Every single Disney movie I review seems to come to the same basic conclusion: Disney done did it again. Their new releases could play more like victory laps than anything and still make billions, yet the movies continue to be entertaining and artful almost across the board. Last year's live-action remake of "The Jungle Book" was pure magic and better than most every children's release of the last five years.
Following in the same footsteps as "The Jungle Book," this year's "Beauty and the Beast" is a state-of-the-art remake of the 1991 classic animated film from what's considered to be Disney's renaissance period. The biggest difference between "The Jungle Book" and "Beauty and the Beast is that "The Jungle Book" played more like an original vision taking on the classic story, whereas Beauty and the Beast feels like a too-faithful adaptation.
Don't get me wrong, if this version of "Beauty and the Beast" had come out in 1991, it would be considered a game changer and one of the most triumphant children's films of all time, but this feels like a funhouse facsimile of the animated version. The differences are so minor as to be negligible, which is fine, but it leaves the live action version looking like a brilliant painting that exists only to stare at and not be moved by.
The film is almost too beautiful to look at, with director Bill Condon flinging his camera through Rococo-era France like he's gliding through history. The village of Villeneuve and The Beast's Gothic castle are so lovingly re-created that the film looks like the most immersive amusement park ever created. This might be the biggest problem of the entire film: They haven't created a world here. Instead, as entertaining and gorgeously crafted as the film is, it all still plays more like a Broadway production than it does a living, breathing world.
Emma Watson was born to play Belle just as rising movie star Dan (Downton Abbey) Stevens fits flawlessly into the beast's hairy hide. Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Stanley Tucci as Cadenza, Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts are such flawless bits of casting that even as I complain about how manufactured the magic feels throughout, I still feel like a bit of a jerk. It's too much fun to deal with at some points. For me, the real catch was Broadway legend Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe, whose full soprano voice absolutely crushes anyone she comes in contact with.
The "gay controversy" is negligible and given barely any screen time, so for parents worried about having to explain to their little monsters what homosexuality is, you'll probably be safe for at least a few more days. Or use it as a teachable moment instead of letting the Internet do it. Either way.
It's hard to find much fault in "Beauty and the Beast." Every single frame of the film seems like a painting come to life. The problem is, we've seen it before. For these live-action remakes of Disney animated classics to work, there needs to be a reason for them to exist. Give Spike Jonze "The Great Mouse Detective" or David Lynch "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Can you imagine Peter Weir's "The Little Mermaid" or David Cronenberg's "A Bug's Life?!"
Let's take some chances and see what happens.
Beauty and the Beast
Dir. Bill Condon
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Sisters Movie House, Redmond Cinema