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FILM REVIEW: Beauty and The Beast

Beauty and the Beast (PG)
Running time 2hr 9mins
Rating: ***

THERE’S trouble in the Magic Kingdom. Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast is, thankfully, no lurid cash-in – you can’t help but be captivated by its childlike simplicity, which frequently matches the nostalgic oomph of the original.

Nevertheless, it’s a film compromised by its own sumptuousness, a cartoon adaptation that’s trapped between its progressive mission statement and its classic roots, and which suffers greatly for it.

And, about that mission statement: Belle (Emma Watson) is here recast as a feminist icon, a village belle (?) dissatisfied with the chauvinism and insularity of her olden-days milieu.

Much has been made of the movie’s featuring a gay character, but the person of Le Fou (Josh Gad) is frustratingly limited, little more than the perennially annoying panto lackey he was in the original (his only moment in the sun arrives slap-bang at the end).

For all its well-meaning aspirations, the movie’s actual subtext remains largely unchanged, a fundamentally conservative boy-abducts-girl affair with some very creepy undercurrents.

But there’s good stuff along the way. Dan Stevens’ panache brings the Beast to life (even though the hero himself is, for all intents and purposes, a CG creation). Neither could we have hoped for a better Belle – Watson’s performance, while never a stand-out, hits all the right notes.

The soundtrack piles on several new songs (including How Does A Moment Last Forever, a Céline Dion-written number) – they gel seamlessly with the older material, though you’re unlikely to find yourself whistling them on the way back to the car.

The film REALLY shines exactly where it shouldn’t. Gaston (Luke Evans), Belle’s wicked suitor, is easily its star. He’s wonderfully overplayed and exquisitely devilish, a classic villain that will win over kids and adults alike. You find yourself missing him every second he’s out of shot; Evans injects a malice and vigour of his own into his eponymous number, giving the Disney original a run for its money. He’s simply indomitable, and he and Gad share potent chemistry.

The technical aspects are, on the other hand, a bother. 2015’s live-action Cinderella took a more minimalist approach on the effects front; the sheer garishness of BATB, with its CG backdrops so cold and obvious you could literally eat them, probably means it will never make up for its grand box office takings in the awards department.

The Beast’s anthropomorphic attendants, among the best-loved of the cartoon’s characters, find themselves here devoid of personality, stale 3D caricatures one might have otherwise lifted from a YouTube parody – you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Lumière, the talking candelabrum, is voiced by none other than Ewan McGregor.

As family entertainment, Beauty And The Beast just about hangs together, but it has nothing on the recent wave of traditional Disney animations, let alone any of the last half-decade’s big musicals.

A ’toon remake, in an age where we can expect a little cynicism of even the smallest kids, needs to justify its own existence, and this one has neither the magic of Cinderella nor the darkness of The Jungle Book.

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