There is plenty of spectacle, but not much wonder, in Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s live-action remake of its own animated classic. Directed by Bill Condon, with Emma Watson in the role of Belle, this not only reprises songs and lines of dialogue from the 1991 film, but in many instances it recreates specific editing beats and camera angles. Its slavishness to the earlier movie makes 2014’s genteel, traditional take on Cinderella look like a work of radical revisionism.
For purists this might be fun, but I found it restrictive—of Watson in particular. She hits the right notes and has the right spunk, but in the same safe way a performer might in a stage version of Beauty and the Beast put on for tourists at Walt Disney World (which I’ve seen). There’s no room for her to bring anything of her own to the character. The same can be said of the supporting characters, with the likes of Ewan McGregor (as the candelabra Lumiere) and Ian McKellen (as the clock Cogsworth) predictably marching in predetermined time.
The movie isn’t a complete slog. Dan Stevens, with the help of creature effects that emphasize his animal features, gives the beast something that didn’t always register in the original: a truly predatory presence. And Luke Evans, while also reciting familiar lines as the boorish Gaston, at least seems to be having fun playing one of Disney’s best villains. The castle itself, meanwhile, is a wonderful concoction of spiral staircases and endless turrets, as if it hadn’t been constructed as much as dripped from the sky, as children do with sand.
Still, much of this is just too familiar. Even in its traditionalism, Cinderella managed to have a personality of its own. (Much of this had to do with Lily James’ charming earnestness, which was an improvement on the original characterization.) Even better, to my mind, was something like Maleficent, which took the Sleeping Beauty legend and maliciously turned it inside out. By contrast, and during its most familiar moments, Beauty and the Beast feels like a tale as moldy as time.