Beauty and the Beast ⭐⭐⭐

Approaching this fresh and unencumbered by either the original 1991 animated feature or the subsequent Broadway production, neither of which I have seen before, both the story and the film truly feels as old as time.  Despite the ‘controversial updates’, this feels like a very faithful remake, aside from a brief mixed race kiss and a gay character, which is still played for laughs, nudging the film from hidden references to winking implications (so, not exactly Brokeback Mountain). Bill Condon, a safe and competent choice for director, does a confident and beautiful job in a genre familiar to him, as his camera glides graciously to parade the opulent and lavish production designs and dazzlingly colourful wardrobe. Emma Watson’s Belle certainly looks the part but she is hampered by the limited range in her acting; while the Beast comes across as a CGI creation that I thought could be more convincing, especially coming after last year’s similar remake of The Jungle Book. His close-up shots work better than the wide shots but Dan Stevens is lost under all that makeup/CGI. In fact, like the rest of the starry cast, they are mostly there to lend their voice, with some faring, and singing, better than others. So while Emma Thompson fills the Angela Lansbury sized hole perfectly adequately, Ewan McGregor’s Inspector Clouseau flavoured Lumiere jars for me. And it doesn’t help that I am still baffled that if they are French, then why do some have French accents and others don’t? However, what saved the film, and an absolute delight here, is indubitably the music. The soaring, uplifting score and songs from Alan Menken (with lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice) set the gold standard for Disney musicals and they shine here in all its glory. With nods to other musical influences from The Sound of Music to Busby Berkeley, this unashamedly family friendly movie comes across, in the end, as much a piece of musical theatre on film as a live action remake of a beloved Disney animated classic. And if you are a 12 year old girl, the intended target audience for this film, be my guest and add another star to the rating above.

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