Disney’s live action remake of the classic 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast exists for only one reason: money. Other than that, it is the cinematic equivalent of a Westlife cover version: bland, inoffensive, indistinct, and utterly, utterly superfluous. It isn’t a bad film exactly, just a really, really pointless one.
And no – just adding a couple of new songs and the odd we-have-to-string-this-out-somehow flashback doesn’t excuse the sheer disdain Disney clearly has for their audience. At least with the recent remixed take on The Jungle Book there was new emphasis on the adventure side and an admirable return to the source material. At least with Maleficent there was an attempt to do something bold and different, even if they did cop out at the very end. Here there is no artistic reason whatsoever to revisit the classic tale of a young girl gradually falling in love with a cursed Prince in beast form, other than a because-we-can exercise in boring CGI designed to fleece the general public. It’s money for old rope.
I must also confess that I am not a big fan of Emma Watson. She never quite won me over in the Harry Potter films (nor incidentally did Daniel Radcliffe). Here she just seems cold and withdrawn most of the time, which is a shame because Belle – particularly the version of her from the 1991 film – is one of my favourite fairy tale characters. Elsewhere, Dan Stevens is never really sufficiently menacing as the Beast, though Kevin Kline’s Maurice and Josh Gad’s slightly more openly gay LeFou fare better. Various other great actors, including Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor, provide enjoyable vocals as the Prince’s human staff transfigured into various clocks, candlestick’s etc, but again, the whole exercise seems a colossal waste of time. Probably the best performance is from Luke Evans as Gaston. A superb addition to the classic fairy tale in the 1991 version, here his character arc from boorish oaf to outright monster is probably the only element that fully convinces. But I still prefer his animated avatar, as the jokes in his Gaston song work better in that film (“No-one’s necks as incredibly thick as Gaston!”).
Speaking of Alan Menken’s songs, they are all faithfully restaged here, sometimes shot for shot. Yet somehow they seem less magical. Perhaps the frequently unconvincing CGI doesn’t help matters. In fact, the whole film looks oddly artificial and weightless. Certain sections of the health-and-safety-nightmare castle could have been staged with vertiginous glee in the hands of a more imaginative director, but Bill Condon plays everything annoyingly safe. He even cuts away from the crucial emotional climax to a scene with the transfigured staff that presumably is meant to add poignancy, but in fact robs the interaction between Belle and the Beast of any meaningful catharsis.
Quite honestly, the best versions of Beauty and the Beast remain the 1991 animated version and the radically different 1946 John Cocteau monochrome gem. I know nothing I say is going to stop this cynical cash-cow juggernaut, but really Disney, if you must spend $160 million on a remake, next time please at least put a genuinely fresh spin on it.