By RICHMOND B. ADAMS
In watching Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, I might want also to call it Downton Abbey meets The Sound of Music through Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Adapted from the 1740 French story and the 1991 film, the current version of a Belle, a young woman (Emma Watson) growing up as something of a book-reading nerd, encounters and eventually (sigh) falls in love with THE BEAST (Dan Stevens), once a Prince, but now cursed by the indifference of his arrogance. Such are curses, however, that THE BEAST has brought many of his friends into near-eternity as objects throughout his once grand castle. Of the many who guided young Belle through her time while in, and increasingly of, the castle is the clock of wisdom, otherwise known as Cogsworth (Gandalf, err, Sir Ian McKellan).
As young Belle, whose place near THE BEAST came to be as she rescued her father Maurice (Kevin Kline, whose career of quirkiness continues in a facetiously pleasant way) from a life sentence in the castle, moves toward unexpected love, the film showcases sequences of song, dance, and general good fun, even to the point of our heroine sounding musical atop a mountain in almost the same dress as, well, you know. Happily, and in an epic battle of Good versus Evil, THE BEAST defeats Gaston (Luke Evans), saves Belle so that she can, in the nick of time, proclaim her love for him, break the curse, and restart the dance and song of peace on earth with goodwill all around.
At the last, the present version of Beauty and the Beast has every sort of hoaky, soupy, artificial, and heart-tugging trick Hollywood ever designed to get people into theatres. It is not too much to say that upon entering Alva’s movie house, this professorial personage dreaded what was to be seen. After watching Belle and THE BEAST find one another as Prince and Princess charming, however, one realizes that somehow, it just works and is suitable for everyone. May our gallant hero and heroine live happily ever after…
Four and one-half stars from five