During the reign of Louis XVI or thereabouts, pilfering a rose from a cursed castle’s garden is punishable by life imprisonment. The castle’s owner is an ornery, hairy and horned monster (Dan Stevens). But he’ll accept a substitute prisoner, like loyal daughter Belle (Emma Watson), who arrives to ransom her father (Kevin Kline) and take his place.
One of the blandest, most nervous and most cluttered fairy tale movies that Disney has ever released—Bill Condon’s redo is a rococo La La Fantasyland, complete with sort-of dancing and auto-tuned singing. It’s stagebound, with the 3D providing depth of field at a cost of blurry color; on the bright side, it recreates the format’s original appeal by aiming a lot of projectiles at the audience’s eyes.
It’s loaded with the stodgy rhyming dictionary-heavy lyrics from Disney’s 1991 animated feature, Beauty and the Beast. It has been a quarter of a century since the cartoon version came out. A remake isn’t unwarranted, even if there are fans who considered the animated version superfluous, on the grounds that Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version is one of the most priceless gems in the trove of cinema. The integrated cast is an admirable touch, though Kenneth Branagh got little attention 20 years ago for doing this in his Hamlet.
One is grateful for the harrumphing Ian McKellan as an attendant changed into a clock. Josh Gad’s gay buddy LeFou is a feature, not a bug. The hot topic of his gayness is hotter to those who never attended the careers of Edward Everett Horton and David Wayne as the best friend types in classic musicals. While LeFou angers all the right people, it doesn’t change the basic uninteresting dynamic of this romance.
The movie sprints between the castle and the village, but there’s no way to cut around Emma Watson’s inexperience as a leading lady—this perennial girl next door doesn’t have the incandescence to light up this movie. She’s maternal, not ardent, and she never really wrestles with her feelings. (Stevens’ beast roars and leaps, but he’s a big softy; there are teddy bears that have more masculine threat.)
Condon sources Busby Berkeley to the “Be Our Guest” number, with plates and napkins whirling in formation; the tune salutes the bending over backwards required in a service economy, honoring the servant who longs to serve. One never feels the sorrow or anger of humans turned into objects just because they were at the wrong place and the wrong time. The ADD franticness of this enchanted supper could be contrasted with the pensiveness of Alison Sudal whipping up the strudel out of the air in Fantastic Beasts.
At one point, a magic book in the Beast’s library leads Belle and the Beast to a garret inside a Montmartre windmill, and the exteriors of Paris at night are as foreboding as a Gustave Dore illustration—it’s some of the only original material in this remake, a rare instance of surprise in this movie.
Beauty and the Beast
Directed by Bill Condon. Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens and Luke Evans. PG. 129 mins.