Beauty and the Beast

Year: 2017
Production Co: Mandeville Films
Studio: Disney
Director: Bill Condon
Writer: Stephen Chbosky/Evan Spiliotopoulos/Linda Woolverton
Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

I might be the worst critic to judge this juggernaut in the ongoing trend of Disney remaking all its classics in live action because I'm so disinterested in Disney cartoon musicals that I've never even seen the original, and every time they break into song in a musical I just groan and slump down in my chair.

Or I might be the best critic to judge it, because I got the creeping sense in the screening I attended that even if it was a complete creative shambles everyone would have loved it because it had the characters, songs and story everyone knows from the original, and the hardcore fans that flocked to it just wanted to relive it all.

If you don't know the story you might never have seen the original, although like a lot of Disney movies it's a kid-friendly retelling of a classic fairy tale from the European feudal era. A selfish prince who offends a witch has a curse placed over him and his castle, turning him into a hideous monster and all his attendants into utensils and furniture. Meanwhile a magical rose gradually drops its petals, and when the last one falls he'll stay like it forever – only if he falls in love can the curse be lifted.

When provincial farm girl Belle (Emma Watson) follows her missing father into the prototypical dark Disney wood, she finds her way to the castle and is imprisoned by the Beast.

But his clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), candlestick Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), dresser Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald), teapot Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson) and the rest of the gang are convinced this beautiful girl is the key to lifting the spell if they can get their master to lighten (and soften) up and fall in love with her.

The self-absorbed village dandy Gaston (Luke Evans) who wants Belle for himself, the cracked teacup/mischievous little boy and all the other elements that made the original so beloved are also firmly in place. The incoming writers and director Bill Condon (who did the two part Twilight finale) probably knew not to change a thing from the cartoon – and no doubt had a mandate from Disney along the same lines.

The result is an exhibit in one of Disney's most successful new business models (alongside endless Star Wars movies and the unstoppable Marvel powerhouse). This movie simply regurgitates what everyone loved about it before, and I couldn't help feeling cynical about it the whole time I was watching it.

Everything from the script to the dodgy CGI of the Beast had the mark of a production where nobody tried to break any ground artistically (unlike the studio's recent effort Moana) because they knew how rapturously it'd be received...or maybe I just sat there thinking all that to distract me from the songs.

It's also time to take a completely objective look at Emma Watson. Most of the praise heaped upon her is goodwill because of her off-screen social justice work and the bottomless cachet of the Harry Potter universe. As this movie and the more recent The Circle (where she doesn't have the effects, songs and costumes to back her up) prove, she's far from a great actress.

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