Beauty and the Beast is the latest live-action Disney adaptation; it lacks spark but will still prove popular with its target audience

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Film Review

Beauty and the Beast 2017 film poster

Beauty and the Beast 2017 film poster

Beauty and the Beast certainly hit the right notes for the target audience (young girls), of which there were plenty in the screening which I attended.

There was laughter, applause and more than a few tears shed at the end of this live action retelling of the classic fairy story in which a young arrogant prince (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey) is turned into a hideous beast by an enchantress.

He is cursed to live out his days as a monster, with his castle servants (played by an array of acting and singing talent) turned into inanimate objects, unless he can fall in love with a woman and make her fall in love with him.

Belle is an unusual young woman, one who likes literature and learning, and thinks there’s more to life than the provincial small village she lives in with her father Maurice (played by an unrecognisable Kevin Kline).

Belle trades places with her father when he is imprisoned by the Beast for inadvertently stealing from him and increasingly gets to know and like him after spending time with him.

Luke Evans, as the villainous Gaston – a former soldier who wants Belle to be his trophy wife – inevitably plots to break up the would-be couple and has a lot of fun with his character where Stevens is inhibited by a distracting CGI beast face while Watson’s Belle seems to lack chemistry with her co-star.

A magical rose forms the dramatic time limit in this story and when the last petal falls from it the transformation (and curse) will be made permanent.

Beauty and the Beast, lots of little additions but do  they add anything to the story?

Disney’s slick marketing may have brought us the controversy over Josh Gad’s over-the-top ‘bromantic’ portrayal of Gaston’s sidekick Le Fou along with the suggestion that Belle is the inventor rather than her father Maurice. And, yes, Watson can sing but there are better vocal performances from the professional Broadway stars in the main cast.

All of these factors amount to a storm in a (chipped) tea cup and, like other adjustments and additions made to the plot of the 1991 Disney animated version, are too underplayed to be worth mentioning although you’d have to be a nit-picker to be annoyed at too many of them.

The padded story threads boost the running time to over two hours but they function well enough for an undemanding audience.

Beauty and the Beast follows in the footsteps of 2015’s Cinderella which starred a Downton Abbey co-star of Stevens (Lily James) but while all the songs are there, all the set pieces are there, and the story is present too, there’s something missing from the live action version.

There might have been some sniffiness over La La Land’s musical credentials but Disney are the modern masters of the musical format and there’s no harm done here with the retreads of Alan Menken’s music and songs with Tim Rice lyrics. There’s even room for some welcome additional songs not in the 1991 film.

Lovers of the Disney classics would still be well advised to stick to the ‘original’ version of this one though.

Beauty and the Beast (PG; mild violence, threat; 129 minutes)

Summary: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a live action version of the classic Disney animation in which a woman is imprisoned in an enchanted castle.

Verdict: ***