Disney's 1991 animated version of "Beauty and the Beast" was the first animated feature to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was, and still is, hugely popular, so for that reason many have wondered why Disney would choose to risk tarnishing the image of such a beloved movie by creating a live-action



"Beauty and the Beast" was viewed endlessly in our home by our daughter and her friends, so I, too, had my doubts. But director Bill Condon has helmed a masterpiece that will meet most everyone's expectations. The screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos contains a few differences, but nothing that detracts from this beautiful "tale as old as time". And Alan Menken's wonderful score includes a few new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice.


This classic fairy tale with its unmistakable message that beauty comes from within dates back to Gabrielle-Suzanne Bardot de Villeneuve's "La Belle et la Bete" first published in 18th century France. The relevance of this theme screams to be heard today in our current political climate. Repeat --- beauty comes from within!


In case you've been living under a rock and don't know the story, a handsome, self-absorbed Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses shelter to a bedraggled woman who is actually an exquisite enchantress (Hattie Morahan) in disguise. She curses him and his fabulous castle, turning him into a ghastly beast and his staff into household objects.


To break her spell, the Beast must learn to love and have that love returned before the last petal of the enchanted rose she leaves behind falls. If he fails, he will stay a beast, and his faithful servants will remain as they are --- imprisoned in the frozen castle forever.


In the nearby town of Villeneuve, a young woman, Belle (Emma Watson), though beautiful and sweet, is regarded with suspicion by the townspeople because she prefers to spend her time reading. This "odd" affliction does nothing to dispel the arduous advances of the town bully, Gaston (Luke Evans), who is convinced that Belle will one day be his wife. Together, with his ever-present sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad), they plot to woo and win Belle.


A fateful journey undertaken by Belle's father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), lands him at the Beast's castle, held against his will. When Maurice's faithful horse, Philippe, returns to Belle alone, she sets out to find her father. Reaching the castle on Philippe, Belle locates Maurice's cell. The Beast refuses his release, so she selflessly takes his place, remaining behind in the castle as the Beast's prisoner.


The talking household objects, including: Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), a candelabra; Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), a clock; Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), a teapot; Chip (Nathan Mack), Mrs. Potts' son --- a teacup; Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), a wardrobe; Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a feather duster; and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), a harpsichord, seize the opportunity of having a lovely young lady in residence to convince the Beast to befriend her. Belle could be the answer to all their prayers.


I absolutely love this musical. David and I totally agreed with the decision in 1992 to nominate the animated version for an Oscar for Best Picture. And though I had my doubts, this live-action production is marvelous. It is spectacularly gorgeous, with magnificent sets, design and costumes. The animation and CGI are superb, never more so than in the over-the-top splendid musical number "Be Our Guest", my favorite out of all the Disney films.


The cast is outstanding, though I must admit I miss Jerry Orbach as Lumiere. He had a certain playfulness in his voice which translated to film so well. I am most impressed this time with Evans and his powerful, majestic voice. He plays Gaston perfectly --- handsome, stupid and more than a tad evil.


Everyone else has suitable singing voices, but admittedly Watson should not have been selected for Belle. She's a lovely, capable actor, but she doesn't possess the strong vocal chords such a role demands. Like the other Emma --- Stone --- in "La La Land", a role such as this should have gone to an actress with a much bigger voice. And because Watson is so well-known, at times it is impossible to separate her from Belle. Utilizing an unknown may have been a better choice --- at least one who could have kept up with the rest of the cast vocally.


Despite my feelings about Watson, "Beauty and the Beast" is terrific entertainment. From the spectacular opening number to the equally awesome closing one, every second of this film is special. Whether you have children or not, do not miss a chance to see this sumptuous spectacle.


Opinion:  Strong See It Now!




Hard to believe, but it has been 25 years since Disney's Oscar-winning animated film "Beauty and the Beast" enchanted movie audiences around the world. Now director Bill Condon, an all-star cast, and a crew numbering over 1000 have created a magical live-action version of the classic tale. And tra-"La-La" --- what a musical it is!


Starring Emma Watson as the feisty, strong-willed Belle and Dan Stevens as the Prince-turned-creature, "Beauty and the Beast" enthralls us from the opening number, one of several staged by the entire company. With its magnificent costuming, perfect choreography, and toe-tapping songs by multiple Oscar-winners Alan Menken and Tim Rice, this film is a treat for anyone who harkens back to the glory days of musicals.


When you alone consider the lavish sets that were constructed in the making of the movie, it's not sticker shock that the final budget is estimated at $160 million. The enchanted forest, for example, was built on Shepperton Studios' largest lot --- 9600 square feet --- and took 15 weeks to complete. The 18th century French village called Villeneuve, named after the original author of the tale, "La Belle et la Bete", was the largest of the 27 massive sets built, encompassing almost 29,000 square feet. And talk about attention to detail ---

Belle's ballroom gown required 12,000 design hours, including over 2000 Swarovski crystals.


"Beauty and the Beast" this time around has engendered huge curiosity by the movie-going public. The trailer was viewed a record 91 million times in its first 24 hours, according to Disney, surpassing the studio's own "Star Wars: The Force Awakens".


In a quirky turn of events, Ryan Gosling was offered the lead role of the beast, but turned it down to star in "La La Land". And Emma Watson was offered the lead role in "La La Land" but rejected it in favor of playing Belle in her favorite childhood story.


The entire cast is terrific, including stars Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline and Ian McKellen. The duo of Luke Evans as Gaston, and Josh Gad as his sidekick LeFou, is infectious. Evans, in particular, embodies the ideal smugness and arrogance of the obnoxious Gaston, and he has a glorious singing voice to match. Director Condon's "Beauty and the Beast" is a hugely entertaining experience at the movies.


Opinion:  Strong See It Now!