Beauty and the Beast represented near-perfection for an animated musical when it competed for Best Picture honors in 1991. So it’s hard to imagine that any reimagining of the “tale as old as time” could possibly hold a candle – or a lumiere – to that instant classic. But Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast does what it set out to do, and that’s bring a strong cast, a contemporary vibe, and a few new songs to audiences old and new. And while it’s not perfect, it is quite enchanting.

The story is still the story: a bright, beautiful, and independent young woman, Belle (Emma Watson) is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) in his gloomy castle just outside a provincial French town where Belle is considered a bit of an oddball. The castle’s staff of talking housewares is convinced that she’s “the one” who can break a curse that put them and the Beast in their current predicament. If she can fall in love with the Beast, and he with her, before the final petals fall from a glass-encased rose, then all will be right with the world. For beneath that hideous, hairy exterior (spoiler alert!) lies the heart – and deep blue eyes – of a prince.

Emma Watson (best known as Hermione to Harry Potter fans) doesn’t have the strongest singing voice, but she brings a genuine and endearing quality to the role of Belle, while British actor Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley, Downton Abbey) brings those great eyes and a good singing voice to the role of Beast. I wasn’t completely enamored by the Beast (I’m still a Robby Benson fan) but Stevens does pull off a show-stopper moment in the film, with a new power ballad called “Evermore”. It’s the kind of song you hear on stage as the curtain closes on Act One of a Broadway musical. I really liked it. (You can take a listen in this article from MTV that ranks the best songs from the movie, including Celine Dion’s Oscar-bait tune that plays over the closing credits).

Particularly noteworthy: Luke Evans is spot-on as the obnoxious and self-centered beefcake Gaston whose efforts to woo Belle misfire at every turn. Josh Gad plays his faithful sidekick LeFou, who has an obvious man-crush on Gaston, though director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Chicago) recently revealed there’s more to it than that. He touted LeFou as the first openly gay character in a Disney movie, sparking a controversy that is totally overblown. If it keeps anyone who otherwise planned to see the movie from going, it’s their loss.

The stellar supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of talent, breathing new life into a steady stream of memorable characters. Among them: Kevin Kline as Belle’s quirky, devoted father Maurice; Ewan McGregor as the candelabra extraordinaire Lumiere; Ian McKellan as the stuffy clock, Cogsworth; Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts; Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe; Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza; and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette. They each get their moment to shine, often all too brief, in the spotlight.

Overall, the live-action Beauty and the Beast is darker in tone and design than the animated version and clocks in longer, at two hours and nine minutes. So small kids may not go for it (the animated version was rated G, while the live-action is PG). As for the 3D, don’t bother. It didn’t add anything, and may have actually detracted from my enjoyment of the film (though I suspect the print at my particular screening may have been flawed).

Bottom line: Fans of movie musicals and happily-ever-afters will be satisfied with this live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, but it won’t – and shouldn’t – displace the animated version from our hearts (or VHS/DVD players).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *