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Lavish, breathtaking, stunning and engaging, Beauty and the Beast is more than a frame-by-frame, live action rehashing of the animated 1991 Disney classic. A lot more. Try to ignore the haters.
While the movie does, retell that same story with much of the same music, it does so with great charm. Bill Condon was an inspired choice to direct as he insert just enough edginess into the film so that it rises above being a simple adaptation of its source material and becomes a movie that stands on its own. The eye that he has for staging grand spectacle is matched almost entirely by his inspired choices in casting.
At this point, it can be argued that the most talented (and most successful) of the three actors who grew up on screen before our eyes in the Harry Potter movies is Emma Watson. She does nothing to counter that notion here. Commanding in performance and enchanting in song, her Belle is another in what is becoming a welcome line of so-called “Disney Princesses” who are not damsels waiting for male characters to rescue them or needing male characters to define them. Watson’s Belle is interesting from the moment we first see her on screen (one of the plot changes from the original that assists here is making Belle, not her father, the intellectual powerhouse inventor of the piece). Emma Watson handles all aspects of the role extremely well, including the musical requirements. She has a very good voice and shows it to great effect here.
Though his voice may not be quite up to par with his co-star, Dan Stevens does an excellent job as the Beast. With his face entirely covered (and, later, CGI-ed) by his beast costume, Stevens is left to other devices in his performance and he uses them very well. His beast is less menace and more grumpy, perhaps, than the animated version, but that plays very well in the context of this film. Resigned to his fate, the Beast seems as surprised as Belle when he begins to feel love for her. Though Watson is a better singer than Stevens, he does hold his own here, too.
The rest of the cast is truly delightful and it is real fun to see them (spoiler alert for those of you who have, you know, never seen a version of this movie!) revert to human form at the end of the movie. This is a powerhouse and incredibly talented cast. Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Luke Evans, Gu Gu Mabatha Raw, Josh Gad and Ian McKellan – all of them are wonderful.
Much has been made of Josh Gad’s performance as LeFou, the first openly gay Disney character. Unfortunately, many reactions have been much more about the issue than the performance. To the issue: anyone who did not realize the animated LeFou is gay was not paying attention and the fact that Disney has committed to this character being gay is a good thing. A very good thing. The performance, too, is terrific. Bravo to Gad and Disney.
The set pieces are wonderful and the music soars. When Be Our Guest stops the show and this number, in-and-of itself, feels worth the price of admission. The addition of a couple new compositions do not seem out of place, nor do they stand out as such. This is a musical and the music works. The cast is up to the challenge.
If there is anything that annoys about the movie, frankly, it is just how talented the cast is. Hey, you are some of the best actors on the planet! Do you have to be terrific singers and dancers, too?
Beauty and the Beast is a splendid movie that should leave audiences smiling. If all of the proposed live action remakes of animated Disney classics are as sweet as this movie, I say bring them on.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST receives FOUR AND A HALF BE OUR GUESTS out of a possible FIVE.