Beauty and the Beast (PG: some intense sequences)
Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans Directed by Bill Condon
Walt Disney Pictures’ 1991 Beauty and the Beast fairy tale of a prince, turned into a monster as punishment for his insolence, and the beautiful young woman Belle who breaks the curse with her love is a cinematic landmark. It was the first animation feature Academy Award-nominated for best picture, winning best score and song, the first to gross over US$100 million (S$141 mil) on its initial release, and the first to become a Broadway musical sensation.
How does one remake so beloved a classic? By equalling it.
Director Bill Condon earned his musical credentials helming the 2006 Dreamgirls and scripting 2002’s Chicago. His Beauty and the Beast follows Pete’s Dragon, The Jungle Book and Cinderella in Disney’s recent live-action updates of the studio’s cartoons. It is an enchanting romance, opulently realised with rococo sets and the belting showtunes of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman.
Emma Watson brings modern intelligence to Belle, the headstrong heroine chafing against the small-mindedness of her village in 18th century France. When her father (Kevin Kline) after losing his way in the woods is taken prisoner by the Beast (Dan Stevens) in the Beast’s castle, Belle bravely exchanges her freedom for his.
Belle and Beast in time develop a bond over their love of books that allows her to see the melancholic and chivalrous Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens beneath the horned furry exterior: This somewhat smoothens the fable’s icky sexual politics of a female captive submitting to an animalistic male.
Luke Evans is amusing as Belle’s swaggering suitor Gaston until he turns contemptible.
Josh Gad is Gaston’s fawning sidekick LeFou, Disney’s first gay character, and the reason Russia is slapping the film with an adults-only rating. It wouldn’t be right to deny children the delirious high of seeing Beast’s digitally-animated household ornaments singing and dancing in the extravaganza ‘Be Our Guest’ or defending the castle under siege by Gaston and the villagers in the raucous action climax.
Ewan McGregor voices the dapper candelabra, half a bickering comic duo alongside Ian McKellen’s persnickety mantel clock: All are actually the castle staff, themselves transformed by the curse. Emma Thompson is the teapot with a teacup son named Chip. Audra McDonald is the operatic wardrobe, who sings the title ballad. Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a sexy feather duster and Stanley Tucci a harpsichord, the merry lot appearing in starry cameos for the final curtain call. 4/5