Bill Condon’s live action “Beauty and the Beast” was a stunning surprise, an improvement on the animated classic of a quarter-century ago and the first certified crowd-pleaser of the movie year. Funny, witty, impeccably cast, fully imagined and movingly penned, it delights and enchants, eternal yet effortlessly of the moment.
Emma Watson makes a radiant and full-throated Belle, Dan Stevens pulls off the difficult task of bringing genuine human emotion to the Beast, and Luke Evans is sheer perfection as the narcissist Gaston. Those looking for serious homoeroticism between him and Josh Gad’s LeFou will be left with blue balls; it’s all done with a wink and the better for it. The part of LeFou is tailor made for Gad, and all of his laugh lines scored big with the packed house. Kevin Kline always makes lovely company, here as Belle’s father, Maurice.
The voices of the fixtures at the Beast’s castle have been chosen so thoughtfully: Ian McKellen as Cogsworth (his last line, in the come-to-life epilogue, will have you laughing for days); Ewan McGregor as Lumiere and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette; Audra McDonald an inspired Garderobe and Stanley Tucci as Cadenza; young Nathan Mack as Chip and the nonpareil Emma Thompson a worthy heir to Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts. (Do stay for the elegantly mounted cast credits).
Condon brings out the deep feeling of the underlying tale in a way animation cannot. He uses special effects when necessary, but never lets them become the story. Rather, the ageless message of seeking out others’ inner beauty holds pride of place, and resonates especially with all of us who are not magazine-cover material. The snowed-in and foreboding castle at the edge of the valley is well limned, as is the provincial (in more ways than one) village Belle yearns to escape.
This “Beauty and the Beast” made a ton of money, and will stand up well over time in generations of kids’ collections. It’s a consummate entertainment for smart audiences of all ages, and anyone who misses it – assuming it’s redundant or second-rate – is missing something special.