The virtue of courage is high up on the list of Disney princess must-haves (just below kindness, beauty and a strapping prince in tight trousers). And three cheers for director Bill Condon and star Emma Watson for having the courage to make a live-action musical adaptation of the adored 1991 animation with 2017 gender politics and a diverse cast. Not only is Belle the most feminist Disney princess ever, 'Beauty and the Beast' also features the first (and second) ever interracial kiss in a live-action Disney movie and the first openly gay character in a Disney movie fullstop. And it's all done with a lovely feeling of integrity too.
This is a lavish pull-out-all-the-stops musical. Watson brings sincerity to the role of Belle, the only bookworm in the village in eighteenth-century France. (Her singing isn’t bad either). Luke Evans is hilarious as her sexist meathead suitor Gaston, whose charming chat-up lines include: ‘Do you know what happens to spinsters in the village when their fathers die? They beg for scraps.’ Josh Gad (Olaf the snowman in ‘Frozen’) is his adoring sidekick Le Fou. The pair’s get-a-room bromance is a highlight.
Belle’s inventor dad (Kevin Kline) is on his way to market when he takes a wrong turn and finds himself locked in the gothic castle belonging to Beast (Dan Stevens from ‘Downton’, hiding behind a furry face). Of course, the Beast is actually a dashing prince, transformed by a kind witch as punishment for his cold-heartedness. Only true love – as Céline Dion must surely have once sung – can set him free. You know the rest.
This funny and drop dead gorgeous ‘Beauty and the Beast’ stands on the shoulders of a giant – the original animation. It’s got the same talking appliances, performed here by an all-star cast: Ewan McGregor is Lumiere the French candlestick; Ian McKellen is pompous clock Cogsworth; Emma Thompson does her best cockney as Mrs Potts. And the sheer razzle-dazzle spectacle is totally old-school, with dancing napkins instead of chorus girls and everyone bursting sumptuously into song at every available opportunity.
If you want to pick holes, the Beast is a bit of drip. And while Belle is a young woman in charge of her destiny, it’s not totally clear what role there is for her – beyond wifey for lifey – after her happy ending. Did the world need another ‘Beauty and the Beast’? Maybe not, but this one is still a keeper.