Live-Action Beauty and the Beast Dazzles
Director Bill Condon really knows how to make films that appeal to kids and adults alike. His most successful franchise has been with the Twilight movie series, but he also directed the musical blockbuster spectacle Dreamgirls and the quietly absorbing mystery, Mr. Holmes. Now he dives into Disney with the PG-Rated Beauty and the Beast, a live-action and CGI hybrid remake of the beloved 1991 animated musical.
We meet Belle (Emma Watson), a bright, bookish, beautiful young woman, as she is taken prisoner by a lion-like Beast (Dan Stevens), and stashed away in his murky yet magnificent fortress to pay for a petty crime her father (Kevin Kline) committed. Despite her fears, Belle befriends the castle’s enchanted employees – Emma Thompson is a china teapot called Mrs. Potts, Stanley Tucci is a hyper harpiscord, Audra McDonald is an operatic wardrobe, Ewan McGregor is a charming candelabra, and Ian McKellen is a nervous clock. Through their friendship, Belle learns to look beyond the beast’s frightening façade, allowing her to recognize the kind heart and soul of the true prince that hides on the inside.
In keeping with the times, Condon took care to make sure that this version, unlike the animated 26-year-old classic, sports diverse supporting characters, including a gay LeFou (Josh Gad), and various people of color. Still, Beauty and the Beast feels decidedly and delightfully Disney. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s tunes are right on the money in both lyric and refrain. The “Be Our Guest” song and dance is reminiscent of Fantasia in its dash and dazzle. Belle is a feisty heroine, always trying to escape, while Beast is endearingly awkward.
There are some hair-raising moments of suspense, especially during a chase by vicious wild wolves in the woods (tinier tots may be scared here) but nothing out of what’s to be expected in an adventure fairytale. And of course, the main attraction is the romance, which rings true in its earnestness thanks to Watson’s relatability and Stevens’ sincerity. The couple bonds over books, which adds nicely to the message that love is less about beauty and more about brains.
Beauty and the Beast fashions an ambiance of enchantment from its first moments, then spins into an absorbing, old-fashioned musical, ending on a note of true heart and soul.
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