Two years ago, the lushly gorgeous and opulently vibrant "Cinderella" was so earnest and charming it swept me away with its dreamy fairy tale romance and magic of happily ever after. The bars are set high for Disney's next live adaptation, Bill Condon-directed "Beauty and the Beast." Not only a fairy tale classic, but also a musical.
Emma Watson ("Harry Potter" series) is Belle. Not your average pretty girl, she is bright and bookish with an independent mind and adventurous spirit. The vibrant opening number, where Belle sings her way into the hustle and bustle of the town square says it all. A young woman ahead of her time, Belle always feels there has to be more than this simple provincial life.
One day, her artist and inventor father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), gets lost on the way home after a long trip. All of a sudden, a summer night turns snowy and he stumbles upon a gothic castle. He runs out after initially seeking shelter and food, spooked by the eeriness inside. Prior to leaving, he cuts a single rose from the garden as a gift for Belle. He is caught by Beast (Dan Stevens) and imprisoned in the dungeon.
When Maurice's horse returns home without him, a worried Belle rides into the woods and traces her father's path, leading her to the castle. While scared by Beast, she willingly trades herself for her father's freedom and becomes Beast's prisoner.
To Belle's amazement, she comes across animated household appliances; Lumiere candleabra (Ewan McGregor; "The Impossible," "Perfect Sense," "Haywire"), Cogsworth clock (Ian McKellen, "X-Men" series), Mrs. Potts teapot (Emma Thompson, "Saving Mr. Banks"), Chip teacup (Nathan Mack), Plumette feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, "Miss Sloane"), Madame Garderobe wardrobe cabinet (Audra McDonald), Maestro Cadenza harpsichord (Stanley Tucci, "The Hunger Games" series).
The uproarious movements and interactions among the anthropomorphic characters make the movie very entertaining. The magical dining show with flying flatware they put up for Belle dazzles. And don't underestimate their feisty fighting style when the situation calls for it later in the story.
Belle was determined to escape at first. But she is let out of the dungeon, given her own room, and allowed to roam pretty freely. Except into the one forbidden section of the castle. It is where Beast's bewitched rose is kept, encased in a glass dome.
As in the original, Beast is a cursed prince. A partying prince with no regard for the common folks, he refuses to help a bedraggled woman, who turns out to be an enchantress. Here the prince is given a brief backstory why he became the way he was. The enchantress cursed the prince into a ghastly beast and transformed his loyal servants into those animated household wares. She also went to cast a spell over the land, enabling people to forget about the prince and the castle dwellers.
If the last petal of the rose falls and Beast hasn't earned to love and be loved by another, he would remain forever in his transmogrified form. His servants, would turn into inanimate objects, which makes the stake higher.
Returning into town, Maurice tells the residents about the existence of Beast and beseeches them to save his beloved Belle. Gaston (Luke Evans; "The Girl on the Train," "Immortals"), a vainglorious war veteran vying for Belle's heart, firstly puts a show of lending a hand, before leaving Maurice in the dust. He then kicks up a storm, corralling the villagers to attack the castle and kill Beast. No amount of fun tavern dancing scenes could mask Gaston's true, gruesome color. His jovial sidekick, Le Fou (Josh Gad; "Jobs," "Love & Other Drugs"), really deserves better.
An incident with the wolves and wounded Beast is a turning point in Belle's and Beast's relationship. Belle begins to see a protector and tender side of Beast, underneath his monstrous exterior and brusque manner. They connect through books and humor. They take peaceful walks and play snowball fights. The iconic candlelit dance is luminous. Belle's golden gown, appearing feather-light, glows in the ballroom. Eventually Beast does the ultimate sacrifice, which breaks the curse.
The special effects are mixed, varying from very realistic to limited. A couple of things could look more alive or offer more moving range. But the movie is a sumptuous visual feast with a seamless musical.
You can't help but be all smiles when eternal winter turns into spring and the palace is filled with people and celebration of life. The tale as old as time is enchanting as ever. "Beauty and the Beast" has magic, music and joy.
DVD (animation): https://tinyurl.com/beautyandthebeastoriginal