Disney’s new “Beauty and the Beast” is the latest in a series of updates from the studio, following the recent “Cinderella,” “Pete’s Dragon” and “The Jungle Book,” part live-action and part digitally-animated.
But more is at stake this time. The 1991 film is highly beloved, arguably more so than those less recent titles. Tinkering with it only invites shock and scorn from opinionated fans.
Already, news of a gay-themed subtext has caused much hair-pulling; some theaters, including an Alabama drive-in, announced they would not show the film because of it.
In actuality, the few small, inoffensive moments pass by as quickly as the one in “Star Trek Beyond” last summer. The film does not make a big deal out of it.
The plot is largely the same, with a selfish prince (Dan Stevens) transformed into a beast by an enchantress; he must fall in love and be loved in return before the petals of a magic rose fall.
He meets bookworm Belle (Emma Watson) after her inventor father (Kevin Kline) becomes lost in the woods and accidentally discovers the beast’s enchanted castle.
The Beast’s servants all help, including candlestick Lumière (Ewan McGregor), clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson).
Luke Evans plays Belle’s boorish, conceited suitor Gaston, and Josh Gad is his funny sidekick LeFou, who gets a few new moments in this movie, which runs about 45 minutes longer than the animated version.
The funny song “Gaston” now has extra, restored lyrics, and there are new songs; but since these were written by Tim Rice and not the late, great Howard Ashman, they lack a certain… pep.
However, as directed by Bill Condon, the movie casts a delightful spell, and yet is unafraid to edge slightly into darker territory.
With his background in both horror (“Strange Behavior,” “Gods and Monsters,” etc.) and musicals (“Chicago,” “Dreamgirls,” etc.), Condon was an inspired choice to take on a musical monster movie. Its design, colors and fluidity are frequently entrancing.
It’s difficult not to miss the original voice cast, but these actors honor their predecessors without becoming nailed down.
Watson in particular brings a freshness to Belle. She’s not overly made up, nor is she cutesy; she’s simply lovely.
The best that can be said for the new “Beauty and the Beast” is this: a generation that hasn’t yet seen the animated version could very well come to prefer this one. It can’t surpass the original, but it’s good enough to accept the baton.
Beauty and the Beast
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad
Written by Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos
Directed by Bill Condon
Running time 2 hours, 9 minutes