Prior to hitting the theater, I assumed that if anything were to throw me off, it would be Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) in the lead as Belle. I was skeptical because she isn't a singer by trade and, in my opinion, she's a bit baby-faced and meek in her appearance for the role. Sure, Belle is a teenager, but considering her given traits, I envisioned someone more maturely stately and prepossessing. Say, Phantom of the Opera and Shameless star Emmy Rossum, or maybe even Disney alum Vanessa Hudgens. However, Watson didn't distract me at all. The required resolute demeanor came so naturally to her, I was sure she's Belle in her daily life. Vocally, she gave a convincing "I can carry a tune" performance. I never said to myself "Don't quit your day job."
The kinds of similarities and differences from the 1991 original would also dictate whether or not I'd be "thrown off." This is an area where there's almost no winning for filmmakers, because half of the audience will desire an overwhelmingly unique production, while the other half would expect a true-to-form recreation. I was of the latter portion. What's the point of a conversion if I'm going to see an essentially different movie? Songs included, Condon's Beast was nearly a frame-by-frame remake, and I appreciated the effort and attention to detail that went into making it so. The few additions and tweaks were mostly flattering. For example, new number "Evermore" was an inviting point-of-view for the Beast, in which he heartbreakingly croons over the thought of losing Belle. Celine Dion, who sung the central soundtrack theme with Peabo Bryson, makes an appearance with "How Does a Moment Last Forever" in the credits. Belle's fem-spirational moxie is expounded upon, as she's a literacy advocate and inventor (to the townspeople's dismay, of course). There's also commentary on attitudes towards women who never marry and period-references about how singlehood led to poverty.
So, what was the kicker? As with many things in life, it was the thing I'd least expect it to be. Remember that "sense of actuality" I mentioned? Well, in an ironic twist, the hard-press for realism made the film feel muted and unaffected for a great part of it. To make it believable that the Beast's staff had been turned into household objects, their faces were more blended in. This eliminated the expressiveness that gave Lumière (Ewan McGregor) & Co. so much fun personality. I instantly became concerned about how the reported Lion King adaption would look, presuming the plan was to use real animals. There were multiple, effective close-ups on the Beast's eyes to capture a sincere soul, but his whole picture lacked authentic communicative quality. This was something better accomplished by the 1987 CBS television series starring The Terminator's Linda Hamilton. Use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) for this project was anticipated, and the effects were beautiful, but the manufacturing was too apparent at times. Call me nit-picky, but there was a certain, breathing liveliness that wasn't successfully reproduced. Perhaps this why any scenes with Gaston (Luke Evans) and LeFou (Josh Gad) were like a shot of caffeine and I didn't hate them like I was supposed to. Both actors did an excellent job in general making their characters entertaining versus annoying, though.
I might have been blindsided by the palpability factor, but that's not to say I wasn't mesmerized by anything. I was particularly spellbound by the credits and the classic ballroom scene. Condon's ability to make an event out of end-titles is an art. Ethereal, dreamy and poignant, they were what fairytales are made of. For the ballroom, there's a moment where the Beast lifts Belle to spin her around, and the chandelier lights are pulled out with smaller, glittering beams to look like individual specs. There's just a teasing snippet of it in the trailer; in full, it's exquisite. Belle's gown wasn't an exact replica, but who's keeping score? Clearly, I am, to a degree.
2017's Beauty & The Beast may not be as emotionally arresting or unreserved as its parent, but it's bloody gorgeous and has a honorable dose of nostalgia. The purposes of providing a live-action aesthetic are served.