Can a realistically computer-rendered French gilt bronze candelabra be debonair? Jaunty? Rakish, even?
Can a gleaming, finely detailed English bone china teapot be a warmly maternal, comforting presence? When she tells you it’ll turn out right in the end, will it put your heart at ease?
If an antique English tortoiseshell bracket clock is vain, nervous, excitable, and fussily fastidious, is it funny?
Last year’s reimagined Pete’s Dragon wisely reworked the cuddly cartoon behemoth of the original, trading in his vaguely alligator-inspired exterior for soft green fur and a face somehow both catlike and doggy. Computer artists can do amazing things with reptilian dragons, but making them cuddly isn’t one of them.
Pete’s Dragon also jettisoned its source material’s musical milieu, an easy decision to make when the songs aren’t universally beloved and there’s no Broadway musical. Like Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, but even more so, Pete’s Dragon went its own way, making Disney three for three on improving on the originals.
In Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast, directed by Bill Condon (Chicago; Kinsey) and starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the title roles, we see the flip side of all this.
Mrs. Potts and her son Chip the teacup are as substantial-looking and attractive as the very different teapot and mug beside me as I write. Cogsworth is splendid enough to belong in a museum. Lumière is the most physically expressive, which often makes him least persuasively like the artifact he is. As characters, none of them hold a you-know-what to their counterparts from the 1991 classic. To the extent that I felt anything for them, it was due entirely to fondness for the far more vibrant hand-drawn characters they reminded me of.
The voice work doesn’t help much, perhaps unexpectedly, considering the talent involved. Ian McKellen at least registers as Cogsworth, but Ewan McGregor’s French-accented line readings are wan and forgettable next to Jerry Orbach’s droll delivery. Even Emma Thompson, perhaps trying not to remind viewers too much of Angela Lansbury, winds up sounding like a perfectly pleasant teapot rather than the mother you never had, your one real friend and confidante amid frightening and incomprehensible circumstances.
That’s before getting to the singing.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.