Beauty and the Beast review: a joyless performance from Emma Watson
Disney's flat-pack rebuild of its own 1991 animation works as a straight-up musical, but beyond that it's pretty charmless
Why so glum? Dan Stevens as the Beast
Film Title: Beauty and the Beast
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson
Running Time: 129 min
Oh dear. Disney’s programme to remake its animated classics as live-action blockbusters never sounded like a good idea. Then Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon and The Jungle Book convinced us otherwise. More fool, us. Beauty and the Beast, a flat-pack rebuild of the animated 1991 fairytale, quickly demonstrates the limitations of movie life beyond the drawing board.
Unforgivably, the enchanted (and once enchanting) objects – Mrs Potts the teapot, Lumière the candelabra, et al – are considerably less charming as real-world knickknacks with pencilled in eyes and mouths. One Busby Berkeley-inspired sequence centred on Potts (an uncharacteristically off-form Emma Thompson speaking in ’90s Blur mockney) leaves the viewer wondering how much washing up liquid would they get through at the Beast’s castle. Transported, much? Hardly.
The transfer business gets trickier still during a stand-off between the Beast and a pack of wolves, animals that are too cartoonish to be convincing, yet realistic enough to make one flinch when they are brutally dispatched.
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To be fair, the House of Mouse and director Bill Condon have worked hard to disentangle the film from the dark morals – be nice to the abusive jerk, girls, and he’ll turn into a prince – of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s original tale. Thus, much is made of Belle’s literacy in an environment where boys march to school while girls wash laundry. The micro-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kinda sorta gay subtext moment notwithstanding, there are commendable attempts at inclusivity: a pointedly multicultural company belts out every toe-tapping chorus.
This Beauty and the Beast works best as a straight-up, big-budget filmed musical, crowned by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s every-song-a-show-stopper score. The film springs to life when musical theatre veterans Luke Evans (Gaston) and Josh Gad (Le Fou) are on screen, only to slide into torpor when we return to the central romance.
As Belle, Emma Watson, so impressive in Noah, puts in such a joyless performance that one can’t help but think she needs to study a book with “On Acting” in the title almost as pressingly as she needs one called “On Feminism”. Her singing has the bang of Auto-Tune about it and leaves one yearning for the comparative scope of Emma Stone’s vocals in La La Land. Dan Stevens’s Beast may be better, but it is hard to say. The actor is buried under ropey CG and odd vocal processing effects.
There is a cheeky nod to Cocteau’s “Ou est ma bête?” in the final line. A more urgent inquiry might be: where is the magic? Say hello to the second biggest film of the year.