The new, live-action “Beauty and the Beast” is not a feel-good movie. It is a feel-great movie.
You come out of the theater merry and refreshed. It’s definitely magical: How else to explain the enchantment of a movie that is scene-for-scene and character-for-character identical to the 26-year-old cartoon version? Most of us already knew the songs by heart. It gets you thinking about Mrs. Potts’ sweetly contemplative observation that it’s “a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme.” Maybe it never goes out of style.
It helps, of course, that this latest iteration is perfect. Who but Emma Watson (Hermione in “Harry Potter”) could best portray the brave Belle? Resolute and beautiful, an idealistic dreamer who can be as practical as a ball-peen hammer, Watson has retired the jersey.
Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”), done up in fur, hooves and elegant horns, progresses winningly from insufferable grouch to kindly sweetheart. It’s no small feat to impart subtle emotional transformation while covered with hair and wearing stilts plus a 40-pound muscle suit. But he does it. And don’t take this the wrong way, but we liked him more in his beast persona and presence than as the handsome prince he becomes. Good-looking guys are nice, but a charming, vulnerable beast can be so darn heartwarming.
So those are the two stars and you already know what happens. Let us turn now to the teapot, cup, clock, candelabra and wardrobe.
Emma Thompson, as Mrs. Potts, is the calming, motherly character who rises above the jockeying of Ewan McGregor’s Lumière and Ian McKellan’s stuffy timepiece, Cogsworth. We hasten to add that you don’t see any of the co-stars in the flesh until the very end, and then only briefly. But no matter, they and Stanley Tucci (harpsichord), Audra McDonald (opera singer turned dresser), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (French maid turned feather duster) lend not merely their voices but their very considerable acting skills to the computer-generated furnishings they became when the vain prince first offended the old beggar woman (who is actually a morally ascendant fairy).
Whoa! Almost forgot Kevin Kline as Belle’s absentminded father, Luke Evans as the blustering Gaston and Josh Gad and Gaston’s punch boy, LeFou. All super.
One last thing. The micro-controversy about LeFou being portrayed as gay merits no serious comment. He comes across as the exact same sidekick you saw in the 1991 animated version. There’s a blink-and-you-missed it moment at the end. Or so we hear. We blinked.