The original Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney animated classic. It is, in my humble opinion, the perfect fairy tale.
I didn't think they could do it. I didn't think they could make it better.
The live-action remake is a masterful retelling of the original. It is a visually stunning and gorgeous film. The backstory is fleshed-out and adds a depth and weight to the story that was not present in the animated version. As a result, the characters of Belle, Maurice, and the Beast himself are much stronger, and the whole film benefits because of this.
The cast. Wow.
It took me a minute to adjust to Emma Watson as a character other than Hermione. But at some point early in the movie I realized that had vanished, and she had become Belle. Now that I've seen the film, Hermione and Belle are now on equal footing. She was fantastic.
Dan Stevens as the Beast. From watching the trailers, I was very worried that the Beast would be ruined by digital effects that couldn't do him justice. I still think what we saw in the trailers is shaky. But I'm happy to say this is not the case in the finished product. Dan Stevens performance as the Beast, enhanced by the effects, is absolutely convincing. The Beast is the phantom haunting the opera. He is Dracula in his castle. But Stevens lends a charm and gentleness that the character absolutely needs.
But Luke Evans as Gaston very nearly steals the show. He is amazing. He embodies that character completely, and even when you're hating Gaston, Evans is a joy to watch.
The rest of the characters are perfectly cast, particularly the denizens of the castle, especially Ewan McGregor as Lumier, Sir Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts.
As for the music. All the original classic songs are here, and they are all performed with a reverence for the originals, but with small variations that make them new and fresh, and their power is intact.
Now, normally when new songs are created to fit into a classic property, they feel out of place. But the new songs in Beauty and the Beast not only fit perfectly, but absolutely earn their place alongside the originals. They are powerful, they are masterful, and I'm going to have a hard time imagining a version of this story without them.
I have some small complaints, but they are few. The voiceover in the prologue was unfortunately lackluster. The music during the transformation of the Beast back into a human needed to be more powerful. And of course there's the whole controversy of LeFou (my thoughts on that might not be what you think they are). And there a few moments they changed from the original just for the sake of being different, and it doesn't always work or pay off.
Beauty and the Beast remains my favorite Disney fairy tale. Now I just have a new favorite version. I love it for being a simple but nigh-perfect story, one of the few Disney movies with a legitimate female lead character, and one of two Disney fairy tales, along with Tangled, that truly understand real love.
Beauty and the Beast is truly magical.