I'm really not sure how I feel about the current Disney trend to take classic animated movies and give them a live-action overhaul. I was intrigued by The Jungle Book, though not enough to actually watch it (yet), and completely nonplussed by Cinderella, but for some reason Beauty and the Beast piqued my attention right from the first teaser. Certainly, the casting of both Emma Watson and Luke Evans in rolls that just seemed too perfect helped, but I think the film has always intrigued me a little anyway.
The casting hunch was certainly correct, with both Watson and Evans slotting into their respective roles seamlessly, whilst creating characters nostalgic of their animated counterparts but somehow more human. The Beast himself is wonderfully animated, with a humanoid form that works surprisingly well within the 'live-action' context and whose existence feels somehow natural despite its fantastical nature. Plus, Josh Gad is frankly brilliant and, personally, the standout performance of the movie as a wonderfully complex, yet comedic, LeFou.
Alongside the Beast are a myriad of other animated characters, all much loved, which are reproduced very cleverly. The various talking clocks, candlesticks and teapots are all imbued with distinctive personalities and succeed in appearing both realistic and instantly recognisable. The voice acting is brilliant throughout, though it was arguably even more fun to see the restored actors briefly appear at the end of the film. If anything, it's a shame that such a fantastic cast were largely "hidden" behind animated visages, but I don't see how this could have been done any other way.
Certainly, then, Beauty and the Beast is a very true adaptation, sticking exceedingly closely to the animated classic. Many of the scenes feel like they have been replicated shot-for-shot and all the favourite songs make a triumphant return. It isn't a perfect replica though, with various characters being given more nuanced backstories, further screen time and updated opinions to bring the film a little more into the 21st Century. Largely, these additions are welcome and well done; I imagine even the most devoted of fans will miss many of them. Personally, though, I think further adaptation would have been welcome. Despite a general increase in agency (I'm led to believe), Belle still feels somewhat a puppet for the first third-to-half of the film. She may claim to be "different" and head-strong, and her courage is certainly under no doubt, but her actions are still largely effects of the paths the men in her life have chosen, rather than causes in their own right. It's subtle, but still noticeable, which is a shame for a character often paraded as an archetype of female empowerment.
Belle is by no means the only character lacking a little depth, though, as most are only fleshed out as much as the story requires. You won't get any surprise twists or deep character revelations, but for a kids film that's perfectly fine. Where it counts, the cast is wonderful and nuanced enough to make the story very enjoyable to watch.
Less enjoyable to watch are the occasional editing errors or CGI gaffes. Beauty and the Beast is easily one of the most stunning CGI outings I've seen in a while, with some truly beautiful or jaw-dropping sequences and brilliantly empathetic character designs, but there are the occasional clunkers as well. Irritatingly, Belle's entrance was slightly marred by what looked like clear editing seams around the 'real' set and CGI town, making the whole shot bizarrely flat and distracting. Similarly, I was thrown out of the movie magic multiple times during Lumière's otherwise fantastic rendition of "Be Our Guest" when Belle's eye-lines fell out of sync with the various animations. Both instances also fell foul of poor audio syncing, leaving vocals floating several feet above or behind the characters on screen. As with similar gripes I had watching La La Land, these may be hardware issues with my local cinema, but it's still not something most films I watch have problems with.
Overall though, Beauty and the Beast is a wonderful (literally) re-tread of a beloved storyline. Whether it was a remake that was needed is debatable, but the result is at least a solid attempt with a brilliant cast and some clever additional content. It may not eclipse the animated classic, but it can at least share the limelight.