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Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast Review

Why remake a classic that became the first animated film to score an Academy Awards Best Picture nomination?  The 1991 version holds a special place in my heart because I took my daughter, and the joy and awe reflected her 4-year-old face is a cherished memory that proved the film an all-time classic in my mind and heart.  With that unattainable summit, I approached the live action version with some trepidation.  I'm glad to say that director Bill Condon's update provided not only a warm nostalgia trip, it also carved its own path, thanks to insightful casting and intelligent updates.

In prologue, a vain prince (Dan Stevens) is hosting a ball when a wizened old woman shows up, seeking shelter and sustenance.  You know what happens next: rejection, wizened hag turns enchantress (Hattie Morahan), staff becomes knick-knacks, a rose, and castle frozen and forgotten.  Cut to the village where Belle (Emma Watson) lives with her papa, Maurice (Kevin Kline), an eccentric tinkerer.  This time, his daughter's sheer creativity trumps his manual dexterity and her brilliance and curiosity outstrip not only the village's meager library but the village itself.   Enter Gaston (Luke Evans), the preening "catch" who despite the evident longing of every girl in town has eyes only for Belle.  At his side is his too-admiring sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad), effete comic villain.

As you will recall, Maurice's misadventure bring him imprisonment at the Beast's castle, causing Belle, all bravery and self-sacrifice, to take her father's place.  She resigns herself to a life of misery in the cold, bleak castle until she discovers humorous housewares with good voices--Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) the candlestick, Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) the clock, Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) the teapot, her son Chip (Nathan Mack) the cup, Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) the wardrobe, Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  Better, the Beast offers the most thrilling part of the castle: his massive library.  And best of all, Belle discovers the suffering and humanity beneath the Beast's gruff, uncouth exterior.  By this time, though, Gaston has massed the townfolk, replete with pitchforks and, well, you know how the story goes.

This version has added 45 minutes runtime to the original, so Alan Menken added several new songs to his original score, each blending seamlessly and performed exquisitely with brio.  The art direction by James Foster and Neil Gottschalk, the set direction by Katie Spencer, and the costume design by Jacqueline Durran aided by typical Disney VFX all combine to recreate and translate the animated film to real yet enchanted world.  In fact, this live action film pays homage to the animated original while carving its own path with an even more independent, intelligent, and assertive Belle, and it is difficult to imagine anyone more suited to play this version than Emma Watson.  She heads a uniformly excellent cast with Dan Stevens' eerie look-alike Prince, Luke Evans' lusty interpretation of Gaston, and Josh Gad's second-banana with a twist.  I think I'll watch it again with my daughter.

8.5 out of 10


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