Bill Condon's elaborate remake of Beauty and the Beast clearly draws its inspiration from Disney's 1991 animated classic (rather than the 18th century fairy tale), but loses much of the original's magic in the transition to live action.
Viewers looking for a scene-by-scene replication will be thrown off before the end of the narrated prologue, which provides some insight into the prince's life before he was cursed for his vanity and turned into a fancy buffalo-antelope hybrid. The establishing palace scenes are impressive enough, and they're followed by the film's musical highlight, "Belle," an introduction to the titular character amidst her provincial townsfolk.
The 1991 version of Belle is one of the more redeemable Disney princesses, intelligent, loyal and strong-willed (as demonstrated by her repeated rejections of male suitors, holding her own against the Beast's outbursts of rage and sacrificing herself to protect those she loves). Emma Watson initially captures the spirit of the source character admirably with her enthusiasm for literature, attention to mechanical repairs and distaste for undeserving men, but she quickly falls into a pattern of polite smiles, muted giggles and overwrought tears for most of the rest of the film.
And despite some added storylines into his background, the Beast (Dan Stevens) doesn't prove much more complex; under Belle's influence, he evolves from grunting and yelling to cracking painfully bad jokes and relying on sheepish faces and CGI-enhanced baby blue eyes.
Most despicable of the characters is, of course, Gaston (Luke Evans), the ale-swigging, pec-flexing, greasy-haired sleazebag trying to win Belle's affection by telling her to swap out her reading hobby for raising children. He is, remarkably, even more disgusting realized in non-cartoon form, when there's a human face to his misogynist, predatory pursuit of Belle and public smear campaign against her father, Maurice (played more expertly than any other character onscreen by Kevin Kline). Gaston's abhorrent arrogance is spurred on by his slightly less sinister but nonetheless slimy enabler of a sidekick, Lefou (who unfortunately does little to exhibit the leaps of progress that many were hoping for).
Meanwhile, the objects in the Beast's enchanted castle are sadly missing much of their original charm thanks to CGI re-imaginings that leave them either cold and stiff (Cogsworth, Chip) or overly campy (Lumiere, Madame Garderobe). Even the animated inanimate objects' 1991 piéce de resistance "Be Our Guest" is lacklustre; some whimsical bursts of colour and action towards the end of the dinner spectacle show promise, but it's too little too late, like an immaculate dessert after a mediocre main course.
As for the new musical numbers, the songs fall short amidst classics as delightful as the 1991 originals, and very few of the added or extended scenes feel vital to the story's update.
Opting for brief deviations rather than a massive overhaul, the new film fails both at giving viewers an exact live action recreation of a beloved classic and at addressing any of the fairytale's problematic foundations in any kind of meaningful way. Yes, it's neat that Belle likes to read and can ride a horse in a ball gown, but at its core, it's still a fundamentally creepy story about a young girl falling in love with a monster that takes her as his prisoner.
There are glimmers of visual marvels and an abundance of nostalgic nods to one of Disney's most beloved masterpieces, but the insipid dialogue and largely unnecessarily fleshed out storyline holds Beauty and the Beast back from being a classic in its own right. (Disney)