Movie review: Live action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ a charming adaptation of the animated classic

Although Disney’s recent trend of turning its animated classics into live action adaptations could be seen as a bit of a cash grab, these films have, for the most part, been successful so far. Disney is able to take what people loved about the original while also helping us view the story with fresh eyes.

Disney recently took on one of its most beloved classics, the animated musical “Beauty and the Beast.” The 1991 film featured a charming tale with an important message — learning to look past the outside and love and respect someone for who they really are — and even became the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. The new live action film cast Harry Potter star Emma Watson and Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens as Belle and the Beast, with Luke Evans playing the character we all love to hate, Gaston. So, how does this live action update of Disney’s “tale as old as time” compare to the original?

The last time I saw the animated “Beauty and the Beast” was when Disney re-released it in theaters in 3D several years ago, and I decided not to rewatch it to prepare for the new movie. I wanted to experience the live action adaptation without focusing too much on the original version.

You’re probably already familiar with the story — a woman named Belle loves to read and feels trapped in her small village, especially since the other villagers don’t seem to understand her. When her father gets lost in the woods and is trapped in a castle by a mysterious Beast, Belle volunteers to take his place as prisoner. She learns the Beast is actually a former prince who was cursed to take on this terrifying form until he can learn to love another and receive their love in return.

While reviews for the film have been generally positive (and it’s already made a boatload of money), one of the criticisms I have seen is that it sticks a little too close to its source material. Since this is based on such a well-loved film that was made fairly recently, perhaps the film makers were hesitant to depart too much from the original narrative. One of the things I appreciated most about 2015’s live action “Cinderella” was how it felt both traditional and modern at the same time, featuring a fresh look at the characters and narrative. I feel the live action “Beauty and the Beast” could have been a bit more daring and veered farther from the original.

That being said, the live action “Beauty and the Beast” is a very charming adaptation, and there were many moments I had a huge grin on my face (especially during the always show-stopping number, “Be Our Guest”). For me, the standouts from the cast were Stevens as the Beast and Evans as Gaston. I am definitely down for seeing the former Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey in more movie musicals; I thought he had a good singing voice and brought a nice amount of nuance to the role of the Beast. It could have been easy for the character to get lost in the CGI effects, but Stevens helps us catch more and more flashes of the character’s humanity as the story goes on and the Beast learns how to love. I also got a big kick out of Evans as Gaston. The character isn’t as bombastic or over-the-top as the animated version, but to me that was a good thing. Since this is live action, the characters have to feel a little more realistic.

And speaking of more realistic… I’m impressed with how they brought all the talking household items to life. This is one of the things I most skeptical about for the live action adaptation, but I thought they struck a nice balance between fanciful and believable. Well, about as believable as a walking, talking candlestick can be!

While I didn’t think Watson sparkled quite as much in her role as Belle as Lily James did in “Cinderella,” Watson has a sweet singing voice and I enjoyed her more empowered take on the character. I’m glad they made her an inventor like her father and that they did more to address the sticky issue of Belle falling in love with her captor.

I very much enjoyed this film, and I left the theater smiling and humming (I still have “Be Our Guest” stuck in my head). I even liked the new songs they introduced for this version and I’ll probably end up purchasing the soundtrack. Although it’s fair to say this adaptation could have been a bit more adventurous, it’s still a treat for Disney fans.

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