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‘Beauty and the Beast’ remake enchanting, but unnecessary


Why?

I mean, the answer is obviously money. With the kind of moolah “Beauty and the Beast” is going to rake in, we could all have affordable — heck, probably even free — health care.

But unlike other recent Disney live-action remakes, there’s simply no reason for this one to exist.

Take last year. “The Jungle Book”? Sure. The original’s parading elephants were a bit much, the King Louie scenes have been called racist, and there’s that godforsaken song about fetching water. “Pete’s Dragon”? Absolutely. The remake was no great shakes, but the original is barely watchable unless you’re a “Fifty Shades”-level masochist.

Even 2014’s “Maleficent” made sense, because it’s a “Sleeping Beauty” spinoff and therefore a new story.

There’s just no way, though, that a remake was going to improve on “Beauty and the Beast.” The 1991 classic was the only animated feature nominated for a best picture Oscar until the category was expanded from five to as many as 10 nominees in 2009. (Only Disney-Pixar’s “Up” and “Toy Story 3” have made the cut since.)

With that said, if they absolutely had to remake “Beauty and the Beast” — say, if some fan had locked a Disney executive away in a dusty old castle — the result is about as good as could have been expected. And it’s certainly better than the stage version.

After a prologue that shows what the Prince (“Downton Abbey’s” Dan Stevens) was like before he was turned into the Beast — one of several unasked questions the movie answers, along with “What kind of dad did the Prince have?” and “Whatever happened to Belle’s mom?” — “Beauty and the Beast” opens with a faithful re-creation of the opening number as Belle (“Harry Potter’s” Emma Watson, taking over for Las Vegas’ Paige O’Hara) strolls through her “poor provincial town.”

 

Director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) wisely kept the other big numbers, “Be Our Guest” and the titular dance scene, largely the way fans remember them. But almost none of the changes they bring to the remake, which clocks in at more than 30 minutes longer, pay off.

The three new songs written by the original’s composer Alan Menken along with new lyricist Tim Rice — because, you know, Oscars — don’t amount to much. Gaston is less of a vain buffoon than a classic Lifetime movie villain whose pursuit of Belle comes off as far more psychotic than foolhardy. And the role of Belle’s father has been beefed up, to little advantage, because that’s what you do when you cast Kevin Kline.

Speaking of the supporting characters, the Beast’s household staff is a veritable murderers’ row of acting talent. That’s Ewan McGregor as the candelabra Lumiere; Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock; Emma Thompson as teapot Mrs. Potts; Audra McDonald as wardrobe Madame de Garderobe; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as feather duster Plumette and Stanley Tucci as a new character, harpsichord Maestro Cadenza.

Then there’s LeFou (“Frozen’s” Josh Gad), Gaston’s somewhat loyal sidekick. It’s a nearly impossible role to translate into live action, but Gad does it with a surprising amount of grace and lack of shtick. As for the “controversy” over LeFou’s sexuality — which, as always, is being drummed up by people who haven’t seen the movie — spoiler alert: He dances with a man for roughly two seconds. I’m pretty sure whatever your values are, they will remain intact after seeing that.

 

This “Beauty and the Beast” feels less magical the more realistic it becomes. Consider Lumiere, who is still, despite this taking place entirely in France, the only character aside from his beloved Plumette with a French accent. In the animated version, Lumiere’s face was on the candlestick so you could see his emotions. Here, his face is part of the candelabra itself, and it’s just creepy. If you replaced the dialogue as that tiny metal thing scurries about the castle, you could have yourself a horror movie.

It’s also darker and scarier for small children, especially the scenes in the forest during the wolf attacks.

Had this been Disney’s first crack at the material, I would have been floored. But in comparison to the original, well, it’s just not my chipped cup of tea.

But if you love “Beauty and the Beast” in all its many forms and just want to experience it again, by all means, be my guest.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.