For better and for worse, the new live-action Beauty and the Beast adheres faithfully to its animated source material. Girl — bookish, beautiful, and disillusioned with her provincial life — meets beast. Trapped in a Xanadu-like castle and surrounded by talking trinkets and one really extensive library, the pair falls in love, in sequences that are often shot-by-shot re-creations of the original.
Even in this paint-by-numbers interpretation of the animated classic, Beauty and the Beast pulls off Disney’s most impressive feat: No matter how odd Dan Stevens’s motion-captured Beast looks, you’re still rooting for this romance. The Beast isn’t even all that bad looking. By the time Emma Watson’s Belle starts falling for him, his appearance is somewhere between a buffalo and a giant Leonberger — not great, but definitely doable. Indeed, as the song says, there really is something there that wasn’t there before: The Beast might not be the hottest guy in the world, but he’s actually pretty sweet once you get to know him.
And it’s precisely at this moment — just when you’re adjusting to life as a human person who’d swipe right on a cartoon Beast — that he’s snatched from us. In both versions of Beauty and the Beast, the pesky curse that trapped the Beast in his animal form is eventually broken. When Belle sobs over his injured body, her tears deactivate the spell. With proof that he can love and be loved in return, the Beast is magically returned to the human race.
Believe me when I say that this was the cruelest twist ending of my childhood. After 90 minutes of falling for that lush brown fur, I discovered that the Beast’s human form is blonde. Also, he’s just not that hot.
Alas, the same foul trick occurs in the new one — the human beast is simply less attractive than the animal one. It’s not entirely Dan Stevens’s fault. His strong chin and symmetrical face couldn’t save the jarring Beast-to-Prince transition (but, for the record, was Jamie Dornan not available?). For a brown-furred Beast to turn into a blond-haired prince has just never made a lot of sense, even though it’s a transition teased early on in both movies, when the prince is shown with blonde hair and blue eyes. Likeness aside, both twists hit on one fundamental quandary: Once you’ve convinced an audience to find a literal beast — with horns, but without table manners — to be a suitable match, where else can we go? According to the DVD commentary of the original, it’s clear that the movie’s animators found themselves in the same pickle. They admit to not spending much time on the Beast’s human form, figuring whatever they came up with would seem like a letdown compared to the lovable Beast. It’s a fair point: Though the lack of effort is clear in the animated prince’s lifeless eyes, after a lot of soul-searching, it seems to me they were probably right.
The new movie’s Beast doubles down on this oversight. Stevens is fine as a furry, clawed beast, but with his only few minutes of screen time as a human, his human appearance is something to behold: The prince’s sandy lace-front, a heap of hair impossible for any human to grow, swallows the scene entirely. As he brings Belle into what should be a romantic embrace, that hair nearly devours our heroine. God bless it though — if this scene lasted another minute, I’m quite certain the audience would’ve gotten a glimpse of Disney’s first visible track. Now that would have been a tale as old as time.