There is arguably more to like than dislike about Bill Condon’s live-action version of Disney’s 1991 animated musical Beauty and the Beast, but there really isn’t much to love about it. It’s a serviceable (read: slavish) adaptation content to coast on the novelty of CGI rather than ink-and-paint animation.
The story is the same: After being rude to a sorceress in disguise (Hattie Morahan), an asshole prince (Dan Stevens) and his enabler servants are turned into a literal monster and assorted household objects, respectively, and given a limited amount of time to teach the jerk how to love or else spend eternity in their new forms.
They proceed to accomplish this by taking a bookish peasant girl, Belle (Emma Watson), hostage and Stockholm Syndroming her into engaging in a potentially abusive relationship. The fact that Belle’s only other prospect is a loutish narcissist, Gaston (Luke Evans), means the village dating pool is quite a step down for the former Hermione Granger. (In all fairness, the script makes him into a more sympathetic figure by virtue of a shitty childhood, and when the two inevitably fall for one another it’s as intellectual equals and not just “because happily ever after”.)
Stevens and Evans have the meaty roles, and both hold their own amidst the cheese and grandiosity. Watson does her best, but there’s too little beneath Belle’s surface to bring her fully to life. Kevin Kline brings some much-needed warmth and understatement as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, and Josh Gad steals a few scenes as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, rewritten here as a gay man much to the consternation of Russia and parts of Alabama. The rest of the supporting cast — Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw — are fine, but never rise to the heights of Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury.
Condon, who successfully navigated the singular musical Dreamgirls and the sloppy teen romance of two Twilight movies, seems to be coasting on autopilot here. He and co-writers Stephen Chobosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos took an 84-minute animated feature and inflated into a bloated 129 minutes via four new and entirely forgettable songs by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. More is definitely less in this instance.
The fact that much of the cast is populated by animated furniture that sings and dances proves to be a sadly appropriate metaphor for the movie itself. A stiff imitation of life and a slavish reproduction of the original, it’s a greedy attempt to cash in on nostalgia and an unflattering look for the House of Mouse.