My thoughts on Disney's live-action remake of its 1991 animated classic will be coloured by the fact that - don't judge me - I haven't seen the original. So whether or not it's overly slavish in its reinterpretation, you must find out from a bigger 'House of Mouse' fan than myself. Taken at face value, however, I really enjoyed the new Beauty and the Beast.
Need I even recount the plot of a tale as old as time? Well I was a bit shaky on it myself, so here goes.
A young self-centered French prince is turned into a (not really) hideous beast, when he refuses kindness at a feast to a beggar who is a sorceress in disguise (a clear case of moral entrapment, but set that aside). His courtiers too are transformed, into a variety of talking household items and furnishings. The curse must be lifted before all the petals fall from a rose preserved in a glass case, or it will be forever. And the only way that can happen is if he falls in love and is loved in return. I hear you - tricky task at the best of times. Cue Belle, a feisty, book-loving village girl, who through searching for her lost father, ends up imprisoned in the Beast's chilly castle. From such an unpromising start, romance endeavours to kindle.
So why remake Beauty at all, aside from motives purely financial? (It's drop-kicking everything else at the box office right now.) Well far from being a flaccid imitation, the new version is vibrant throughout. The locations are gorgeously brought to life, from the pastel shades of Belle's village full of dancing peasants to the Gothic grandeur of the Beast's castle. It's lavish, it's sumptuous - like the recent Skull Island everything here is just plain beautiful to look at. The direction serves to power it along too, particularly during the spirited musical numbers.
But the performances are where this really succeeds. Emma Watson is spot-on casting as Belle, and her interpretation of the role - feisty and sincere - is much in keeping with her neo-feminist credentials. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey's late lamented Matthew) has something truly feral about him either as man or beast, and Luke Evans has the time of his life as a triumphantly villainous Gaston. The enchanted courtiers are brought to life more by top voice work than computer animation - it proves tricky recreating teapots, mantle-clocks and candlesticks digitally, but the actors behind them are at the top of their game. I recognised the Cogsworth vocals immediately, but Lumiere, Mrs Potts and co proved more elusive, the end credits providing a few surprises, which I won't spoil.
As for Disney's first and much-discussed openly gay character, he fits neatly and logically into the film as a whole, adding a little extra nuance to proceedings, and a lot of high camp.
The cynic in me wanted to dismiss this Beast as a cash-cow, but was overruled by the movie's verve and sparkling creativity. Hey, it was Friday night - I wanted to be entertained! Your kids will adore the remake as much as you did the original, and you'll fight hard not to be won over yourself.