Disney’s live action remake of its animated 1991 blockbuster “Beauty and the Beast” is thoroughly enchanting and the story is queerer than ever.
The new version will never replace the bold originality of the first animated movie to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, but a strong cast and a rewritten book offer some fresh insights into the old French fairy tale.
The new script by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos fleshes out some of the stock characters and fills in some of the plot holes from Linda Woolverton’s original story. For example, Belle’s father Maurice is now an artist who has been forced to flee Paris. In addition to her love of reading, Belle is now an inventor who tries to teach the girls who are barred from the village school. The Enchantress plays a bigger role in the story and more is revealed about the Beast’s family and the lives of the servants who become enchanted along with their master.
The Academy Award-winning score by Alan Menken (music) and the late Howard Ashman (lyrics) remains largely intact and still dazzles. Menken’s music soars and Ashman’s quicksilver lyrics are witty and insightful. Several new songs are added: the wistful “How Does a Moment Last Forever” for Maurice, which is beautifully reprised by Celine Dion during the closing credits; the moving “Days in the Sun” for the enchanted objects; and the power ballad “Evermore” for Beast, which is nicely reprised by Josh Groban in the closing credits. The lyrics for the new numbers by Tim Rice are pedestrian but effective, but Menken’s new melodies fit seamlessly into the score.
The only musical misstep is the dreadful pop remix of the title song sung by Ariana Grande and John Legend over the middle section of the closing credits.
Director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls” and “Gods and Monsters”) handles the material with a sure hand. With only a few exceptions, the live action sequences blend seamlessly with the CGI. Unfortunately, the climactic fight between Gaston and Beast (as well as the battle between Beast and the wolves) looks cartoonish and Mrs. Potts’ face doesn’t quite sit comfortably on the teapot. But the transformation sequences are amazing, the enchanted objects are fascinating and “Be Our Guest” is a surreal delight. The big musical numbers in the village are also well staged, even if the human actors aren’t always as limber as their animated counterparts.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are well matched as the title pair. Their emotional journey is detailed and nuanced and their comic timing is equally superb. Kevin Kline is excellent as the reconceived Maurice; Belle’s overprotective father gains a tragic backstory and learns a lesson from his brave and resourceful daughter.
Luke Evans is remarkably restrained as Gaston. He begins the film as a boorish decommissioned soldier who is as bored as Belle with provincial life. Only gradually does he become the villainous monster who commits Maurice to an insane asylum and leads the torch-wielding villagers in the attack on the Beast’s castle.
The enchanted objects are indeed truly enchanted, both in human and CGI form. During the closing credits, they’re displayed side by side which is great fun. No one can ever truly replace Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts, but Emma Thompson offers a credible rendition of the title song and gets some interesting new dialogue. Ian Mc Kellen and Ewan McGregor are perfect as Cogsworth and Lumiere. As Madame Garderobe and Maestro Cadenza (a new character), Audra McDonald and Stanly Tucci bring both humor and a needed touch of pathos to the haunted castle.
Last, but certainly not least, Josh Gad is delightful as LeFou, who becomes Disney’s first openly gay character. The actor brings his usual comic flair and an unexpected delicacy to the role. While LeFou remains a comic sidekick and minor character, he acquires a clear and interesting story arc. When the movie starts, he is thoroughly besotted with Gaston, whom he served with “in the war.” From there, his character goes through some significant changes, and he deserves the happy ending he finds.
The new live-action “Beauty and the Beast” is a delight for audiences of all ages. While small children and inattentive adults may miss the subtle details of LeFou’s transformation, everyone will enjoy this fresh new version of a “tale as old as time.”