Both parts of the title apply in equal measure to the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, a fundamentally unnecessary exercise in style over substance that coasts on its abundant charms.
It’s beautiful in terms of the visual extravagance that fills every frame, making the hand-drawn simplicity of the original 1991 musical masterpiece even more colorful and vibrant. And it’s also a beast, bogged down by a meandering script that’s much darker than its predecessor.
For those needing a refresher, the fairy-tale romance takes us back to France, where a superficial prince (Dan Stevens) is placed under a spell, turning him into a hideous beast and his staff into anthropomorphic household objects, from a clock to a candelabra to a teapot.
Belle (Emma Watson) is an eccentric small-town bookworm being pursued by an arrogant brute named Gaston (Luke Evans). Instead, she lives a quiet life with her inventor father (Kevin Kline), until he’s stranded in the forest. When a panicked Belle follows, she winds up a prisoner in the beast’s castle, where the ragtag sidekicks see her as the key to breaking their curse, if only they can play unlikely matchmaker.
Taking advantage of his great source material, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) assembles some dazzling eye candy, with lavish costumes and sets, seamless visual effects, and terrific choreography. The beast is more menacing than ever.
When combined with the memorable songs, it’s a feast for the senses. The reimagined production numbers are certain to elicit huge grins, while Watson is endearing as the smart and strong-willed heroine.
The screenplay is reverent to the first film, although it adds some new subplots and characters that emphasize the moral complexity in the central relationship. It significantly extends the final act with mixed results, leading to an overwrought finale.
While Hollywood has never shied away from regurgitating past successes, Beauty and the Beast could signal a troubling trend. Hopefully with its live-action technological resplendence, it won’t render a classic into obscurity, especially with hand-drawn artistry in general having sadly become a relic. A live-action Dumbo is in the works, too.
However, taken on its own terms, this remake is enchanting even in its darkest and most foreboding moments. After all, it’s fine to appreciate this follow-up while sparking a renewed affection for the original. Even if you already know this “tale as old as time,” it’s worth revisiting.
Rated PG, 129 minutes.