Disney's beloved Beauty and the Beast has been retold through the live-action lens, sprinkling dashes of updates and stretching sequences—ranging from padding or vital breathing space, depending on subjective opinion. The film adheres to the original 1991 animated musical story beats: the curse, the bonding of lovers, the final fight, the transformative happily ever after, but it does not attempt to upstage its predecessor. It conveys fondness while adding in its own refrains and alterations.
The human characters are… humanized closer to familiar realism. While Emma Watson’s Belle preserves the archetypical intellect and compassion, Kevin Kline’s Maurice averts the bumbling dad trademark and inventor kookiness of his 1991 counterpart. The villainous Gaston is “softened” by modified context. Luke Evan’s version lacks the muscular build and hardy baritone of his cartoony counterpart. In the animated film, Gaston swaggered with a pompous gait, a strutting caricature of a faux-hero. Under Bill Condon’s direction, exaggerated macho-ness is replaced with shrewdness of toxic masculinity. Evan’s interpretation retains the familiar misogynistic self-entitlement but accentuates pseudo-nobility (I will marry you to save you from spinsterhood, he essentially tells Belle) and feigns benevolence around Belle’s father while persuading the town of Maurice’s insanity when he’s doubted.
Gaston’s heroic foil and ultimate moral superior, the Beast, is so graciously human from his introduction that I might as well call him Immature Human With Fur And Antlers. The film reduces the bestial mannerisms inherent in his psychological battle, keeping the immaturity but not his primal nature. In both his leisure and action moments, the 1991 Beast paces around on all fours and convincingly scales foundations and sprints building-to-building. I barely recall Dan Steven’s Beast crawling at all. While the CGI Beast may be a hairy entity with a few growls and roars, director Condon unwisely mutes the innate animalism slowly consuming the Prince.
On the subject of the non-humans and non-Beasts, the anthropomorphized objects bear photorealistic countenances, averting the cartoony wide-eyes and lips. The CGI generators etch a logical anatomy within their functional exteriors. Rather than implanting exaggerated mouths and eyes, the film pragmatically embeds facial features into the Lumiere’s candelabra carvings and Mrs. Potts’s china teapot paintings. Despite some cries of “uncanny valley,” I was transfixed on the visible labors of creativity to sculpt grand human facades in the inanimate.
Though sometimes the gusto of live-action movement is hindered. Hand-drawn animation creates dramatic plausibility in exaggerative blocking, which sets deterrents for blocking live-action performers in solid set pieces. “Gaston” is a particular example. There are amusing moments of Josh Gad’s LeFou twisting heads and bribing patrons to sing-along but the film’s struggles are evident when it has to slow down to “replicate” the animated film’s gags. Since animation delivers a visual license for velocity, caricatured mannerisms, and its own believable logistics and physics, the 1991 version laced in a succession of succinct sight gags with hyperbolic physicality. LeFou bounces on the craniums of drunkards, which wouldn’t be imitable with Josh Gad limited to skipping on chairs and tables. While the spit-showcase and weight-lifting gags require only a few frames of animation to absorb the humor, the live-action film loiters in Gaston’s grandeur for a few seconds more. Most glaring is the sudden musical interlude for Luke Evans to swordfight patrons as if to substitute for the swift cartoony brawl.
Even if the 2017 tweaks radiate their own gratifying flair and intrigue, they are anchored by the restraints of realism. This new Beauty and the Beast showcases its ambitions as an adaptation, but also can over-exert itself. In the end, the film amounts to a watchable extended homage to a sprightlier classic, just with breathing players.