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Movie review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ beautiful update of Disney classic

“Beauty and the Beast” (PG)

The tale as old as time gets a fresh, new interpretation with “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s hotly anticipated live-action remake of their 1991 animated version. It’s a beautiful film from start to finish as long as you try to leave behind any comparisons to the groundbreaking original – the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar – and enjoy it for what it is; a classic romantic tale that’s bolstered by an expanded storyline with new characters, more new songs and dazzling visuals and vistas.

Emma Watson takes on the monumental task of playing Belle, a young maiden whose main concern is taking care of her widowed father (Kevin Kline), a kindly clock- and gadget-maker who is taken prisoner at a castle housing a cursed prince (Dan Stevens). An arrogant ruler who cares little for the downtrodden, the prince is damned to an eternity as a beast unless someone can find it in their hearts to truly love him. He leads a sad and lonely existence, with his only company being his servants, who are turned into a variety of objects like clocks, teacups and candelabras when the spell is cast upon the prince.

Tim reviews “Beauty and the Beast” with Tom Barnard on “The KQ Morning Show,” starting 10 minutes in. Also, Tim talks about the film and more with Bob Sansevere on “The BS Show” here, starting 24 minutes in.

In an effort to rescue her father, Belle takes her father’s place as prisoner, and after a certain amount of time, takes kindly to the beast as he begins to show humility. But the clock is ticking fast on the beast, and if a rose that measures the passage of time loses all its petals, he will remain a beast forever.  complicating matters is the arrogant aristocrat Gaston (Luke Evans), whose behavior becomes more and more vile as he seeks a reluctant Belle’s hand in marriage.

LINK: See Tim Lammers’ archived video and audio interviews, including Denzel Washington, Casey Affleck, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Francis Ford Coppola and more on his new YouTube channel.

Expertly directed by “Dreamgirls” helmer Bill Condon, “Beauty and the Beast” delivers on all that’s promised, especially with music – Alan Menken penned new tunes for the film with lyricist Tim Rice to go along with the existing songs he wrote with the late Howard Ashman – and the visual effects.

The great thing is, as spectacular as the visuals are (the showstopper “Be Our Guest” is one of most dazzling scenes put on film in years), the technical side of “Beauty and the Beast” never dampens the performances by the stunning ensemble cast, which also includes Ian McKellen as the clock Cogsworth, Ewan McGregor as the candelabra Lumiere and Emma Thompson as the teapot Mrs. Potts. Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald are also welcome additions to the cast, as the castle pianist and singer take the form of a piano and operatic-themed clothing dresser, respectively.

On the live-action side, the always-great Kline, Evans and Josh Gad (as Gaston’s bootlicking sidekick, LeFou), command the most attention, while Watson, while a good, if not great actress, becomes the film’s weak link. Granted, Watson has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but the role really demands a Broadway-caliber singer to fit the bill.

That’s not to say Watson can’t handle the tunes well – she does — but doesn’t come near to the performance of the songs by Paige O’Hara in the animated version. And that’s the quandary that Disney is going to have to face as they adapted more of their animated films into live-action: Do you cast a star like Watson, who is recognized worldwide because of the “Harry Potter” films? Or do you go with a Broadway vocalist who can take the songs to a whole new level? A large part of the reason the animated “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Mulan” became hits was because most people didn’t realize that such Broadway singers as Paige O’Hara, Jodi Benson and Lea Salonga were the voices behind the iconic lead characters.

No matter its flaws, “Beauty and the Beast” is a wonderful film throughout, and a welcome addition to Disney’s stable of live-action remakes or updates, including “Alice in Wonderland,” “Maleficent” and “Cinderella.” There’s no doubt you’ll emerge from the tale as old as time wanting more from Disney’s creative minds, and the those newly-imagined tales can’t come soon enough.

Lammometer: 8 (out of 10)

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