‘Beauty and the Beast’ feels as old as time

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Directed by Bill Condon

The charming trailer for director Bill Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” remake was basically a scene-for-scene recreation of the trailer for the 1991 animated original. But faithful adaptation becomes less enjoyable when it stretches the entire length of the movie. The only thing different this time around, other than a couple new songs and a few short narrative insertions here and there, is the enchanting—especially in IMAX 3D—special effects that bring the beast, the furniture, the castle, and the entire forest surrounding Belle’s provincial little town to life. So this updated, made-up “Beauty and the Beast” is like a nostalgic helping of leftovers, but served on your fanciest, most exquisite china. The “tale as old as time” feels every bit its age when you can predict nearly every scene (because you’ve seen it a million times since your childhood).

Emma Watson famously nearly quit acting until “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” reminded her what good roles can be like. That’s good news for us, because Disney’s most bookish princess deserved no less than a frequent UN speaker and strong, visible feminist to fill her (very practical) shoes. Watson fits the part, but, again, I can’t help thinking she had little room to grow into her character and give Belle a life of her own. In nearly every scene, she’s doing what we remember her to do in the animated classic. Gaston, too, played by Luke Evans, is a somewhat toned-down (you know, because of the egregious muscle mass fit only for animation) version of exactly what you remember. But Evans, too, is the perfect casting choice. No one commands the screen like Gaston. One character who does, thankfully, get some uniquely different treatment is Maurice, Belle’s father, played by Kevin Kline. While not setting him up as a raving, unreliable lunatic early one does pose challenges later in the plot, it gives Kline the ability to make Maurice more lovable—a character in his own right, not simply a narrative device to get Belle to the castle and get the story rolling (like was the case in 1991). Less cartoonish and noticeably slimmed down in the body, Maurice’s story gets the weight it always deserved. Belle’s deceased mother, too, is discussed. And LeFou (Josh Gad) is given that “exclusively gay moment” you likely read about. Let’s just say Disney still has a ways to go before it becomes “Moonlight.”

By altering very little, “Beauty and the Beast” practically begs to be compared to the original. Nostalgia abounds, as it does with all of these reboots—after all, who doesn’t enjoy listening to that culinary cabaret, “Be Our Guest”?—but “Beauty and the Beast” does little to set itself apart. And look, I love nostalgia as much as the next guy. But the joy it sparks is like a sugar high. It’s not a sustainable way to leave a lasting positive impression on an audience. That takes something more genuine. No one can blame the casting—Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Audra MacDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ewan McGregor, and Stanley Tucci make up the talking furniture—or the songs, all performed admirably, or the spell-binding CGI…but “Beauty and the Beast” seems to be missing what most of its characters lack for so much of the story—a beating human heart.


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