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Beauty and the Beast (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 129 minutes.

OK for children.

Disney’s idea of turning its 1991 animated hit into a live action/animated film resulted in a terrific film but there are a few downers.

The production numbers are compelling. The mix of live action and animation is extremely well done, and the acting is very good.

On the downside, though, one of the first scenes shows Beauty standing on a hill à la Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965). But unlike that 50 year old movie that was actually shot on a hilltop in Austria with a real background, the backdrop is not real. The unchanging sky and clouds appear to be painted phonies as flat and fake as the opening scenes of Casablanca (1942). In this day and age, and considering the amount of money that Disney spent on this film, it’s surprisingly dreadful.

Beauty (Belle) is played by Emma Watson. If she were a high school girl she’d be considered moderately attractive. What she isn’t, is a “beauty.” She’s not the person to be playing a title character called “Beauty.”

The Beast is played by Dan Stevens. When he’s photographed to look like a Beast, he’s got a lot of sex appeal. But when he turns back into the Prince he looks like a nerd. I think that a real Belle would yearn for the return of The Beast.

I’m not into animation at all and generally decline to view animated films, but what’s done here is really good. Fortunately, however, the film is actually a lot more live action than animated.

The other visual effects and special effects, like the forest and the castle, are extraordinary, clearly award-quality work.

Just so you know who’s who, after the prince is turned into a beast and his household workers are turned into furniture and other things, here are the players: Lumière (Ewan McGregor), a candelabra; Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), a mantel clock; Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), a teapot; Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), a wardrobe; Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a feather duster; and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), a harpsichord. All this is extremely well-done.

Stevens is turned into The Beast digitally through performance and facial capture technology, not makeup. It is very realistic and believable.

Luke Evans plays the bad guy, Gaston, and he does become hateful. One of the best performances in the film is by Kevin Kline, who plays Belle’s father, Maurice, the main object of Gaston’s hatred.

The pace holds up even though it’s well over two hours long. I wasn’t blown away by the music (there are three new songs), but the outstanding production numbers make the most of it (the score won an Oscar® in 1991), so that the lack of high quality melody is minimized. The music certainly doesn't rival Gigi (1958) or Mary Poppins (1964).

So it’s not perfect. Even so, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would, and I think most people should enjoy it, too.