Disney’s remake of the 1991 animated tale casts a spell over a whole new audience

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Whether you’re a fan of the original or a newcomer to the story, “Beast” is a beauty.

“Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s latest live-action remake of one of its animated classics, is another winner, a splendid, lavish recreation of the beloved 1991 animated film.

A decorated voice cast — including Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen — lend the film a classy, dignified pedigree, and give glorious life to the various household objects that come alive in the film’s magical world.

And Emma Watson and Dan Stevens — as the Beauty and the Beast, respectively — convincingly sell the romance at the center of the story, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. After all, she’s a sprightly young woman and he’s a hulking, monstrous creature — a horned lion-man with the build of two NFL linebackers stacked on top of one another. That their story works at all is a testament to the filmmakers, and the ages-old fairy tale at the film’s center.

Belle (Watson) is an inquisitive young woman imprisoned by the simple-mindedness of her tiny village. She devours books to transport herself to other worlds and free her mind from the isolation and dull predictability of her day-to-day life. Meanwhile, she’s left to fend off the advances of Gaston (Luke Evans), the vain, dastardly would-be charmer who has his eyes set on fair Belle to be his bride.

Off in a nearby castle, a former prince (Stevens) has been cursed and turned into a massive beast. Only true love can break his spell, but he spends his days sulking, cursing his misfortune and imprisoning intruders on his property. When he captures Maurice (Kevin Kline), Belle’s father, Belle is lured to the castle and meets the Beast.

Trading her freedom for her father’s, she becomes a captive of the Beast, a thorny situation in terms of romantic politics. But “Beauty and the Beast” isn’t a study in feminism, it’s a children’s tale, and director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” two “Twilight” movies) is faithful to the original story in his execution. He avoids bringing any cynicism or self-aware modern updates to the story, and he makes it easy to give yourself over to the tale.

Inside the Beast’s castle is where things really take flight. As Lumière, a golden candelabra, McGregor is full of lithe charm and wit. He leads the film’s magnificent centerpiece sequence, “Be Our Guest,” a joyous, towering set piece that keeps topping itself until it can’t go any higher, then somehow goes a little bit higher. It’s dazzling.

Thompson radiates warmth and poise as a talking teapot; she’s a treasure, even in porcelain form. McKellen is wonderful as a fidgety old clock, and Stanley Tucci and Gugu Mbatha-Raw also do strong voice work as a harpsichord and a feather duster, respectively.

Watson is strong and steadfast as Belle, although Stevens — so quietly mysterious in Adam Wingard’s “The Guest” — is slightly bland in the few scenes he spends as a human. (He’s much better as the emo beast.) Likewise, Josh Gad (as Gaston’s sidekick) remains an acquired taste who is still looking for his niche on film; his presence here, though limited, is distracting, although the hubbub over his character’s sexuality is hilariously overblown.

There’s plenty here to be wowed by, and “Beauty and the Beast” certainly wows. It’s a tale as old as time, but in its latest imagining it still feels fresh.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

‘Beauty and the Beast’

GRADE: B+

Rated PG: for some action violence, peril and frightening images

Running time: 130 minutes

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