Eppler: "Beauty and the Beast" remake plays it safe

Eppler: "Beauty and the Beast" remake plays it safe

Disney's plan to make more money off its old animated products by making live-action versions has been paying off, and the biggest success yet came this past weekend. The remake of "Beauty and the Beast" scored $170 million, about $30-40 million more than most predicted. That's the seventh box office best debut of all time. 

We knew the numbers would be high for a couple reasons. Millennial nostalgia is big business right now with products from the 90s enjoying comebacks including a new Power Rangers movie in a couple weeks. The original "Beauty and the Beast" being so revered and beloved is great for the remake's ticket sales, but maybe not for the movie itself.

Let's get something straight: "Beauty and the Beast" is probably the best Disney animated movie ever. The songs are all perfect, the animation is beautiful, and the story and characters iconic. A live-action remake was never going to even approach the original's greatness, but it is at least a competent retread.

Director Bill Condon knows his way around musicals from "Chicago" to "Dreamgirls." He stages the musical numbers beautifully and his picture is gorgeous to watch. 

Emma Watson recently admitted she was terrified to sing, and it shows in her performance as Belle that's a bit stiff. But I admired Dan Stevens' work as the cursed prince. He's forced to act through the computer generated design of the Beast's face and still deliver a touching and emotive performance. Some of the characters get expanded roles and that's especially welcome with the wonderful Kevin Kline as Belle's father. 

As for the enchanted characters, the animation of Lumiere, Cogsworth and the rest look rather cheap and unconvincing as does much of the CGI set design. This may be a live-action movie, technically, but it may as well be animated.

Although there's a nice effort to provide more back story for characters and deepen the romance between Belle and the Beast, this is a pretty straightforward remake. The remakes of "Cinderella," "The Jungle Book" and "Pete's Dragon" were all so good because they did something different with the source material to varying degrees. But because "Beauty and the Beast" is so beloved, it's understandable why Disney didn't want to mess with it.

It's a lovely nostalgic exercise. It isn't a bad movie at all - maybe just an unambitious one. 

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