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Movie review: 'Beauty and the Beast' is solid, faithful retelling

March 17,2017 09:37

Movie review: 'Beauty and the Beast' is solid, faithful retelling By Michael Smith Tulsa World TulsaWorld.com | 0 comments. Both enchanting and nostalgic on its own terms, “Beauty and the Beast” comes to live-action realization as a faithful successor ...and more »

Both enchanting and nostalgic on its own terms, “Beauty and the Beast” comes to live-action realization as a faithful successor to the original 1991 animated classic.

That movie was a breakout smash that combined some of the best hand-drawn animation that Disney ever created, mixed it with a bit of the upcoming computer-animated artistry of the time and built it Broadway-ready with sensational songs.

Director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) has parlayed some very good casting, very little risk and the exceptional production design seen in “Cinderella” and “Maleficent” among Disney’s live-action remakes in recent years to fashion a fun film.

The original film was perfect, he and his team seem to be saying, so let’s play it safe and not mess up this story of a young beauty imprisoned with a beast that she comes to love.

Mission accomplished; the film is almost purely imitative in style and demeanor, but then most people wouldn’t have wanted a lot of changes or modern updates (though this does feature diversity nonexistent in the original).

In that sense, the new film doesn’t dazzle in a way that’s going to make us forget the original, and part of that lies with the low-voltage performance of Emma Watson, who can’t match the feisty Belle that Paige O’Hara voiced.

Her Belle is in charge of her destiny, but as Watson is herself an impressively empowered woman when it comes to gender equality, I would have expected a more energized, confident, memorable effort.

She’s solid if unspectacular.

But anyone can appreciate her vocal confidence with her initial tune (“Belle”) that engages her French village in their bemusement with this “peculiar girl” to the degree that you may wish to shout out “Bonjour!” to your neighbors in the theater.

It’s an exceptional opening, and it leads us into one of the film’s better elements: It deepens the mythology of the story, beginning with this idea that she’s not just simply odd because she wants to read, but because she’s independent.

Among the best casting is that of Luke Evans (“The Girl on the Train”) as the handsome meat-head Gaston, a narcissist of unmatched levels who plays up the camp-comedy factor in his pursuit of Belle, singing “In this town there is only she, who’s as beautiful as me.”

He creates solid laughs paired with sidekick LeFou, with Josh Gad playing the gay character that’s been played up way too much considering what happens, which is next to nothing.

There is also deeper context than in the animated film to the relationship between Belle and her father (Kevin Kline) that makes the concept of love — and especially the loss of it in one’s life — much more meaningful for their bond.

These “That wasn’t in the first film” moments work well almost uniformly, and I don’t think many will disapprove of the added time despite this version — at 2 hours, 9 minutes — being about 40 minutes longer than the original.

Some may have issues with the CGI clothing worn by the Beast (the shape seems to evolve through the film) and his stiff movements.

But there’s good news: Exceptional makeup work allows Dan Stevens to be truly expressive in his facial demeanor as a man cursed with fur, a tail, horns and thick hooves.

There are four new songs here — and none of the songs that were added for the Broadway show — but it’s always the classics that shine brightest.

“Be Our Guest” is a showstopper from an outstanding Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, voicing the candelabra as he offers Belle a dancing array of menu options (again, without ever allowing her to eat).

The special effects are best with the look of Beast’s servants, turned into furniture and accessories due to his curse, like the movements of Cogsworth the clock (Ian McKellen voices), Plumette the featherduster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and the big-voiced Audra McDonald as the wardrobe.

As Mrs. Potts, the wonderful Emma Thompson is less than memorable here in her delivery of the title song, which sounds too much like an homage to Angela Lansbury’s unforgettable turn.

“Beauty and the Beast” is like that much of the time: Very solid and safe, but still sure to charm audiences of all ages, like those kids who fell in love with this story more than 25 years ago and who now will treat their own children.

Michael Smith918-581-8479michael.smith@tulsaworld.comTwitter: @michaelsmithTW

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