2017 Certificate: pg

Synopsis

In Disney's live-action makeover of their own animated musical take on the fairy tale, Dan Stevens plays the arrogant prince who is cursed to live as a terrifying beast until he finds true love. Strangely, his chance comes when he captures an unwary clockmaker (Kevin Kline), whose place is then taken by his bold and beautiful daughter Belle (Emma Watson). Helped by the Beast's similarly enchanted servants - including a clock, a teapot and a candelabra - Belle begins to see the sensitive soul behind the fearsome facade. But as time runs out, it soon becomes obvious that Belle's cocky suitor Gaston (Luke Evans) is the real beast of the piece. Keep your eyes (and mind) open for a visual and musical feast, bursting with characters and verve.

Director

  • Bill Condon

Cast

  • Emma Watson

  • Dan Stevens

  • Luke Evans

  • Emma Thompson

  • Ian McKellen

  • Ewan McGregor

  • Gugu Mbatha-Raw

  • Stanley Tucci

  • Kevin Kline

  • Josh Gad

Review

Oh, to be confined to a Gothic prison and denied human contact until you fall in love with your hideous, foul-tempered captor... it's every girl's romantic dream.

Or so the happy-ever-minded folks at Disney would have you believe as they take their second crack at the world's most celebrated case of Stockholm syndrome.

Plot-wise, it's a straight rehash of their animated 1991 smash (the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture), albeit with oodles of spiffy CGI and a few additional musical numbers.

In a vividly realised storybook world, Emma Watson is well cast as the titular Belle, a country girl whose love of books and boredom with village life make her a bit of a misfit (if not a little superior). Who'd want to leave when the place is so clearly alive with the sound of music..?

Yearning for excitement, Belle gets her wish when her widower father Maurice (Kline) gets himself lost and locked up by a fearsome beast (Stevens) who catches him trespassing in his wintry, Hogwartian castle.

Thanks to Maurice's horse, they are soon reunited. Alas, Hairy McGrumpypants will only let one of them go. Belle ensures that it's her.

Whilst held captive, she's quickly made at home by the Beast's magical fixtures and fittings, including Lumiere the candelabra (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen), Plumette the feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Cadenza the harpsichord (Stanley Tucci), Garderobe the dresser (Audra McDonald) and the ultimate tea lady, Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson). It's like wandering round John Lewis's basement floor on acid.

Turns out they're all under the same curse that afflicts their master, doomed to inanimity when the last petal falls off an enchanted rose... unless someone falls in love with the once-proud prince in his current form.

As Belle gets to know the Beast, Maurice tries to round up a rescue party. Unfortunately, all he gets is the town's alpha-buffoon Gaston (Evans) - who won't take "no" for an answer when it comes to Belle - and his camp sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad).

Needless to say, as one monstrous ego is tamed, the other goes out of control.

It's a splendid production, Dreamgirls director Bill Condon not only delivering the musical goods (particularly in the swirling recreation of the cartoon's iconic ballroom scene) but keeping both story and action flowing all the way to the castle-storming climax.

The energy is infectious, with Evans having a ball as the egotistical cad and Watson's pixie-chewing-a-nettle style nicely suited to the smart yet winsome requirements of her role. And Thompson's teapot would undoubtedly go down well with the original Mrs Potts, Angela Lansbury.

You could argue that if beauty is on the inside, the beast doesn't need change. But if we're going to split hairs, let's split them with Russia's censors, who have banned the film for Le Fou's "sexual depravity".

Surely if Disney wanted to make him a proper gay icon, they'd have had him riding his horse with no shirt on?

Elliott Noble