Beauty and the Beast (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): A tale as old as time…

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This may sound contradictory to you, but the main highlights of “Beauty and the Beast”, another live action remake film from the Walt Disney Company, often feel like the weakest things in the movie. The movie is indeed enchanting and enjoyable thanks to its top-notch production quality and solid, entertaining performance, and my cranky heart was often charmed by its lovely moments, but my lucid mind kept reminding me of how many elements in the film I enjoyed were more memorable and fantastic in the 1991 animation feature film version.

Although I have never revisited the 1991 version since I watched it only once via a VHS copy in 1999 (Shame on me!), it is still vividly remembered in my mind even at this moment, and that says a lot about its undeniable visual/emotional power. Along with “The Little Mermaid” (1989), the 1991 version put the Walt Disney Company back to the top of its field, and it also got the honor of being the first animation feature film which received a Best Picture Oscar nomination (it lost to “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), which, incidentally, can be regarded as another tale of beauty and the beast).

Compared to the 1991 version, the 2017 version is bound to look inevitably pale in comparison, because, well, nothing in live action film can surpass style and imagination of animation film. For example, I was certainly delighted by the grand gothic appearance of the castle of the Beast in the 2017 version, but then I remembered how the same castle in the 1991 version looked far more impressive on the screen. The Beast in the 2017 version surely looks hideous and menacing as require with a pair of horns on his furry head, but then he looks less scary and interesting when you compare him with his animation counterpart.

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Nevertheless, the 2017 version diligently gives us exactly what we expect from it. After the prologue sequence showing how a cold-hearted prince was punished by an enchantress during one fateful night, the movie promptly moves forward to its first big musical sequence, and we are treated with the new rendition of that endearing Oscar-nominated song “Belle”, as watching our spirited heroine Belle going (and singing) around her village. While she may not sing as well as Paige O’Hara in the 1991 version, Emma Watson ably exudes that irrepressible pluck we saw from her performance in Harry Potter movies, and we come to root for her character more especially during a short but robust musical moment clearly influenced by “The Sound of Music” (1965).

Mostly occupied with reading books and yearning for something better for her life, Belle does not care much about marriage unlike other pretty girls in the village, but that means nothing to Gaston (Luke Evans), a virile dude with an ego as big and monstrous as Donald Trump’s. Looking pompous and despicable as required, Evans definitely has a fun time with his villain character, and he relishes his musical sequence later in the movie along with Josh Gad, who plays Gaston’s sidekick LeFou.

Meanwhile, Belle’s eccentric watchmaker father Maurice (Kevin Kline, who is seriously under-utilized despite his own brief musical scene) gets in a serious trouble when he is returning to the village during one night. Not long after getting lost in a nearby forest, he comes across a dark, mysterious castle, and then he soon finds himself incarcerated by the Beast (Dan Stevens), who is the cursed owner of the castle.

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When she comes to learn of her father’s situation, Belle decides to become the Beast’s prisoner instead. Things look pretty dour for her at first mainly due to the Beast’s coarse attitude, but her warm presence comes to influence not only the castle but also its residents. The servants of the castle, who were transformed into various furnitures as their master was turned into a beast, are delighted to have a guest to be served, and that leads to another Oscar-nominated song “Be Our Guest”, which is joyously accompanied with the dazzling choreography a la Busby Berkeley and the exuberant singing voice of Ewan McGregor. While McGregor indubitably has a ball with his flamboyant character, the other colorful supporting performers in the film including Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald, Ian McKellen, and Emma Thompson have each own moment to shine, and I particularly liked how McGregor and McKellen complement each other via their contrasting personalities like Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers did in the 1991 version.

In case of the Beast, he begins to see some hope of redemption from Belle, and, yes, he comes to discover his better sides as being nicer to her than before. While his performance is mostly conveyed via CGI, Dan Stevens, who drew my attention for the first time through his creepy performance in “The Guest” (2014), is convincing in the on-screen interactions with Watson, and they click well together during the expected ballroom scene as Thompson sings Oscar-winning song “Beauty and the Beast” instead of Angela Lansbury in the 1991 version.

Under the smooth direction by the director Bill Condon, “Beauty and the Beast” keeps entertaining us although it is 45 minutes longer than the 1991 version. Most of new elements including the homosexuality of one substantial supporting character are rather unnecessary, but I enjoyed its visuals as well as performances, and the songs by Alan Menken and late Howard Ashman are appealing as before while understandably eclipsing the new songs made for the film by Menken and Tim Rice. The movie still feels redundant and overstuffed, but I was content to be its guest anyway, and you may enjoy it too.

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