Note: This article assumes that the reader has seen the classic 1991 animated film that this new one remakes. If you haven’t seen the original, go buy it and watch it immediately: it’s considered a classic for a reason.
1. How does the Beauty and the Beast live-action remake compare to the original 1991 animated version?
The live-action version is extremely faithful to the original, though not without its quirks: a lyric changed here, a plot point tweaked there. If you’ve seen the original as many times as I have, you’ll notice that many scenes are shot-by-shot (or nearly so) replicas of the original. The movie does include most of the songs that were added for the Broadway musical, so it plays almost as an amalgam of both sources.
That being said, whether or not it adds something to the original is a tough, and I suspect mostly subjective, question to answer. The animated version is so embedded in my memory that a remake seems largely unnecessary. I appreciate the live-action version for its beauty (no pun intended) and the subtleties it adds to the plot, but it’s never going to replace the animated version in my mind. In a nutshell, it walks the line all remakes do: the one between being faithful to the source material and making itself a unique experience that can stand on its own. To me, it was a little too faithful: I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t know the original so well, so the remake could have stood out more as its own movie.
2. Should I see it?
Yes, absolutely. It’s not a great film, but it is a very good film, and it’s flat-out beautiful much of the time. I don’t know if I would have liked it better if I hadn’t seen the original animated film so many times, but even if it doesn’t add much to it it also doesn’t tarnish its memory.
3. Should I bring my kids?
If they can handle the original, they can probably handle the remake, although the difference between violent things being done to cartoon characters and those being done to humans (or a CGI-rendered Beast) may upset some smaller children. The Beast still fights with the wolves when he rescues Belle, Gaston still mortally wounds the Beast when his back is turned and subsequently falls to his death, but if there was any blood to be seen, I missed it. Gaston also treats Maurice even worse in live-action than in animation, which I wouldn’t have thought possible.
It should also be noted that it is a lot easier to believe that objects like candelabras, clocks, dishes, wardrobes, and harpsichords are alive when you’re watching a cartoon than when they appear to be part of the real world. If your kids haven’t seen the original, definitely show it to them first so they aren’t weirded out or confused by things that should be inanimate being rather the opposite.
You should be warned, though, that there is a new scene that explains what happened to Belle’s mother which could very well cause some kids (and quite probably some adults) to weep. (If you want to skip that bit, take a bathroom break as soon as you see Belle and the Beast looking together at a magical book in the library.)
4. How’s the acting?
For the most part, excellent. Emma Watson does a very credible job as Belle, actually managing to make me able not to see Hermione when I looked at her, despite the intellectual similarities between the characters; her singing is a bit shaky here and there, but certainly not bad. Kevin Kline does a great job as Maurice, of course, making him entirely believable as an inventor and a doting father. Dan Stevens does a good job as the Beast, although at some points it’s hard to know whether to give him or the CGI folks credit for the emotions he’s able to convey; he certainly does a fine job in his brief appearances as the human prince. Ian McKellen makes a fantastic Cogsworth, because Ian McKellen makes a fantastic just-about-anything, and Ewan McGregor hams it up very nicely as Lumière.
The best performances, though, come from Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou. Evans, despite being noticeably a bit older than his character should be, is nearly perfect as a loathsome, stupid jerk. Gad pretty much steals every scene he’s in, and that’s not easy in a film with this much to see. (For more on the controversy about LeFou, see the article I wrote two weeks ago.)
5. Does the movie address any of the plot holes from the original?
Yes. As mentioned above, the movie explains what happened to Belle’s mother, and confirms that Belle and Maurice came to the village from elsewhere, and why. (This is alluded to in the lyric “Ev’ry morning just the same / since the morning that we came / to this poor provincial town.”) It also gets rid of the Beast’s 21st birthday as the deadline, and simply attaches the curse to the magic rose’s petals. And it provides explanations as to why the enchantress cursed the castle’s servants as well as the Beast and why the people of this village have no idea that this large castle is within walking distance of the place they’ve lived for ages.
It also adds scenes that make it easier to believe that Belle would fall in love with the Beast after he treated her so poorly. It still seems to happen a bit fast, but changing that would require much more substantial changes to the story.
6. So, is it worth paying more to see it in IMAX? In 3D?
The preview screening I attended was in standard 2D, and it was absolutely gorgeous. I advise staying away from 3D, because while the added depth could enhance some scenes, the loss of brightness concomitant with 3D conversions is likely to make the many already-dark scenes practically invisible. As for IMAX, I’ve heard that they’re making that version framed differently from the standard one, and good IMAX conversions can really make a beautiful film shine. My family and I have tickets to see the film in IMAX tomorrow, so check back here for my more informed opinion on the subject. Added 3/18/2017: I saw the film in IMAX this morning, and it definitely enhanced the experience. And you do see a bit more of each frame on the screen than in the standard version, which is nice.
7. When’s a good time for a bathroom break?
As noted above, if you have little kids, the scene following the Beast and Belle looking at a magical book in the library would be a pretty good one to miss. Apart from that, I’d only suggest avoiding missing the big musical numbers, which, if you know the original film, you’ll know when they’ll happen.
8. Do I have to stay after the end credits for a bonus scene?
No. The beginning of the credits is very attractive, so I recommend staying until the scroll starts, but once it does there’s really nothing more to see.
Note: I was invited to a free preview screening of the movie. All opinions expressed here are my own.