Disney has had success bringing its animated classics into live-action, with The Jungle Book, Maleficent, and Cinderella all performing well with audiences. Their latest project is the most beloved property thus far, however, and perhaps their biggest risk as well. So the question is, did it live up to the original?
In a word, yes, but that wouldn't necessarily do it justice. This live-action version won't replace the animated original, nor does it seek to. It seeks to be a faithful retelling with some modern touches, all of which end up enhancing the final product. While the studio was intent on making Belle a more 21st-century character, that scope expanded to characters like Maurice and the Beast as well. Cinderella didn't differentiate itself from the original enough, while Maleficent perhaps went further than audiences were comfortable with. Beauty and the Beast seems to have found a peaceful spot right in between.
You're immediately taken by Emma Watson's Belle, a picturesque recreation of the fan favorite if there ever was one. At times, it feels as if she stepped right out of the Disney Vault, but her character delightfully didn't follow suit. There isn't any one thing she does in the film that sets her apart from Disney princesses' in the past, and that's why it works. It's a bevy of small things, mannerisms, and the fact that she never waits for someone else to take action that by film's end defines this Belle for an entirely new audience, one that is used to seeing its heroines defined as much more than tired damsels.
The rest of the cast benefits from this same expanded scope, especially Belle's father Maurice. The character in the original was a bit of a bumbling idiot with a specific skillset. Kline brings some much-needed depth to his portrayal, and it didn't hurt that he was given some additional character history to work with. Kline's performance surpasses the original in every way, as much as Luke Evans perfectly recreates the chauvinistic and muscle bound Gaston.
The film is visually stunning, full of the rich Disney magic that the company has built its legacy on. The moments you expect to steal the show all meet that high standard, with a completely over the top "Be Our Guest", a stunning snow-covered landscape for "Something More", and a town that feels like it leaped quite literally from animation in "Belle". The Beast himself is amazingly detailed, especially in regards to his expressions. He says so much with his eyes and smile, a credit to the visual effects team. The film hinges on the Beasts' believability, and for most of the film, it succeeds. The further out the camera gets from him, however, the more disbelief starts to creep in, looking sometimes awkward in his movements, especially when walking next to Belle. Up-close though you won't have any problem believing this fairy tale is real.
Musically the film might even be better, with three new songs that seem as if they were lost and never included in the original. "How does a moment last forever", "Day In The Sun", and "Evermore" each add something new to the rich source material and bring you further into this magical world. Alan Menken truly managed to outdo himself here.
You can't help but get lost in the magic with Beauty and the Beast, and even the CG issues couldn't keep the smile away. As it stands, it doesn't want to replace your love of the original, only add to it, and in that regard, it succeeds on all counts.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars.