By Michael Phillips 2017-04-28

Chicago Tribune

2 stars

The chaotic, pushy remake of Disney's 1991 screen musical "Beauty and the Beast" stresses the challenges of adapting a success in one form (animation) for another (live-action). We're in for a long line of Disney remakes in the coming years: Everything from "Dumbo" to "Aladdin" is headed for a wallet near you, banking on nostalgia and brand recognition. The financial wallop of the recent, pretty good live-action "Jungle Book" redo, and the live-action "Cinderella" before that, set a high bar of corporate expectation.

"Beauty and the Beast" will no doubt please the stockholders. It's just not a very good movie, is all.

Why? The high points of director Bill Condon's resume suggest he was the right person for this big-budget remake. The maker of "Gods and Monsters" and "Kinsey" possesses a basic understanding of the musical genre's building blocks, given his success with "Dreamgirls." And since he made one of the "Twilight" movies, "Breaking Dawn: Part I" (which he himself called "a disaster"), Condon is certainly familiar with the live-action/digital effects mashup requirements. But his new movie is more of a grating disappointment, despite its best supporting turns, human and animatronic.

Condon races through the story beats at an unvarying pace, usually with his camera too close to the performers while the digital effects overwhelm the screen. Emma Watson makes for a genial, bland-ish Belle, the freakish outsider in her provincial French village because of her interest in books and her indifference to the local hunky baritone, Gaston (Luke Evans). Underneath the digital fur and digital roars, Dan Stevens as the Beast, the transformed prince working on a rose-petaled deadline to become human again, locates some moments of pathos that stick.

The problems here, I think, are weirdly simple. The movie takes our knowledge and our interest in the material for granted. It zips from one number to another, throwing a ton of frenetically edited eye candy at the screen, charmlessly. "Be Our Guest" is nothing but visual noise. The tavern frolics, featuring Gaston and his fawning sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad), will give you that awful "Master of the House" "Les Miz" feeling. Too often we're watching highly qualified performers, plus a few less conspicuously talented ones (Watson, primarily), stuck doing karaoke, or motion-capture work of middling quality. The movie feels like a matinee of the second national tour of Disney's stage edition of "Beauty and the Beast," somewhere around the 300th performance.

The enchanted castle objects are all there, including Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson, particularly welcome). Newbies are dominated by the harpsichord Cadenza, played by Stanley Tucci. There's one shot of Tucci where he's hamming it up so ferociously at the keyboard, the movie briefly turns into an entirely different movie: "Beauty, the Beast and the Shameless Character Actor."

The 1991 film, one of many adaptations over the centuries of the old, dark fairy tale, worked wonderfully because it was pure Broadway, written for the screen, blending comedy and romance and magic and just enough snark in the margins. Alan Menken's music and the late Howard Ashman's brash lyrics were augmented for the stage version by new songs, lyrics by Tim Rice. There are more new songs composed for Condon's film, among them a flashback "Aria" sung by Audra McDonald, and "Days in the Sun," sung by the enchanted objects, fulfilling a narrative function similar to that of "Human Again" (cut from the animated film, reinstated for the Broadway musical, which ran nearly 5,500 performances).

Kevin Kline gets a new song as well. He plays Maurice, Belle's dear, tinkering father. He's the best, sweetest thing in the movie; he brings a sense of calm, droll authority to every line reading. The poor character spends his screen time propping up the other characters, or getting trussed up and left for dead by Gaston, but the story requires it. Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos develop a backstory for the death of Belle's mother, and add a few touches of their own. Bringing LeFou gently out of his closet, to the consternation of censorship-minded countries such as Russia and Malaysia, certainly has gotten people talking (though there's a drag-queen shout-out that's a lot more gay-forward than anything LeFou's up to). But years from now, I doubt anyone will be talking about how much they enjoyed the movie as a whole, because it's not a whole; it's more like a half.

MPAA rating: PG (for some action, violence, peril and frightening images).

Running time: 2:10

Back to Movie Details

Movie News

Head of Motion Picture Association of America to step downFormer U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd is stepping down as chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America
The Associated Press17 hours ago
FILE - This April 25, 2017 file photo shows Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins at the TIME 100 Gala, celebrating the 100 most influential people in the world, in New York. Two months after his "Moonlight" pulled out a last-second best picture win at the Oscars, director Barry Jenkins says "it's time to work." He said after the Oscars he spent a month in Mexico and went to the Mayan ruins. Now that he’s back, he’s due to start working on an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Underground Railroad” for Amazon. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, File)
'Moonlight' director Barry Jenkins ready to return to workAfter his best-picture Oscar win for 'Moonlight," Barry Jenkins took a month off to head to Mexico to decompress
The Associated Press17 hours ago
This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Chris Pine, left, and Gal Gadot in a scene from, "Wonder Woman." The film, directed by Patty Jenkins, opens June 2. (Clay Enos/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Get to know the new Wonder Woman and Spider-ManYou know the names and you've met them briefly before, but this summer Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman and Tom Holland's Spider-Man take center stage in blockbusters all their own
The Associated Press22 hours ago
FILE - In this Oct. 19, 2016, file photo, Rebel Wilson attends the 5th Annual Australians in Film Awards held at NeueHouse Hollywood in Los Angeles. Wilson is suing an Australian publisher for defamation over a series of magazine articles the actress says cost her movie roles by painting her as a serial liar. Wilson's lawyer, Renee Enbom, said during a court hearing on Friday, April 28, 2017, that the Australian-born actress would present evidence that the articles published by Bauer Media in 2015 led to her film contracts being terminated. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Rebel Wilson sues Australian publisher for defamationActress Rebel Wilson is suing an Australian publisher for defamation over a series of magazine articles the actress says cost her movie roles by painting her as a serial liar
The Associated Press1 day ago
FILE - This Thursday, April 20, 2017  file photo provided by Strategy PR shows director Kathryn Bigelow at the Tribeca Film Festival Virtual Arcade in New York. A number of high-profile projects unveiled at the Tribeca Film Festival show the young medium pushing forward to unlock VR's power to create empathy, whether it's a Holocaust survivor or a crow voiced by John Legend. (Kathryn Bigelow/Strategy PR via AP)
In VR land rush, creators unlock an 'empathy engine'The growing ambitions of virtual reality have been on display at the Tribeca Film Festival
The Associated Press1 day ago
Movie News