It can be a gamble to turn an animated classic into a live-action film… but then again, consider how many times “Beauty and the Beast” has been told, even in a couple of contemporary television series.
And Disney is not a studio to take a gamble it doesn’t think it can play well. The much-anticipated new rendering of the story is a pretty faithful variation that hits virtually all the notes many people will anticipate. Is it necessary? No. Is it enjoyable enough? Yes.
Emma Watson graduates from being Harry Potter’s Hermione to become the live-action Belle, the eventual apple of a cursed prince’s eye. He’s played by “Downton Abbey” alum Dan Stevens, who’s so handsome that you sort of hope the makeup, prosthetics and effects that turn him into the Beast will be kept at bay as long as possible.
Other familiar characters get computer-generated treatment, such as Lumiere (who has the voice of Ewan McGregor) and Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) … with a stellar cast that includes Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Luke Evans, Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen and Audra McDonald also on hand. And most people surely will know the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken music.
Director Bill Condon knows how to package a project, and he’s shown that musically with “Dreamgirls,” so it’s no surprise that he makes the newest “Beauty and the Beast” seamless. Even when the picture flirts with going down some roads the story hasn’t before (which was enough to get it banned in Malaysia), it pretty much stays on the track that devotees of the saga will count on.
If you wonder why Disney would go this route, you need only examine its successes with other live-action features it has developed from its animated classics. “Cinderella,” “The Jungle Book,” “101 Dalmatians” (which was such a hit, it yielded the sequel “102 Dalmatians”) … all have performed very handsomely at the box office, and if there’s a company that’s not about to let another such opportunity slip through its fingers, it’s Disney.
Not surprisingly, the result is that “Beauty and the Beast” is very slick and assured entertainment. As the title song says, it’s a tale as old as time – and even in transforming it out of animation, Disney hasn’t messed much with the recipe.