Once upon a time there was a Prince (Dan Stevens) who had everything he ever wanted, which meant riches and his pick of the women in the kingdom who would attend the palace to partake in dances, each of them twirling with him across the ballroom. But this made him arrogant and cruel, and a passing Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) decided to teach him a lesson, along with everyone who was within his orbit, by transforming them into objects and him into a Beast which was cursed to stay that way, the petals on a rose indicating for how much longer, until he found someone he could love and would love him in return. Some years went by, and in the nearby village they forgot about the palace: Belle (Emma Watson) never even knew of it before...
Just as in the late nineties and early two-thousands Disney would add cheap sequels to their classic animated hits to make a fast buck and annoy their diehard fans, they opted, come the twenty-tens, to start remaking those cartoons in live action, or as much live action as a film packed with computer graphics could lay claim to. However, these turned out not to be a cheap option to keep the kettle boiling, but genuine blockbusters, and when Beauty and the Beast arrived, heavily inspired by the 1991 Disney renaissance favourite, it was the most successful of them to that date. This indicated we were in for many more, since if there was one thing the House of Mouse was keen to do it was milk a cash cow.
However, those Disney diehards were not unanimous in their praise: it was all very well recreating The Jungle Book for many of the newer generations had never seen the original on the big screen, but Beauty and the Beast was one of the most beloved works in the company's canon, and the feeling they had got it just right the first time was difficult to shake for many of the target audience who would have grown up with the '91 incarnation. There were grumblings that though they loved Watson as Hermione, she was miscast as Belle, and it was true to say she was more handsome than beautiful, carrying the air of someone more comfortable in tweeds as a gentlewoman farmer than a typical Disney Princess.
That said, Belle was carefully indicated to be an oddball in her community thanks to her love of reading, so maybe she wasn't such outlandish casting after all as Watson could certainly play intellectual. Then there were the complaints about the gender politics of what after all was a tale, of not as old as time, then at least going back a few centuries as Belle takes the place of her widowed father (Kevin Kline) in the Beast's castle where he must woo her to break the spell on himself and the other victims without her knowledge that is what his task is. Wasn't this endorsing Stockholm Syndrome? Would this have been made with the roles reversed, and Belle was the Beast? A furries version of the yarn really would have been different (er, wouldn't it?), but there was some elegant updating going on, so that the theme was far less "woman falls in love with kidnapper" and more "women love a challenge".
By making it important that both protagonists should fall for each other, the screenplay offered an equality that may not have been apparent in a simple synopsis, notably because the evil Gaston was vying for Belle's affections in his conniving fashion. Essayed with lusty gusto by Luke Evans, it offered the actor perhaps his best film role to date, performed with self-regarding humour and true menace when demanded; assisting was Josh Gad as his admirer who endorses dashing Gaston's misdemeanours because he is in love with him, underlining by contrast that it was the human-looking villain who was the real beast, not the enchanted Prince. There was a bunch of starry thesps filling out the roles of candelabra, clock, teapot and so on, and you could assuredly see where the money went, the songs were carried over from the source and added to with seamless skill, yet there were a few missteps, most blatantly when the plot erupted into violence for the finale; largely comedy action, true, but too reminiscent of the contemporary cliché of every fantastical blockbuster having to climax in a brawl. Bear in mind the cartoon likely did get it right, this remake contained enough nuance to make you aware of how fairy tales were archetypes that withstood tinkering. Music by a returning Alan Menken, with lyrics by the late Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.