Beauty and the Beast (4 stars)

Beauty and the Beast

Beautifully crafted retelling of the tale as old as time, starring Emma Watson and a scene-stealing Luke Evans

Disney has done it again. Following the much-loved 1991 blockbuster animation (the first to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture) and the money-spinning stage version, the 'tale as old as time' gets a spectacular new reincarnation as a lavish live-action and CGI blend, a razzle dazzled musical that is a complete delight. However cynically this may have been conceived as nostalgia for profit, it is enchantingly realised.

Everyone knows the 18th century fairytale of a handsome, selfish prince cursed by a fairy to live as a monstrous recluse until true love breaks the spell. This is faithful to the beloved animated version of the story but not slavishly, introducing some new wrinkles and adding three new songs by Tim Rice and Alan Menken (who won two Oscars for his work on the 1991 film).

Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Mr Holmes) is a smart and sensitive director, who has experience of musicals (he wrote and directed Dreamgirls and penned the screenplay for Chicago) and knows how to draw out the emotions in both story and song. It's cannily cast – Kevin Kline as Belle's father, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, Stanley Tucci as a harpsichord, and multiple Tony winner Audra McDonald as an operatic wardrobe – and the production design, art direction and costumes are to die for.

Emma Watson is winsome but feisty as kind, intelligent Belle, and Dan Stevens – unrecognisable in the ferocious guise and with an electronically twiddled rumbling voice – is fine as the yearning Beast. Who knew they could sing? But the star turn is from Welsh hunk Luke Evans, splendid of voice and hilariously odious as vainglorious village bully Gaston. And dear Ewan McGregor, as the prince's valet-candelabra Lumière, brings all his Moulin Rouge! joie de vivre to the sensational showstopper 'Be Our Guest'.

While some have gotten their knickers in a twist over the news that a gay character features for the first time in a Disney film, you'd have to be highly homophobic to object to Josh Gad's LeFou, whose amusingly worshipful sidekickery as comic foil to Gaston is nothing but sweet and endearing. And unless you hate musicals altogether, only the most determinedly sour of puss will be able to resist the pretty and tuneful charms of a beautifully crafted tale that's 'ever just the same, ever a surprise'.

General release from Fri 17 Mar.

Beauty and the Beast

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 2h 9min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Bill Condon
  • Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Emma Thompson, Luke Evans, Ewan McGregor, Josh Gad
  • UK release: 17 March 2017

Belle (Watson) is forced to live with a Beast (Stevens) in this live-action retelling of the 1991 blockbuster. Watson is winsome but feisty, Evans as Gaston is splendid of voice and hilariously odious, McGregor brings much joie de vivre to ‘Be Our Guest’, and it’s an enchantingly realised delight.

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