Disney is obsessed with resurrecting its animated classics, and "Beauty in the Beast" feels like the next one up in the assembly line.
With two "Alice in Wonderland" adaptations, "Cinderella," "Malificent" and -- most successfully -- with "The Jungle Book," the studio has replicated the look, music and feel of the classics. It's easy to understand the appeal. There's a colossal built-in audience of obsessed fans to play to, and the opportunity to introduce some of the most brilliant fantasies ever put to films to new audiences is impossible to resist.
That said, the results have been middling. Most of the movies have come out to tremendous hype and somewhat deflated receptions. Disney always trots out the biggest guns possible in terms of big-name actors, production design and a seemingly infinite budget for cutting-edge CGI effects.
While "The Jungle Book" definitively soared above the older animated movie, most of the others have teetered near mediocrity. That's the case with "Beauty and the Beast," which is obsessed with playing things safe to the point where it saps potential for originality.
All the beloved songs and characters from the original return, depicted in shockingly dedicated authenticity. These are truly cartoons come to life. The screenwriters and director Bill Condon know they can't cut too much without offending dedicated fans, and do them one better by filling in some of the backstory to make more sense of why Belle lived such a sheltered life and why her dad was such an overprotective kook.
Big-time production design makes the film a top-flight Hollywood musical, if a middling story.
For starters, Emma Watson just doesn't ring true as Belle. She nails the look of the iconic Disney pseudo-princess and even shows off the ability to belt tunes with ease, but lacks the screen presence to live up to the legacy of her animated predecessor. She goes all in on showing off the wallflower side of the character without producing the magnetism and effervescence she needs to make the character captivating enough to convincingly make her the most desirable girl in town.
Also, some plot points that made more sense in animated form are a little jarring when rendered in live action. Would any father truly allow his daughter to take his place in prison? Would the megalomaniacal Gaston truly manage to work up the villagers into a pitchfork-and-torch-wielding death squad? Are the Stockholm Syndrome/bestiality undertones in the love story really something to cheer?
All of this falls to the wayside if you drop your cynicism and allow yourself to be swept up in the magic. Suspension of disbelief is a requirement to fully enjoy this one, so bring your figurative Mickey Ears along for the ride.
But don't be surprised if after the credits roll and the fairy dusts lift that you still consider the animated movie to be the "real" version of this story.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.