Published: 00:01, 17 March 2017
If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it.
Those immortal words, uttered in jest by Cogsworth the talking clock in the 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast during a guided tour of his master’s castle, are largely heeded by director Bill Condon for this ravishing live action remake.
The charm, sweetness, heart-tugging romance, infectious songs and rumbustious humour of the original – Disney’s finest hand-drawn animation – have been lovingly polished by screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos.
They embellish perfection with original flourishes to set this handsomely mounted tale as old as time apart from its predecessor, including melancholic flashbacks and a curious interlude of time travel that confirms the grim fate of Belle’s mother.
A few favourite moments, which work beautifully in animated form, but might seem outlandish in the flesh, have been lost in translation, including Gaston’s virtuoso egg juggling and Belle’s serenade to a flock of hungry sheep.
Verses of the Oscar-winning songbook composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman have been nipped and tucked, then heightened with lush orchestration.
Three sparkling new ballads, courtesy of Menken and lyricist Tim Rice, sit handsomely in this exalted musical company including a soaring lament of longing for the Beast entitled Evermore that swoons, “I let her steal into my melancholy heart/It’s more than I can bear.” Us too.
Strong-willed bookworm Belle (Emma Watson) continues to rebuff the amorous advances of preening Gaston (Luke Evans), who wonders how he’ll know when he is in love.
“You’ll feel nauseous!” retorts manservant Le Fou (Josh Gad).
Before Gaston can find out, Belle trades places with her inventor father Maurice (Kevin Kline) as eternal prisoner of an accursed Beast (Dan Stevens) in his crumbling stronghold.
The gloom of incarceration is lifted by the kindness of enchanted servants including tightly wound clock Cogsworth (Sir Ian McKellen), flirtatious candlestick Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), and clinking teapot Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson) and her teacup son, Chip (Nathan Mack).
As petals of an enchanted rose fall, Belle glimpses beneath the fur of her tormented host and acknowledges that “there may be something there that wasn’t there before”.
Distinguished by stunning production design, this Beauty and the Beast doesn’t quite scale the dizzy heights of its animated predecessor, but comes delightfully close.
Watson is a spirited heroine and is blessed with a sweet singing voice, and Stevens teases out the humanity of his fallen prince. Both cede the limelight to the twin comic tornadoes of Evans and Gad, who elevate their homoerotic bromance and bring the tavern down with the lyrically wicked sing-along Gaston.
Lumiere’s eye-popping Busby Berkeley-esque Be Our Guest is still a showstopper, augmented with shimmering digital effects, and the title song performed by Thompson brings a lump to the throat.
Not once but twice upon a time, Condon’s film promises and delivers a deliriously happy every after.
Beauty and the Beast (PG) is in cinemas on Friday, March 17