Do yourself a favour and just go back to the original
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Bill Condon). 129 minutes. Opens Friday (March 17). See Listing. Rating: NN
Okay, I give up. People want to see their favourite Disney animated classics dramatized with name actors, regardless of whether or not the material translates to live action, and who am I to say otherwise?
If last year’s Jungle Book didn’t put you off with the weirdness of watching photorealistic animals trying to murder each other between musical numbers, what the hell – you might enjoy this new take on Beauty And The Beast.
God knows I wanted to – Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s 1991 classic is one of my favourite Disney movies, with glorious imagery and a magnificent song score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. And I love pretty much every member of the all-star cast Disney and director Bill Condon have assembled for this one. But I couldn’t connect to it. It wouldn’t let me.
Running 45 minutes longer than its antecedent and packed with top actors given nothing to do, it’s expensive, elaborate and exhausting, an overblown expansion that only serves to remind us that Disney got it right the first time around. As hard as Emma Watson, Dan Stevens and Luke Evans might be working, the world does not need this movie.
For every clever sequence Condon and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos conceive – like a big mountaintop moment where Watson’s Belle sings against a backdrop that looks delicately hand-painted rather than computer-generated, or when Evans plays up the sociopathic self-regard of the villainous Gaston with a dead-eyed grin – there are so many more that just don’t work. Take, for example, the unnecessary backstories for various characters and the rearrangements of Ashman and Menken’s glorious songs to make them seem bigger and more elaborate. (A couple of new tracks written for the film by Menken and Tim Rice are not good.)
Worst of all, there’s the face of Stevens’s Beast – an attempt to create a flesh-and-blood version of the animated character that mixes tenderness and ferocity in the same way, but which lands straight in the Uncanny Valley. In close-ups, the Beast’s visage seems uncomfortably detailed in long shots – or when he stomps around the parapets of his castle, belting out one of those awful new songs – it looks like a mask that was applied just a few degrees off of Stevens’s face.
I am reminded that Condon made the last two Twilight movies, which were not exactly assured in their deployment of visual effects either. But he also made the exquisite Gods And Monsters, which, given his success replicating the imagery of James Whale’s Frankenstein, should at least have informed the Gothic interiors of the Beast’s accursed abode.
With Disney money at Condon’s disposal, this should have turned out better than it did. All I was left with was the desire to go home and spin up the original again.
You know what? You should do that, too. It’s wonderful, and it won’t let you down.