Reviewed by Stephen Radosh
Having put the chaotic months of February and March behind me, I am once again happily escaping to the movies and sharing my thoughts with you here.  So, I hurried off to my favorite local movie house, The Mary Pickford Theatre in Cathedral City (no surprise to regular readers) to catch up on some recent releases while they are still showing, starting with BEAUTY & THE BEAST.
Disney has once again created a live-action adaptation of one of its animation favorites, as it has recently done with CINDERELLA and THE JUNGLE BOOK among others.  This time it’s BEAUTY & THE BEAST and it is by far the best of the lot.
Fans of the 1991 animated classic (and who isn’t?) will appreciate the many scenes reproduced here shot for shot, right down to the camera angles.  The faithfully rendered set designs and costumes are lush and highly detailed.  The extensive CGI work is, for the most part (I’ll discuss this in a moment), extraordinary.  Scenically, it is almost impossible to distinguish where the physical sets end and the CGI parts begin.  For the castle’s staff, rather than taking the path of the stage musical with live actors in ever-changing costumes as they progress from part human to inanimate objects, Director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Parts 1 and 2) opted to have them be CGI characters until, spoiler alert!!!!, the curse is broken and they are once again human.
I am also pleased to say that for once the additions & changes to the script and the score all enhance the story and never detract or feel like padding which could easily have happened since this version is 40 minutes longer than the animated film.
There are some minor lyric changes to the original score by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman plus 3 new songs by Menken and lyricist Tim Rice.  And what a glorious score it is!  As is the case with every superlative show score the songs are not only well-crafted but either advance the plot, as in “Belle,” or give us a deeper insight to the characters and what makes them tick as in Maurice’s "How Does a Moment Last Forever?"
For those of you who have somehow managed to have never seen the animated version or the Cocteau version or read the original story, here is a brief synopsis.  Belle longs to someday escape the tiny village where she lives for a life filled with literature and culture.  Gaston, the town hero, wants her to marry him and settle down as his wife and someday be the mother of his children.  Meanwhile, after a close call which almost cost him his life, Belle’s father, Maurice, winds up a prisoner of the Beast.  Belle goes to save him and exchanges her freedom for his.  From the prologue we know that the Beast is really a Prince put under a curse along with his staff who have been turned into household furnishings.  If the Beast can get someone to love him before the last petal falls from an equally enchanted rose, then they will all be restored to their former selves otherwise they will be this way forever.  After some time, it is clear that there are sparks between our Beauty and the Beast.  Gaston, in a jealous rage attempts to storm the castle and kill the Beast.  When he almost succeeds, Belle declares her love for the Beast and everyone, except for Gaston, that is, lives happily ever After.
The heart of the story is Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle.  Her Belle comes off as a strong and determined woman willing to make sacrifices to achieve her goals and follow her beliefs and dreams.  As portrayed by Watson, this is no typical Disney Princess.  Her singing voice is not the strongest but she pulls it off with the warmth and conviction she brings to her characterization.
Luke Evans’ Gaston is at first amusing but quickly turns menacing as his jealousies take over what little rational thought he had in the first place.  What is most amusing about the part is just how closely he resembles the Gaston from the animated film.  And as his deeply loyal and quite smitten sidekick Le Fou, Josh Gad is truly a living cartoon character and quite amusing.  And in what I believe is a Disney first for any of their “Princess Musicals” we learn just why he is so taken with the handsome Gaston.  Guess What????   HE”S GAY!!!!!
As Maurice, Kevin Kline delivers his usual high grade of performance and is quite touching as we learn more of his and Belle’s backstory than from the animated film.
In a casting coup, Disney assembled a group of A-listers including Audra MacDonald, Ian McKellen,, Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor and  Stanley Tucci , among others, to play the Beast’s servants.  Their rendition, with the help of the silverware, dishes, etc., of “Be Our Guest” is a delight and right out of the Busby Berkley School of Choreography.
Dan Stevens is the Prince/Beast.  In order to get the look of the animated film’s Beast, they used Motion Capture technology in order to not bury Dan Stevens under a ton of make-up and prosthetics.  It os his voice and body motions but a computer generated character.  And this is my one major gripe with the film.  There were several times during the movie when the Beast looked animated and not as real as even Lumiere, the talking, singing Candlestick!  These were usually face close-ups of the Beast  that were held onscreen just too long Unfortunately, these few times did yank me out of the moment, even if it was only for a couple of seconds.  After all, who wants to see how a Magician does his tricks while he is performing?
But this one gripe aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  So whether you are familiar with the original Disney animated film or are a BEAUTY & THE BEAST virgin, you’ll find this to be a truly enchanted 2 hours and 9 minutes.