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"BEAUTY AND THE BEAST"
(2017) (Emma Watson, Dan Stevens) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Musical: Despite being his prisoner for life, a young and headstrong woman finds herself falling for a former prince who was turned into an unrefined and initially unfriendly beast, the result of a curse put on him and his castle staff that could be lifted should love blossom between the unlikely pair.
PLOT:
Belle (EMMA WATSON) is a young, educated and independent woman who longs for a life outside of her small village. She lives with her long-widowed father, Maurice (KEVIN KLINE), and wants no part of the marital desires of the village's handsome and highly egotistical bachelor, Gaston (LUKE EVANS) who has an adoring sidekick in LeFou (JOSH GAD). But Belle ends up with greater concerns than boorish and unwelcome overtures when her father, seeking shelter from a storm at night and a pack of hungry wolves, stumbles upon a long forgotten castle in the woods and ends up as a prisoner there.

It belongs to a former prince who, along with his staff, was cursed by an enchantress for his arrogant and snobbish ways. While he was turned into the hulking Beast (DAN STEVENS), his staff was turned into various objects, albeit the kind that can move and talk. Among them is his maître d', Lumière (voice of EWAN McGREGOR), who's now a candlestick; the former head of the household staff, Cogsworth (voice of IAN McKELLEN) who's been changed into a mantle clock; and former cook turned teapot, Mrs. Potts (voice of EMMA THOMPSON) who cares for her young son turned teacup, Chip (voice of NATHAN MACK). There's also the court composer, Maestro Cadenza (voice of STANLEY TUCCI), who now lives as a harpsichord; his wife and former opera singer, Madame Garderobe (voice of AUDRA McDONALD), who was turned into a wardrobe; and Plumette (voice of GUGU MBATHA-RAW), a castle maid and Lumière's lover who now lives as a feather duster.

When Belle discovers that Beast intends to keep her father prisoner for the rest of his life, she volunteers to take his place. Beast doesn't care and initially wants nothing to do with her, but Lumière and the rest remind him that the enchantress' curse can be broken and everything returned to normal should love blossom between anyone and the former prince, all before a magical rose drops its last petal. From that point on, the staff does what it can to make the unlikely pair fall for each other, something that initially seems like a long shot at best, and something that could be ruined by Gaston mounting an attempt to rescue Belle from the castle.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
From the 1920s through just last month, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated hundreds of films for Best Picture. Yet, of all of those, only three have been animated movies: 1991's "Beauty and the Beast," 2009's "Up" and 2010's "Story 3." None of those won in their respective years, but it's remarkable that just one of those featured traditional hand-drawn animation (albeit with some computer-assisted backgrounds and such).

And that was Disney's reimagining of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's centuries-old fairy tale that they decided to turn into a musical, following the success of doing the same with "The Little Mermaid" a few years earlier. Considering it was the studio's most successful animated film to date and led to a "BatB" empire consisting of direct to video sequels, a live-action TV show, video games and a successful Broadway musical, suffice it to say it's something of a sacred Disney property.

Thus, I'm guessing early talks to produce a live-action remake of the '91 film were met with a mixture of trepidation as well as a glint of "there's gold in them thar hills" potential. But considering the success of Disney's other recent live-action adaptations -- including "Alice in Wonderland," "Cinderella" and "The Jungle Book" among others -- and having now seen their latest, I imagine the box office returns are going to be immense and fans of the original film and/or Broadway musical probably won't be disappointed.

With a few exceptions found here and there in the nearly 130-minute offering, this is pretty much the same story we saw back in the '91 animated film. There are some new songs (not being familiar with the musical I can't say if they're pulled from the Broadway show or are brand new just for this remake) and a few new scenes designed to flesh out some moments from the original. But aside from that, it's nearly beat for beat a retread of the earlier pic.

Not that that's a bad thing, mind you, as it's akin to watching something familiar from a new angle that adds a fresh layer of enjoyment in watching things unfold. That obviously includes having flesh and blood characters along with various computer-animated objects in place of their hand-drawn animated predecessors.

This time around, Emma Watson plays Belle who -- when not fending off the ego-ridden and boorish marital advances of the hunky village bachelor (Luke Evans, although I think Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would have been a more fun and physically fit choice for Gaston) -- ends up taking her father's (Kevin Kline) place of being the forever prisoner of the Beast character played by Dan Stevens.

And, like before, the former prince's equally cursed staff (voiced by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson and Stanley Tucci as now animated castle objects) attempts to get the unlikely couple to fall for one another. They're fun to behold, but some early scenes of those characters are others occasionally bordered a bit too hyperkinetic for my tastes.

I don't recall the original enough to recognize if this one is aping its predecessor in such regards, but thankfully director Bill Condon -- working from a script by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos -- reigns most of that frenetic energy in as the story progresses (nothing withstanding the big action-comedy fight sequence between those objects and villagers who've literally stormed the castle).

The new(er) music is okay but not remarkable (at least on the first pass of hearing it), but the classic songs from the original film are still the highlights and shine brightly. As does the production design, costumes, cinematography and more. In short, the offering is a treat to both the eye and ear.

Is it as good as the original animated film? I'd argue no, mainly because it's a live-action remake of something we've already seen and thus the novelty and originality factor aren't there. But is it an entertaining time at the movies? The answer is an undeniable yes, and sometimes rousingly so, especially when the familiar notes and lyrics of "Be Our Guest" (arguably the best scene in both versions of the film) play out. "Beauty and the Beast" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed March 2, 2017 / Posted March 17, 2017


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