This may be the most pointless, unnecessary movie I’ve ever seen. That is a criticism I usually hate – what movie is necessary – but I think it fits here because this movie is almost identical, and somehow inferior, to the 1991 animated film. This Beauty and the Beast movie isn’t bad, like last year’s thoroughly dull Jungle Book remake, but I can’t see any reason to see this movie when the previous one exists. Tremendous effort has been expended to make a movie that feels a little bit like going through the motions, with some new stuff that subtracts at least as much as it adds to the viewers enjoyment.
If you can’t manage to separate yourself from your memories of the original, which is no mean feat and at odds with Disney’s intentions here, there is still stuff here to enjoy. The cast is a big part of that enjoyment. Emma Watson’s Belle is a more active participant that her animated counterpart. This is still a movie that has her rush back to The Beast’s castle to watch the climactic confrontation, but a few additions and angrier line readings makes her more assertive than before. Luke Evans is, as usual, better than everything around him. Any scene with Evans’s Gaston is better than any without. And Josh Gad manages to turn dim witted lackey Le Fou into something resembling a real character, which is no mean feat.
The only weak link in the cast is Dan Stevens as The Beast, but that might be more him having to act through a cg character when most of the rest are flesh and blood. It’s not like his household servants, voiced by the likes of Ian McKellan and Ewan McGregor, are doing much more than providing voices. Still, it is Stevens that must carry one half of the romantic couple and his Beast fails to even once feel real.
The musical numbers are still good, though the new ones much less so than the returning classics. Some of the singing voices aren’t the best, but that works with the actual, physical performances.
One thing that really kills the movie is padding. Freed from animations costly restrictions, the run time on this balloons out over two hours, with none of the new scenes adding anything positive to the film. We don’t need to know about the tragic fate of Belle’s mother. The 1991 version was lean perfection; this one feels flabby and bloated. It sticks too close to the original to fix any of its admittedly minor problems, but when it strays it adds virtually nothing. My complaints seem somewhat paradoxical; I want the movie to have changed more from the animated version, but I don’t like it when it did. But that is the problem with hewing so closely to another version of the story. The original had a vision; this one doesn’t. It has that movie’s vision, so anytime its own voice creeps in it stands out.
Beauty and The Beast is pretty, but hollow. It is technically well made in many respects, but I don’t see much in it to recommend to anyone. Disney is making a cottage industry out of live action versions of their animated classics, but the third time’s the charm for me; I’m out. From Cinderella to The Jungle Book to Beauty and the Beast, I have seen enough bland regurgitations of animated films I grew up watching. These movies are not for me.