Live-Action 'Beauty And The Beast ' Revisits A Tale As Old As Time NPR movie critic Bob Mondello reviews Disney's live-action version of Beauty and The Beast. Is it still a tale as old as time, a song as old as rhyme?


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Live-Action 'Beauty And The Beast ' Revisits A Tale As Old As Time

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It's a tale as old as time and also a new movie opening tomorrow. Disney's live-action "Beauty And The Beast" opens with advanced ticket sales already setting records for a family film. How does it compare with the animated original? We asked critic Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: From the moment the townsfolk throw open their shutters to welcome a new day, it's clear Emma Watson will be a picture-perfect Belle - warm and wistful.


EMMA WATSON: (As Belle, singing) There goes the baker with his tray like always, the same old bread and rolls to sell.

MONDELLO: And it's equally clear that the world she inhabits will be down-to-earth and real. That's the promise, no? You're going to see an animated world brought to life.


WATSON: (As Belle) Good morning, Monsieur Jean. Have you lost something again?

GERARD HORAN: (As Jean the Potter) I believe I have. The problem is I can't remember what.

WATSON: (As Belle, laughter).

HORAN: (As Jean the Potter) Oh, well, I'm sure it'll come to me.

MONDELLO: That bit's new, and while it's not important - this forgetful guy never reappears - it is helpful in humanizing a number that's about to get very grand. Belle's town has been created in full bustle by Director Bill Condon with elaborate sets, animals and something like 150 choreographed residents.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESSES: (As characters, singing) Never part of any crowd 'cause her head's up on some cloud.

MONDELLO: It works well enough, but if you remember this number as light and airy, it's kind of not anymore. By the time Belle gets to the part about, there must be more than this provincial life, you're definitely on the same page. Happily, Gaston is about to start pestering her, aided by a campy LeFou. And then come the bits with that fusty old clock Cogsworth and his candlestick buddy Lumiere.


EWAN MCGREGOR: (As Lumiere) Hello.

WATSON: (As Belle) You can talk.

IAN MCKELLEN: (As Cogsworth) Well, of course he can talk.

MONDELLO: They too have weights now, though they carry it well, going about their household chores with digital enthusiasm.


MCGREGOR: (As Lumiere) Hey, Chapeau, you missed a spot.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Coming through.

MONDELLO: In a way, this down-to-earthiness seems ideal. Where the magic of animation lies in bringing pen and ink drawings to life, Disney has now decided to bring to its fairytales some actual reality. They're looking at their whole animated catalog, including "Lion King," with the idea that live-action can offer a new kind of enchantment - and no question the digitally reimagined "Jungle Book" was certainly gorgeous. That's true again in "Beauty And The Beast." Dan Stevens is now lord of a significantly more imposing estate than he would have inherited in "Downton Abbey."


DAN STEVENS: (As Beast) You will join me for dinner. That's not a request.

EMMA THOMPSON: (As Mrs. Potts) Gently, master. The girl lost her father and her freedom in one day.

MCGREGOR: (As Lumiere) Yes, the poor thing is probably in there scared to death.

THOMPSON: (As Mrs. Potts) Exactly.

MONDELLO: It's easy to picture Mrs. Potts actually brewing cups of tea for the film crew, but if the physicality is persuasive, it's sort of the opposite of magical. The filmmakers have done all the imagining for us, and it's wearing after a while to see things that once felt effortless given weight - that Busby Berkeley dance of cutlery and dinner plates, for instance. It's not just mind-blowing. It's kind of exhausting.


THOMPSON: (As Mrs. Potts, singing) While the cups do their soft shoeing, I'll be bubbling; I'll be brewing.

MONDELLO: Production numbers aside, there's lots of back story this time to give the actors something to play - a prologue about how the Beast became a beast - he kind of deserved it - and a flashback about Belle's mom that helps explain the meaning of that rose that's losing its pedals. The symbolism is fleshed out so clearly it'll doubtless be helpful to middle school English teachers, which counts as a plus.

All of these things are pluses, really. Though they do make this "Beauty And The Beast" more than 40 minutes longer than the animated one. Forty minutes better - not for me, but if you've been craving a live-action beauty and the beast and Jean Cocteau's 1946 version strikes you as insufficiently family friendly, I totally get that. This version is boisterous and colorful and entirely compatible with a trip to Disney World. And if that sounds appealing, you're going to have a great time. Be their guest. I'm Bob Mondello.


THOMPSON: (As Mrs. Potts, singing) We've got a lot to do. Is it one lump or two for you, our guest?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) She's our guest.

THOMPSON: (As Mrs. Potts, singing) She's our guest.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) She's our guest. Be our guest. Be our guest. Our command is your request. It's been years since...


"In describing how the first song in the new Beauty and the Beast differs from the animated version, I made a factual error.

"I played a brief bit of dialogue in which Belle encounters a man on the street — Monsieur Jean — who thinks he has lost something, but can't remember what. And then I said, 'That bit's new, and while it's not important [because] this forgetful guy never reappears, it is helpful[.]'

"That's just wrong. Turns out, I'm the forgetful one. Not only does Monsieur Jean reappear, but his being forgetful in this new bit of dialogue is actually setting up a plot thread that is important. It's part of the 'lots of back story' that I later praise the filmmakers for having concocted.

"It's hard to say more without spoilers, and reviewers aren't supposed to say spoilers. We're also not supposed to say things that would cause millions of 6-year-olds to shout at their radios, 'Nooooo, Silly! That's _________.'

"See? No spoilers. At least I got that part right."]

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