The classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast – known as La Belle et la Bête in its original French - was published in 1740 and since then has been adapted dozens of times across literature, theatre (including a Broadway musical), television and film, with the 1946 French version directed by Jean Cocteau considered by many to be the best. Disney has made it twice, first as a well-regarded animated musical in 1991 and now in this live-action remake that is bursting at the seams with colour, vitality and joy.
Adapted from the animated film (which itself was based upon the Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont adaptation of the original story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve) and featuring many of the cartoon's Alan Menken-penned musical numbers, this is the oft-told tale of a handsome prince cursed to be a beast until true love breaks the spell. When lovely local villager Belle (Emma Watson) is taken prisoner by the Beast (Dan Stevens) after she rercues her father Maurice (Kevin Kline) from his castle, she befriends the enchanted staff – teapot Mrs Potts (voiced by Emma Thompson), candelabra Lumière (Ewan McGregor), mantel clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), duster Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), dresser Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and pianoforte Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) – and ultimately learns to see beneath the Beast's gruff exterior to find the heart and soul of a prince.
Unlike Disney's other recent remakes of its animated classics – Cinderella and The Jungle Book – Beauty and The Beast is a full-on musucall, and is all the better for it. It has new recordings of the original songs from the 1991 animation, along with some new tracks – so yes, fans of the title track and Be Our Guest will not be disappointed. Audiences will also be pleased with just how stunning the sets and costumes are; the film simply oozes visual opulence and style. The palace objects that come to life are also quite magnificent, beautifully animated and given real vigour by great vocal performances from the stellar cast.
And speaking of cast, Emma Watson is just perfect as the bookish beauty Belle, who lives with her father in the small French village of Villeneuve (named for the tale's original author). We've watched Watson grow up from the little girl in the Harry Potter films to this beautiful young woman who may not be the world's best actress but always makes interesting choices and gives each role her all. Belle may be her best performance to date. She's quite a strong, feminist character (definitely not a princess, as she reminds people) and she brings a real natural style to the role. She also has a surprisingly decent singing voice, as does Dan Stevens who brings a gruff and booming charm to his tortured Beast. Almost stealing the show, though, is Luke Evans as Gaston, a local cad and narcissistic hunter who refuses to take no as an answer from Belle and is determined to wed her. He's thoroughly obnoxious but he fills his performance zeal and has a real twinkle in his eye along with his tongue in his cheek. Also funis Josh Gad as his feisty sidekick Le Flou, who seems to have eyes for Gaston himself.
Beauty and The Beast is big, bold and sumptuous, with beautiful sets and costumes, great performances and perfect CGI (although the Beast's CGI face can be a little off-putting at times). It make excellent use of 3D and looks amazing on the IMAX screen. You may question the need for Disney to remake its classic cartoons, but this live-action version is a stunning-looking, very entertaining outing.