I’ll be the first to admit it : to the extent that I’ve racked up any “cool points” with my readers over the years, they’re pretty much all out the window by me admitting that I’ve even seen — much less bothered to review — director Bill Condon’s new live-action iteration of Disney’s animated classic Beauty And The Beast. The only pathetically tepid thing I can offer in my “defense” is that, judging by its mammoth performance at the box office, the entire rest of the fucking world has seen it, too, but still — it’s my job to be cynical to the point of obstinacy about this sort of production just as a matter of course, and to the extent that I’ve let any of you down by plopping down my hard-earned money on this blatantly saccharine offering, knowing full well what I was getting into from the outset, let me just apologize right off the bat and get it out of the way.
Oh, sure, I could reach and say the fact that the Christians are upset about this flick because it has the nerve to state the obvious fact that LeFou is gay (“just a little change — small to say the least”) and has a mad man-crush on Gaston was equal parts amusing and pathetic enough to sufficiently rouse my curiosity, but there’s really no saving face here. I was gonna end up seeing this thing come what may, and if you think I’m lame for that, then you’re gonna think I’m even more lame when I come right out and say that I actually liked it quite a bit, as well. Bail out on this review right now, then, if you must — I certainly won’t hold it against you.
With all that out of the way, then, let’s get back to the question posed in my headline — how, exactly, do you successfully update a story that everyone knows already? In this case, Condon hit on exactly the right answer : apart from some minor tinkering around the edges, you pretty much don’t. The CGI advances of recent decades made a nominally “un-animated” (although a good 75% of this film was probably shot in front of a green screen) version of Beauty And The Beast more or less a no-brainer, but beyond the format shift, and necessary casting changes, there’s really no need to do anything different, and so what we have here at the end of the day isn’t so much a “remake” as it is a literal translation from cartoon to — well, shit, computerized cartoon with some actors along for the ride. Granted, some of the original’s shaky (to put it mildly) moral and ethical premises haven’t aged well (meet the girl of your dreams by taking her prisoner? Come on), but the musical numbers that are the real beating heart of the movie are bigger, bolder, and flawlessly executed here, the (slight) wrinkles peppered into the proceedings throughout deepen the tale’s mythology without contradicting anything, and by and large the casting choices are pitch-perfect : Emma Watson is Belle, plain and simple, Dan Stevens likewise nails is as The Beast, Luke Evans is pure arrogant sleaze as Gaston, Josh Gad’s take on LeFou is equal parts endearing and nauseating, Ewan McGregor is clearly having a blast as Lumiere, Ian McKellen is the only person you’d want to voice/later portray Cogsworth and delivers with aplomb, Stanley Tucci is an inspired choice as Cadenza, and Emma Thompson, well — she’s probably got the biggest shoes to fill as Mrs. Potts, but I think even Angela Lansbury herself would say “job well done” without hesitation for her work here. The only performer who seems to be a bit listless and/or lost is Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, who (surprsingly) never really seems to have a handle on the character and ends up mailing things in about halfway through. Everybody else? Shoot, they shine.
All that being said, “what’s the point?” is a more than reasonable question to ask here — the original isn’t going anywhere, and this more or less note-for-note re-vamp doesn’t do anything to dispel the notion that it’s a naked cash grab that in no way needs to exist, but given that it was going to happen regardless, maybe the better query to be posing is “why not?” If you can put a cast this good together, get ’em (almost) all to knock it out of the park, and there’s a billion dollars or more waiting for you on the other side of the metaphorical rainbow, if you were Disney, why wouldn’t you do it? You’ve gotta be more than happy to meet this film on its own terms, sure — to suspend your understandable disdain for the company behind it, to overlook its previously-mentioned dubious subtexts, and to allow your desire for either glowingly-constructed nostalgia or simple “feel-good” entertainment to overrule your common sense — but if you’re willing to let it serve you up a heaping slice of good, old-fashioned “movie magic,” guess what? It’ll give you precisely that and then some.
There’s no shame, especially in this day and age, in wanting to simply escape for a couple of hours — after all, the president and half (or more) of his sleazy cronies appear to be working for a hostile foreign government, the congressional “authorities” charged with getting to the bottom of this treason appear to be playing defense for the administration, the open corruption and conflicts of interest oozing from many members of the cabinet is being buried under a deluge of even worse news, and our nuclear arsenal is now under the control of a bona fide mentally unstable nutcase. Either Trump is on borrowed time or our democracy is, and right now it’s hard to say which will end up surviving. We’re all under ridiculous amounts of psychological stress and the future — as in, whether or not we’re even gonna have one — has never appeared more uncertain. Who couldn’t stand to be transported away from this madness for a little while?
So go on — put your pride, and perhaps even your ethical standards, on the shelf for a bit. Turn off that pesky brain and just go with the flow that Condon and his skilled cohorts seamlessly pull you into within moments of this film starting. Don’t worry about it. Don’t feel guilty. You deserve this mindlessly delicious confection — certain as the sun rising in the east.