I would ask you, if you please, to consider the 1991 Beauty and the Beast, the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance. What, pray tell, do you find to be wrong with it? Or let me rather put it this way: is there even one single image in that whole movie that generates the response from you, "I would like this more if it were in rendered in a combination of live-action and photorealistic CGI"? And maybe there is, and I'd ask you to tell me in the comments down below, because I don't have that response, not at all, and I cannot fathom why somebody would. You know what other response I don't have? "This faultlessly-paced 84-minute feature moves by too quickly. Oh, how I wish it had sluggish batches of exposition and, for some reason, a scene in which the protagonist magically travels to her childhood home on the outskirts of Paris, enough to bloat it up to a deadly 129 minutes".

Yet Disney never bothered consulting me, and so that's how we ended up with a 129-minute, live-action/CGI Beauty and the Beast that manages to exactly replicate 90% of what's in the '91 animated film while also managing to make all of it at least slightly terrible. I would like to claim that it's innocuously mediocre, but that's simply not true: this is bad, gaudy filmmaking with an all-but-uniformly miscast ensemble, and every single change made to the original is for the worse (in theory, blunting the beats of the original story that are uncharitably but not without cause summed up as "the Stockholm Syndrome parts" is a defensible change, but it's been horribly handled in the execution, and just serves to make the Beauty less sympathetic, while stripping the Beast of very nearly all of his character arc). It's also an ugly movie, as ugly as all hell, with production design that suggest that somebody barfed gold leaf all over the leftover sets from the 1940s Universal horror movies; in all sobriety, I think that it is even uglier than Disney's repulsive 2010 do-over of Alice in Wonderland, a film of particularly rare hideousness.

If you've seen the first film - "the Disney film", I was almost going to type, but of course it's not least among this remake's sins that it will end up becoming "the Disney film" to a generation, one that will thus grow up impoverished by just that little amount - then you know the drill. Many years go, a boorish prince (Dan Stevens) was turned into a grotesque man-animal (an inflexible CGI mask pasted onto Dan Stevens) by an enchantress for his haughty, image-obsessed selfishness, and in this expanded prologue/flashback, his apparent habit of rounding up the locals into his garish parties, Masque of the Red Death-style. Years later, with the townfolk having forgotten all about the castle a half-day's journey away through the enchantress's magic (one of a few places that Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos's script patches up a plothole in Linda Woolverton's original that didn't necessarily need a patch, but the effort is appreciated), we meet a young woman named Belle (Emma Watson), the most beautiful woman in town but also the most socially ostracised, for the crime of reading books. Which largely worked in the original film, with its fairy tale setting of "A France that never was" (it's also mostly the case in that film that only the villain explicitly faults her for it), but for this France, which can be rather confidently dated to the latter half of the 18th Century, the idea that female literacy was seen as a sin on par with witchcraft... we can only regard it as an artifact of the smugness of moderns who want to get too much credit for their path-of-least-resistance feminism.

Anyway, Belle's father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is the local crackpot inventor, and on his way to an invention market, he gets sidetracked in the dark woods, full of mysterious unseasonal snow, ending at the door to the Beast's castle. In a nod to the original story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont that I'd consider to be the solitary positive change in this Beauty and the Beast, Maurice is warmed and fed by seemingly nobody at all, but on his way out, he plucks a rose from a gnarled-looking bush. On the spot, the Beast snatches him up and throws him in prison.

From there, it's the whole routine: Belle arrives at the castle, meets a whole community of talking household objects, she and the Beast veeeerrrrry slowly learn to respect and admire each other, and along the way the town braggart Gaston (Luke Evans) turns into the town psychopath, and leads an army to destroy the Beast and his castle. Love prevails. None of plot beats have been changed except cosmetically; everything involved in that additional 45 minutes consists of backstories giving the Beast daddy issues and Belle mommy issues (neither of which end up informing anything in the rest of the movie, since of course the arc of the plot was designed without them), and fucking up the songs. Sometimes this is in the form of adding unnecessary bars of dance breaks that disrupt the structure of the original 1991 compositions by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, sometimes this is in the form of utterly disposable new numbers that prove, first, that Menken has lost his touch (his score is also preposterously bad, jettisoning all the lovely touches of Saint-Saëns and failing to do much to incorporate the songs), and second, that Tim Rice isn't a tenth the lyricist that Ashman was - as if proof were needed!

All of which would make this Beauty and the Beast worse than that Beauty and the Beast, but wouldn't necessarily mean that the new film couldn't have its own charms. It doesn't; it's badly-made and horribly-acted. Bill Condon, a director whose career is substantially marked by desperately safe filmmaking, proves to have no real handle on staging musical numbers, which means that such bravura pieces as "Be Our Guest" and "Beauty and the Beast" have been reconceived as bland little noodles - busy as hell but incoherently choreographed in the first case, perfunctory and terribly small-scale in the second (lot of medium-wide shots of dancing, no grandiose camera swoops showing off the set; though as tacky as the sets look, that's no real loss). The singing is across-the-board dreadful, with two exceptions; Ewan McGregor, as the horny candelabra Lumière, manages to be pretty phenomenal with a deliberately terrible French accent (no Jerry Orbach, but close), and for the 30 seconds that they let her sing, the glorious musical theater goddess Audra McDonald is glorious. Hilariously, she's immediately followed at one point by Watson's unbearably auto-tuned voice, sounding more robot than human, and she's not the only one: Emma Thompson is one of our great screen actors, but she had no business singing "Beauty and the Beast", which now sounds like something from a 16-bit video game. And compounding this, most of the songs ("Beauty and the Beast" is a conspicuous exception) have the voices buried deep in the mix, perhaps because the sound designers were appropriately ashamed of them.

As a visual extravaganza, Beauty and the Beast is hardly better. Outside of the Beast, who looks fucking awful - 71 years ago, using the technology of immediately post-war France, Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast was able to create a vastly more realistic, plausible, and appealing Beast - the CGI is at least technically proficient, but the designs are nightmarish. Lumière is kind of not awful, but Cogsworth the clock majordomo (Ian McKellen, wasted) is a jumble of lines, gears, and shapes that can barely be read as a face (I will say in his favor, though, that his aghast body language reminded me of the Koroks from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and that is a good thing of which to be reminded). The teapot Mrs. Potts (Thompson) and her cup son Chip (Nathan Mack) are something out of Cronenberg, diseased expressions of personality oozing out of the sleek surface of horribly well-rendered porcelain. Watson, for her part, is lost at sea with all of these grotesqueries; despite a decade-plus of training in the Harry Potter franchise, she turns out to have no leftover skill for acting against visual effects that aren't there, and most of her performance is full of unpleasantly eyes-wide-open stares at where the director has promised her a talking candelabra will sometime exist; but she absolutely does not believe in the candelabra, and so we really cannot either.

What the hell happened? Disney's live-action remakes have a modest record at best, but none of them have been bad-bad, unless we count Alice in Wonderland as part of the cycle. The last two, both from 2016, The Jungle Book and Pete's Dragon, are actually pretty good, and at least in the case of The Jungle Book, have the most luscious, gorgeous visual effects you ever did see on top of it. For Beauty and the Beast to be such a dismal, bloated, ugly slog is shocking and depressing and aggravating. Obviously, one doesn't expect an artistic masterpiece from such a commercially-calculating nostalgia grab, but expecting anything of merit surely isn't beyond the pale. But nope. Take out the scrawny pleasures of seeing McDonald get not remotely enough to do - and the costumes, which feel cheaply theatrical, but like, a really ambitious cheap theater company designed them - and Beauty and the Beast is almost wholly without anything to recommend it.