Review / ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (PG) ***

IN 1711, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s profligate husband left her a 26-year-old impoverished widow.

The same year saw the birth of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. In 1744, Barbot published a fable about love and sacrifice that Leprince de Beaumont abridged, re-wrote and published in 1756. It has become the basis of 25 cinema and TV versions since 1899.

The credits for this $US160 million live action reprise of the 1991 Disney animation mention neither of those names. Its screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, directed by Bill Condon, relegates their achievement to a framework for cutesy-poo invented characters to delight modern audiences.

Will children like this live action version as much as they liked the animated one? Littlies will probably not get the message. Double-digit kids may. Grown-ups, whether accompanying their young or escaping them, will judge it to be a pleasant-enough lightweight.

The beast (Dan Stevens) looks too gentle to be truly scary. While Emma Watson makes a bubbly Belle, she gives the role little depth. The best word for the self-extolling Gaston (Luke Evans) is shallow. Josh Gad as LeFou, a Sancho Panza to Gaston’s Don Quixote, makes the most of a limited role. Kevin Kline does his best as Belle’s father. And a grey horse called Philip stylishly comes in handy to draw a cart or carry somebody from danger whenever the need arises!

The word that most aptly describes Condon’s film is “schmaltz”, delivered by some notable actors voicing artefacts in the beast’s castle – Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock, Emma Thompson ever ready to pour tea as Mrs Potts and Ewan McGregor as Lumiere the candelabra.

For my money, the film that tells the story most beautifully is the 1946 version scripted and directed by French poet Jean Cocteau.

At all cinemas

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