But while the stage play fully embraces the original characters and tone of the animated film, the live-action movie follows the plot of the original faithfully (with a few of its own otherwise inconsequential embellishments), while struggling to capture the essence of its tone and characters. It's hard to tell what it's doing with its characters most of the time--is LeFou supposed to be the same bumbling oaf he was in the original, or is he now the intelligent voice of reason for Gaston? The film juggles with both ideas without finding a way to blend them seamlessly into one character. I can't tell you what Cogsworth's character is supposed to be, because most of the time he simply existed and made mentions of being the head of the castle. There's hints that he's a bit nervous, but on the whole describing his character is about as effective as squeezing water from a rock. Lumiere and Mrs. Potts come closest to resembling actual characters--a result of both using the original script and having two excellent actors to play them. The rest are forgettable, though the film wants you to remember them somehow--there's an opera singer turned into a dresser who's been separated from her husband who's been turned into a piano, and I nearly forgot all about them until the very end, which was an "Oh yeah, they're married or something"-level revelation on my part.
Those are the supporting cast members, however, and it's the starring roles that matter the most. How do Belle and the Beast fare in this adaptation?
At first I thought the film had intended for Emma Watson to be playing a more withdrawn, less openly warm Belle--an interpretation I would have welcomed because it'd distance itself from the original (thereby distancing it from inevitable comparisons) while still aligning nicely with Belle's geeky personality that the townspeople find off-putting and "odd." Alas, it doesn't take long for it to show that it's simply a result of Watson's bland performance. She remains under-reactive to the grand wonders she sees and even her own passion for books for the entire duration of the film. That's not to say she doesn't try, but it doesn't wring out any personality or humanity for us to get attached to and root for. This became most obvious to me in the scene where she chooses to save the Beast's life over returning home--instead of feeling a swelling sense of admiration and sympathy for her as she takes one look back at the road to home before returning to the Beast's side, there's…nothing, because Watson's Belle hasn't demonstrated enough character at this point.
The Beast in the original film was animalistic and temperamental, but also very childish, naive, and even downright bashful well before he makes an effort to change his ways. In the original you can even see his posture and body language becoming less slumped and animal-like and more human as the film progresses; a neat touch I didn't notice until I rewatched it (right after seeing the live-action film). The Beast in this version isn't very beastly at all--his posture is natural, his temperament is subdued, he's well-read, and mostly a natural with social interaction. This makes scenes where he desperately wants to make Belle happy, like the library scene, fall flat because there's none of that awkward effort coming through his character.
Luke Evans does his best as Gaston, but he fails to leave a mark as a character, much less an overall villain. His character gives more presence than Belle or the Beast's, but he still doesn't have that imposing, forceful personality that straddled the fine line between being a cartoonish caricature of machismo and the embodiment of the uncomfortable reality of entitled stalkers.
Being so strongly tied to the original is this film's greatest undoing. It openly invites comparison with its near-word-for-word recreation of the original's scenes and musical sequences, and in doing so both fails to capture the charm of the original and craft an identity of its own. It's beautiful to look at, the introductory sequence explaining the Beast and the castle's back story in particular is spectacularly-shot, but it's mere paint that can easily be scraped off to reveal its dull surface underneath.