I’m going to be up front here: Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney movies so it would take an awful lot to make me not enjoy my experience seeing it in a live-action format. That being said, I can admit that this version was not perfect.
The Cast: I think this film was well cast. Luke Evans and Josh Gad are the strongest as Gaston and Lefou, clearly enjoying themselves and making the most of their screen time. Their characters are given a little more depth; they’re friends returned from war, which explains why Gaston would choose now to begin pursuing Belle as opposed to all the years she’s lived in the village before the movie’s open. Gaston’s plot to imprison Maurice in an asylum isn’t just a mustache-twirling villain move to blackmail Belle, but the only way to keep himself from being accused of attempted murder, which is a much more interesting motive.
Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald, as Cadenza and Madame Garderobe, are also fun additions, as the former’s role is not in the animated film and the latter is probably better known from the stage version than the animated film. Kevin Kline makes the most of Maurice’s limited presence, giving him as much depth as he can considering the role was originally easily summed up as “crazy old Maurice.” I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Kline’s Maurice, which is something I’d never have said about the animated movie.
The rest of the cast is, as I said before, well cast. I don’t disagree with any of the choices, and I think they all did a fine job, but I think they suffer from having an awful lot to live up to. Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts are iconic characters, and you can’t help but go into “Be Our Guest” waiting for your mind to be blown. That doesn’t really happen here. Again, it’s not that they don’t do well. They just don’t do anything new with the material.
Emma Watson has had a lot of criticism for being a more subdued Belle. There are moments, like when she is arguing with the Beast as she tends to his wounds, or when she’s refusing to join him for dinner, that you see a more feisty, fiery Belle, so I don’t think Watson was miscast; but I don’t think she was given enough opportunity to explore that side of Belle either.
Then there’s Dan Stevens, whose entire performance was overshadowed by that horrible CGI face. I don’t know who made that decision or why, when there would have been so many excellent practical effect options. Make-up, masks, prosthetics—any of this would have been preferable to that obvious CGI constantly taking me out of the moment. And it really is a shame, because I thoroughly enjoyed Dan Stevens as Beast. He was gruff and grouchy and bitter, but there was a humor and an intelligence there that gave you an idea of who the Beast was before the curse and what kind of man was currently hiding within that form. Stupid CGI.
The CGI: As I just said: stupid, stupid, stupid. I realize this is a film in which furniture can sing and dance, so some CGI is inevitable, even in the live-action version, but come on! You can at least make it good CGI. You are Disney. You have the money.
Right off the bat, in Belle’s big “I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere,” moment, she’s clearly in the middle of a green screen. This is the big, arms open, Julie Andrews’ in The Sound of Music in the field moment, the one that’s supposed to show you how much Belle wants to embrace the vastness of the world around her and explore it, and they decide to undermine that by putting her in front of green screen in which there is nothing to embrace or explore. They really couldn’t find a large and pretty enough field or meadow in all of the whole wide world? Something to make it feel like Belle was stretching toward something a little more tangible? Really?
I don’t really have complaints about the CGI for the furniture, that met my expectations. But whoever decided the Beast should be CGI, even partially, should be hit over the head with a very heavy book immediately.
The Tale As Old As Time: In this regard, the film does not disappoint. All the classic moments are there and a lot of the original plot holes filled in. I was happy to see that, as there have been questions my friends and I have enjoyed debating over the years. The timing of the curse in the animated film suggests that the Beast was cursed around age 10 or 11, but this time around they’re more careful with any mention of time, suggesting that the castle and its inhabitants have been frozen in time for the duration of the curse, as well as wiped from memory. This explains why the villagers never noticed their prince went missing or stumbled upon the creepy old castle in the woods.
There are also references to the original fairy tale, such as Maurice’s imprisonment for taking a rose from the Beast’s garden instead of trespassing.
I was also pleased to notice that the orchestrations often referenced songs from the stage version, such as “Home” and “If I Can’t Love Her.”
All in all, if you love the animated movie, you will enjoy this adaptation. It’s not perfect, but it’s a nice trip down memory lane.