While 1991's cartoon classic (the first animated feature to be nominated in the Academy Awards' Best Picture category) is still the winner, this new version is absolutely charming. This time around, real people ably take the place of their two-dimensional counterparts - with an assist from some fabulous CG effects. Director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls") paints a mesmerizing picture that's filled with lavish sets and costumes, colorful characters and unforgettable music.
Alan Menken, one of the original score's composers, handles the same chore here. Along with familiar songs like "Be Our Guest", Menken has added a few new tunes. The haunting ballad "Evermore" is the most memorable. Although there has been talk about Emma Watson's questionable vocal talents, she and the entire cast are in fine voice. Josh Gad, as Gaston's aide-de-camp LeFou, brings down the house with his crowd-pleasing rendition of "Gaston". Among the more notable actors are Emma Thompson as the housekeeper-turned-teapot Mrs. Potts, Ewan McGregor as valet/candelabra Lumière and Ian McKellen as the butler-turned-clock Cogsworth. Stanley Tucci plays new character Maestro Cadenza, who has taken the form of a harpsichord. Nearly 45 minutes longer than the original Disney treasure, this enchanting film fills the screen with more music and adds some new wrinkles to the inhabitants and the story. Watching a large format 3D presentation of this spellbinding spectacle is truly immersive. "Beauty and the Beast" magically transforms from animation to live-action in grand fashion. (4 CAMS)