PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — First things first:
Is the live-action reimagining of the animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, as entertaining, as entrancing, as satisfying as its predecessor?
Well, no, not quite. But it’s close. And, besides, how many movies are?
Movies don’t come much more accomplished, distinctive, or even historic than the 1991 gem.
Remember, the earlier version of this tale as old as time set in a French village was the first feature to marry animation to the Broadway musical, the first animated feature to earn over $100-million, the first animated feature to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and a six-time Academy Award nominee that won two Oscars – for Best Score and Best Song.
As an early part of this Golden Age of Animation, this was perhaps the supreme achievement, a sweep-you-off-your-feet salute to the art of animation, the science of songwriting, and the magic of moviemaking.
That is a lot to live up to.
As a mix of real settings, live actors, and computer animation, the new, lavish Beauty and the Beast has a few awkward moments, but many more that transport and delight us in ways not unlike that of the earlier version. For the most part, it’s a lovingly crafted, strongly effective musical romantic fantasy.
But one that viewers less familiar with the 1991 film will be even more dazzled by. That’s because the rest of us will not be able to avoid comparing or confronting the realization that this movie can appear cluttered or overstuffed, leading to a more-is-less letdown.
Director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2, Mr. Holmes) works from a script by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spillotopoulos that stays pretty close to what we remember, but includes a bit of tweaking.
Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) as the wistful, proactive Belle with Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey TV fame) as the intimidating, bitter Beast gives the film two strong leads. And they’re supported by Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Luke Evans as Gaston, and Josh Gad as Le Fou, while Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, Ian McKwellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Stanley Tucci as Cadenza, Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, and Nathan Mack as Chip give voice to the enchanted household objects that are such a big part of this familiar fairytale.
Once again, we get all the songs written by composer Alan Menken and the late lyricist Howard Ashman, and three new ones – not particularly impactful or memorable — by Menken and lyricist Tim Rice that embellish the story about the cursed prince who finds himself in a nonhuman state and must find true love before the final petal falls from a rose.
It’s a great fable, it speaks to everyone, and it richly deserves the multiple renderings it’s getting in the modern era.
So we’ll be the guest of 3-1/2 stars out of 4. Beauty and the Beast is another beautiful movie feast.