song in the animated Beauty and the Beast. Belle wants adventure in the great wide somewhere! Here, Watson sounds like she's not quite sure. Still, with such powerful lyrics, the reprise makes an impact.
“How Does a Moment Last Forever”
I've decided Céline Dion's closing-credits song ("How Does a Moment Last Forever") is officially part of this ranking. This Menken-Rice tune is a true Disney classic-in-the-making, thanks in part to Dion's chilling delivery. I've listened to this song at least a dozen times, and I still tear up when she sings, "Maybe some moments weren't so perfect / Maybe some memories not so sweet." Just give it the Oscar already!
"How Does a Moment Last Forever" is the more universal song, but "Evermore" is my favorite of the new additions. The emotion in Stevens's quavering voice as he sings, "I never needed anybody in my life," is just crushing. If they hadn't manipulated Stevens's singing voice to sound a bit deeper, I probably would have ranked this higher. (It's distracting!) It sounds like a B side off The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and that's the highest compliment I can give a song.
“Beauty and the Beast”
I was already convinced that Thompson was a queen, and then she goes and drops this kind of fire on the mic, and I'm officially in love. "Beauty and the Beast" will always be a classic song. It's so simple and yet so enchanting, and Thompson's version is just as magical as the original, if not a tiny bit more theatrical.
A seven-minute opening number so ambitious that Ashman was sure it was going to get him and Menken fired. Instead, the song became a beloved favorite. It's a full ensemble number bursting with personality, featuring Watson, Evans, Josh Gad, and the townspeople. Watson doesn't have the same range as Paige O'Hara, but some of her vocal inflections are on-point, like the way she sings, "Little town full of little people." That bit of disdain for this poor provincial town goes a long way. Did I mention that this number is just SO fun? I've listened to those girls at 3:18 sing the word "odd" at least 25 times now.
"Something There" might not be the most theatrical or emotional of the bunch, but it has its own secret weapon: Sir Ian McKellen!!! (I'm only slightly kidding.) In reality, it's a mellifluous ensemble number that works because everyone is so damn charming. It's a song about falling in love, and let's face it: Falling is the best part. Also, Watson and Stevens sound magical together.
I don't know what I love more: the confident timbre of Evans's voice, Josh Gad's campiness, or that dance break in the middle that's straight out of Newsies. It all works. "Gaston" has always been great — one of the best villain songs in the history of Disney (second only to Menken and Ashman's "Poor Unfortunate Souls"). But this is the one song from the live-action movie that I actually like more than the original.
Evans and Gad are a delightfully bombastic duo, but it's the song's alternate lyrics — originally written by Ashman decades ago — that make "Gaston" stand out. This Gaston sings about shooting beasts from behind (hello, foreshadowing), and when his sidekick LeFou asks, "Is that fair?" the dastardly brute responds, "I don't care." He's a bad dude.
This version of "Gaston" is every bit the riotous romp as the original, but it digs just a little deeper into the character we love to hate — and isn't that the whole point of remaking a classic?