Beauty and the Beast **1/2

Colorful Disney remake looks great, but is certainly not an improvement over the original.

Is it worth $10? Yes

The cartoon is better.

That’s what you’re wondering, right? The new “Beauty and the Beast” is a live action remake of Disney’s (arguably) greatest musical, so the comparisons are certainly fair. The 1991 “Beast” is, with due respect to “The Little Mermaid” (1989), the film that reignited the brilliance of Disney animation, and it was the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. So to remake it, as “Dreamgirls” director Bill Condon has done, is to travel in sacred territory. And you know what? The cartoon is better.

To be sure, it’s not for lack of trying. The production design, costumes and visual effects are stunning, so no expense was spared in getting this $160 million production to the big screen. If anything, it feels like too much: The songs (and song lyrics) that are added, Belle’s backstory, a new character and other embellishments all feel like excess. The original is so embedded in our minds that to mess with perfection seems, well, beastly.

The filmmakers will no doubt say this is “Beauty and the Beast” for a new generation. If that’s the case, it feels accurate: People of 2017 crave more flash, distractions and immediate satisfaction than people did in 1991, so in a way it’s fitting that this “Beast” remake is so exuberant. Still, did no one at Disney question the necessity of bloating an 84-minute classic to 129 minutes?

You know it’s different from the start. The prologue is interrupted to show the Prince/Beast (Dan Stevens) at a party surrounded by women as Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) sings. This is a bold move, and all we can think is, “why would Condon interrupt a perfect way to start the movie with this superfluous backstory?” 

Shortly thereafter we meet Belle (Emma Watson), a bookworm in a small French village whose father (Kevin Kline) is the town’s kooky inventor. She dreams of having something more to her provincial life – if for no other reason to get away from the brutish Gaston (Luke Evans) and his stooge Le Fou (Josh Gad) – and unexpectedly gets it. Soon she’s held captive in a remote castle by a Beast and his talking furniture. Thankfully for her, candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), tea pot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and her son Chip (Nathan Mack) are perfectly nice. But if the Beast doesn’t find true love before the last petal on his rose falls, everyone who lives in the castle will be doomed to his or her new form forever.

Every song, except one, is better in the animated version. That’s not to say they’re done poorly, it’s just that you’ll notice the small differences, such as the added verse in “Be Our Guest,” and wonder why they added it. That said, the performances and voice work are strong, particularly Gad as Le Fou, who gives us a better version of “Gaston” than the animated film provides. Watson sings sweetly, endearing us from the start with “Belle” and easily getting us to like our heroine. Thompson’s rendition of the title song is nice but not memorable.

“Beauty and the Beast” is good enough to satisfy our natural curiosity in wanting to see it, but it’s clearly inferior to its predecessor. Ironically, it does itself a disservice by trying too hard and adding too much. Sometimes leaving well enough alone really is the best way to go.

Did you know?
The ballroom features 12,000 square feet of faux marble and 10 glass chandeliers.

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