Beauty and the Beast (PG)

Musical 129 min. March 17, 2017
By Alan Scherstuhl
In 1991's Beauty and the Beast, Belle and her beau/jailer come to know each other over time and a showtune, strolling through the gardens of the crumbled palace, feeding birds and tossing snowballs. Unlike most earlier Disney lovers, these two have traits to match up to each other. No matter how poisoned the hostage-lover setup, romance blooms persuasively between those two, captured in elegant rhyme and line work.

The best that can be said for Bill Condon's clamorous live-action remake: It sets aside a couple of its 129 minutes to allow Belle (now Emma Watson) and her waistcoated bison-man (Dan Stevens) to find a new point of connection. Now they both love reading -- last time, the Beast was illiterate -- and debate the merits of Romeo and Juliet. When they take up those walks, though, she again lofts a snowball at him, and in response he clobbers her with a snow boulder, knocking her to the ground. It's proof that Condon and co. aren't as shrewd about judging their material as Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, who directed the original. Shouldn't Beauty and the Beast downplay the suggestion of abuse?

Other confounding choices: Why show Belle's mother dying of the plague? Why let the lyrics of comic showstopper "Gaston" mush together into incomprehensibility? Why aspire for photorealism in depicting the castle's talking tchotchkes, denying the simple expressiveness of the original's clock (now voiced by Ian McKellen), candlestick (Ewan McGregor) and teapot (Emma Thompson)? The clock, Cogsworth, serves as a perfect metaphor for the production itself: The movie's just as poky and lumbering as he is while huffing up the staircase to escort Belle to her bedroom.
Bill Condon Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Emma Thompson, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman Walt Disney Pictures

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