Beauty and the Beast Stirs Nostalgia

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

You know what’s a tale that’s old as time? Minting money from a reboot of an old animated favorite, starring a well-known actress in the role of one of the Disney canon’s most beloved heroines. Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson as Belle, is so highly anticipated that advance ticket sales are breaking all kinds of records.

And how does this tale stack up against the original? Well, all the elements are there, plus 26 years’ worth of filmmaking innovation and real-life actors, and with enough star power to light up Disney’s opening logo (Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald, to name a few). And the “controversial” LeFou (Josh Gad), supposedly the first gay character in a Disney movie, steals the show. But even with the dazzling visuals, choreography and a couple of new songs, the film, clocking in at 129 minutes, feels unnecessarily long.

It’s a big movie to place on the shoulders of its heroine, the well-meaning but tragically miscast Watson of Harry Potter fame. You know this Belle is not the plucky girl of the 1991 original when Watson, with hunched shoulders and emo resting face, meanders along the little town in the opening song. Yes, the townspeople think there’s something odd about her. Could it be that she looks clinically depressed?

Later, at the enchanted castle full of objects that talk, and especially during the showstopping Busby Berkeley–inspired “Be Our Guest” number, Watson’s limitations come to the fore. Her acting opposite a green screen could use a magic spell. (How about “Rennervate!”?)

The good news about Beauty and the Beast is that about a third of the way through, you can’t help but give in to the nostalgia of the original. The songs still tug at the heartstrings, and the romance is alive and well. The beast, played by the dreamy Dan Stevens, is as awkward and lovable as we remember him. That snowball-fight scene is just as hilarious as in the animated version.  

And while this Beauty probably won’t merit the same number of repeat viewings as the original, there may be something there that wasn’t there before.