Wonderful in its own right, only one big complaint
On its own, the new live-action Beauty and the Beast is a fine film, and it would have much of the same impact as the original had the original animation not existed. The story is still deeply moving, the acting is fine, the music is enchanting, and the visuals are spectacular. It’s well worth owning.
Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible not to compare it to the animated film, so this review will make some relevant comparisons, particularly since this live-action film mostly reproduces the original.
Visually, the live-action, physical sets, and CGI far surpass almost all of the original animation, as one would be justified in expecting. That said, it doesn’t take away from the technical achievement of the original animation, e.g. the chandelier in the ballroom.
I think the singing in the newer movie suffers in comparison to the older one. While Emma Watson has a very pleasing purity of intonation, her singing voice lacks the characterization that Paige O’Hara had. It’s most notable in the opening “Belle”, but Watson opens up a bit more by “Something there”. I attribute the difference to O’Hara having had more experience from her earlier career on Broadway.
Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts arguably has a better singing voice than Emma Watson, with greater strength and range, which comes through in “Beauty and the Beast”. As wonderful as she is, however, the incomparable Angela Lansbury defined the role and the song. I know it’s unfair, but in listening to Thompson, I kept thinking of the ways she didn’t sound like Lansbury.
The men compare a little bit more favorably to their counterparts, particularly Ewan McGregor, who doesn’t hold back at all in injecting bounteous élan into his performance as Lumiere. In “Be Our Guest”, McGregor’s Lumiere is a younger, more suave version than Jerry Orbach’s, but both fit the role equally well.
Luke Evans as Gaston is similarly well-matched against Richard White’s animated Gaston, in terms of singing. As in the comparison between Watson and O’Hara, I think of Evans less as a singer than as an actor, but Evans injects more energy and character into his singing than does Watson, in some parts, so he compares well with White. Because Evans appears onscreen, however, he makes use of the opportunity to make Gaston a slightly more realistic human character that is otherwise cartoonish villain, whereas the animated Gaston appears as nothing but a musclebound cartoon buffoon.
A big advantage that the live-action movie has is the addition of some musical pieces not in the animated film — “How Does a Moment Last Forever” (in several incarnations), “Evermore” (Dan Stevens, as the Beast). “How Does a Moment Last Forever” is probably not necessary for the movie, but it is a welcome addition. Dan Stevens singing “Evermore” reminded me, favorably, of Javert singing “Stars” and was an even more welcome addition.
We all know the story, that the Beast is dying from the fight, that Belle begs him not to leave her (to die), and that Belle then declares her love for the Beast right at the moment of his death and the fall of the last magical rose petal, saving his life and lifting the curse from him and transforming him back to a human. It’s a moment that, no matter how many times I see the animated movie (or Beauty and the Beast at Disney’s Hollywood Studios) always catches my breath and brings a tear (or more) to my eyes. Then the curse is also lifted from the rest of the castle.
However, in the live-action movie, the Beast is dying from the fight, Belle begs him not to leave her (“Come back”), …
and then the movie switches over to show how the other cursed characters (Mrs. Potts, Lumiere, et al.) turn into the physical objects whose shapes they wore, right as the last petal fell.
Then the movie returns to show Belle declaring her love (“Please come back. I love you”), allowing the sorceress to reverse the curse for everyone.
The gap between Belle’s initial “Come back” and “I love you” is about two minutes, but when I first saw the movie in theaters, accustomed as I was to the direct flow from Beast’s death to the lifting of the curse, that two minutes felt like an interminable interruption. The tears didn’t come, at least not so easily, and I didn’t catch my breath because I don’t usually hold my breath for two minutes.
This change in editing between the old movie and the new is my only serious complaint, however.