Parents need to know that "Beauty and the Beast" is Disney's live-action remake of the classic 1991 animated musical, with Emma Watson as book-loving, independent Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. Although the movie will appeal to even very young viewers, especially those familiar with the original, the remake's violent sequences can be very intense, with a few jump-worthy and upsetting moments (several involving snarling wolves, others guns) that leave characters bloodied, injured, and, in one case, dead. As always, the story encourages viewers to look beyond the superficial and to be compassionate, curious, humble, and generous. Director Bill Condon took care to make sure that this version had diverse supporting characters, including a gay LeFou (Josh Gad) - Gaston's sidekick - and people of color not represented in the animated version.
WHAT'S THE STORY?
"Beauty and the Beast" opens with a prologue: A greedy, careless, party-loving French prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman seeking shelter, so she transforms into an enchantress and places a curse on him. It turns him into an ugly beast and his castle's attendants into household objects until he can find someone to love him despite his looks. Years later, Belle (Emma Watson), a smart, book-loving girl living in the village near the castle, dreams of something more than her daily routine. Vain war hero Gaston (Luke Evans) has his sights set on Belle for a wife, but she's not interested. After Belle's father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), ends up imprisoned in the enchanted castle, she follows him and offers herself up as a prisoner in exchange for his freedom. Meanwhile, the Beast's household staff - led by candelabra Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), and teakettle Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) - conspire to help Belle see their beastly master as something more ... and possibly break the spell.
IS IT ANY GOOD?
Watson is an ideal Belle in this wonderful remake that's at once nostalgic and new, bringing to life the musical both for kids and life-long adult fans. Her Belle is relatable and sympathetic, with her curious eyes and aura of clever bookishness and strong-willed personality (Watson was also Hermione Granger, after all!). It turns out Watson can sing well, too; she's no rival to six-time Tony-winning co-star Audra McDonald, who plays Madame Garderobe, but her voice is clear and crisp and full of the longing and wanderlust that Belle conveys so beautifully in Alan Menken's songs. Stevens does a fine job with the Beast, playing up the character's frustration, anger, underlying sadness - and eventual love - in his voice and gestures.
But we all know that "Beauty and the Beast" is just as much about the supporting characters as it is the central couple, and director Bill Condon's ensemble doesn't disappoint. Kline's Maurice is even funnier than his bumbling animated counterpart, and McGregor and McKellen are hilarious as odd-couple duo Lumiere and Cogsworth. Thompson is comforting as Mrs. Potts, and her boy Chip is ever as lovable. And then there's Evans as narcissistic Gaston, who's so full of himself that he can't fathom why Belle won't agree to be his bride, and the amazing Josh Gad, who steals the show as Gaston's adoring (and smitten) sidekick LeFou. Menken's original songs are rendered with appropriate spectacle, particularly "Be Our Guest," but the new ones are decidedly bittersweet, underscoring the sadness both Belle and Beast feel about their situations. The gorgeous costumes and extraordinary set design add to the movie's overall delight, but it's the performances that stand out in this memorable musical remake.
RATING AND CONTENT
Recommended for ages 8 and older
Quality: 4 out of 5
Educational value: 2 out of 5
Positive messages: 4 out of 5
Positive role models: 4 out of 5
Violence and scariness: 3 out of 5
Sexy stuff: 2 out of 5
Language: 1 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, and smoking: 1 out of 5
Consumerism: 1 out of 5 (Are products/advertisements embedded? Is the title part of a broader marketing initiative/empire? Is the intent to sell things to kids?)
Theatrical release date: March 17, 2017
Director: Bill Condon
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Genre: Family and Kids
Run time: 129 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
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