Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”)
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulous (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”)
As impressive a pair of live-action adaptations Disney was able to churn out in the last two years with 2015’s “Cinderella” and 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” it would’ve seemed like the studio figured out a surefire way to take a beloved classic film and enliven it for audiences who never owned a copy of the original on VHS. In “Beauty and the Beast,” however, director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) doesn’t seem very interested in producing a fresh take of the 1991 animated movie. In fact, in this re-imagining starring Emma Watson (“Harry Potter” franchise), it looks as if the most important thing to do was adhere to the film’s “tale as old as time” adage and commitment to nostalgia. If anything, “Beauty and the Beast” is too faithful.
There are a few liberties screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulous (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) take in the narrative that don’t add much to the overall emotion of the story. The backstory of the Beast (Dan Stevens) get more screen time as we learn the fate of his mother before he is turned into a hideous castle-dwelling monster. Identity politics also come into play as this version of “B&B” introduces us to Disney’s fist gay character, LeFou (Josh Gad), who in the original Disney movie was Gaston’s buffoonish punching bag. In this one, he’s a lively flirt.
Waston is serviceable as the intelligent and innocent Belle, but her interaction with the Beast in the first half of the movie leaves much to be desired. Their relationship lacks because the Beast is missing all of the charm and charisma of his animated predecessor. Becoming computer generated has done no favors for the Beast and we’re left with a hollow shell of a character that used to feel genuine, emotionally complex and enchanting.
While the art direction is nearly flawless albeit a bit overly gaudy at times, scenes like the dance in the ballroom or the “Be Our Guest” performance don’t visually pop like they once did. And when it comes to the new music, none of the songs from “How Does a Moment Last Forever” to the quite lullaby-like melody “Days in the Sun” are not memorable.
Wonderful set pieces, costumes, and childhood memories aside, “Beauty and the Beast” is fairly unexceptional. If French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s traditional fairy tale has never crossed your radar before, it’s probably best to start with the one that came during Disney’s Renaissance period. It is, by far, the more romantic and entertaining of the two.