PLOT- A live-action version of the Disney animated classic musical about an arrogant prince (Dan Stevens), who is turned into a beast by an enchantress (Hattie Morahan), who is angered when she is turned away from shelter in his castle. The enchantress curses his whole house, turning his servant into animated intimate objects and spells the nearby village to forget about both the castle and curse. The prince/beast is given a magical rose and if he can find true love and receive love in return, before the last petal on the rose drops, the curse will be broken.
In the village, a bookish woman named Belle (Emma Watson) lives with her inventor father, Maurice (Kevin Klein). Although Belle does not fit in, she is romantically pursued by the most popular and most vain, man in town, Gaston (Luke Evans). Belle couldn't be less interested or attracted to Gaston, which only makes him more interested in her.
Maurice heads off on a yearly trip to a nearby trading village and on his way back, lightening strikes a tree, sending him on the wrong path, causing him to discover the Beast's castle. Maurice picks a rose for Belle from the Beast's garden. This infuriates the beast and he keeps Maurice as his prisoner for punishment.
Maurice's horse returns home to Belle and she has the horse guide her to the Beast's castle, where she finds her father. She makes a deal with the Beast and takes her father's place as a prisoner. Seeing a woman in the castle, gives hope to household objects, who will become permenantly inanimate, if the curse is not broken. Seeing this as a final opportunity, they pull out all of the stops to create an environment in which the Beast and Belle could fall in love.
LIKE- Visually, Beauty and the Beast is stunning, especially every scene involving the castle. Initially, I wasn't sure about the realistic looking household objects, for example, Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) looked kind of creepy. However, I didn't think this as I was watching the film. Visually, it worked with the style of the production. Speaking of visuals, the beast's face and expressions looked great. I read that originally they wanted to achieve it with practically make-up, but had to use CG. It just looked really good, very expressive.
This is a good ensemble cast film, but the real stand-out was Evans as Gaston. I'm not sure if it was due to the nature of his songs, but he seemed to have the most energy in the cast. It was also fun to see his interaction with Josh Gad as LeFou.
I liked that the live-action version had more backstory, such as learning that Belle's mother had died from the plague in Paris or that the Beast was spoiled because of his upbringing; which brought context as to why his servants, who raised him from a child, still loved him. The information, which I don't believe was in the animated version, of a memory curse on the town, also made more sense as to why the villagers lacked awareness regarding the castle.
DISLIKE- I have to give a disclaimer: I was never a fan of this particular fairytale, and the animated version is one of my very least favorite Disney films. I've just never connected with Belle (despite our mutual love of books) and I don't like the story. I never gave it much thought, but after watching the live-action version, I have more clarity regarding my dislike.
First regarding Belle: you should like the protagonist ( I actually question that she is the true protagonist of the film, I think that's really the Beast) and in her introductory song "Belle", she comes across as obnoxious, mocking the town where she lives. I'm left feeling not that she's that peculiar, but that she's the town outcast because she's kind of a bitch. Later in the film, she is shocked that the Beast is literate. It's snooty. I wasn't keen on Watson's portrayal of Belle. I like Watson in other films, and visually, she was perfectly cast in the part, however, her energy was subdued and her singing, while adequate, wasn't overwhelming.
Audra McDonald, who is an amazing opera singer, plays Madame Garderobe, a singer turned into narcoleptic wardrobe. I love McDonald's voice and I've had the fortune to see her perform live: she's extremely talented...however, also woefully misplaced in this film. The opera music didn't mesh with the other songs. It was odd and grating.
Let's talk about story: Although it was wonderful that this version had more backstory, some of it didn't jive. For example, if I'm understanding this correctly, many of the villagers were at the prince's lavish party the night that the enchantress placed the curse and those who managed to flee the castle, forgot the incident, but were spared being turned into inanimate objects. Right? So, all of the people attending the party 1. seemed to be nobles or otherwise incredibly rich people that hang out with the prince, not people from some little village. These were people in league with the snobby prince, also mocking the enchantress. So was part of the curse that they were also condemned to live in a little village? 2. If these are the same people from the "party-that-now-live-in-the-village", that get their memories back at the end of the film, why should I like them? They were snobby at the party and terrible while living in the village, why should I care about them now? As far as I see it, the only likable characters are the servants from the castle and maybe Maurice. The Beast is okay too, because he has a full character arc and unlike the party goers/villagers, he can understand the situation and has the opportunity to reform his character. Belle, has no growth and a weak character arc. Meh.
I also thought it was odd that they didn't play-up the wacky inventor storyline of Belle's father. We see him tinkering with gadgets and there is a creative washing machine contraption that frees up Belle's time to read, but none of it is kooky enough to really make them seem like outsiders. The worst of it seems to be that Belle likes books too much, and although that makes villagers disapprove, it hardly is enough to make them outcasts. In the animated version this was more clear and added legitimacy the build of Maurice being crazy enough for Gaston to have reason to have him committed. It doesnt work in this version.
RECOMMEND- I know some hard-core Beauty and the Beast fans and this film is for them. I would watch this again, if my step-kids wanted to see it. However, if you're not already inclined, then skip it. Even with the extra backstory, it does little to improve upon the animated version, which although is beautiful with fun songs, has a weak story.
Whether or not you're a fan or care about seeing this film, I do recommend going to Youtube and checking out James Corden's Beauty and the Beast street performance. It's hilarious and better than any film version!