Sunday, June 4, 2017

Video review: "Beauty and the Beast"

When “Beauty and the Beast” came out in March, I asked why a live-action remake of one of the best animated films of all time even needed to exist. Since then, the movie has provided its own reasons: 1.23 billion of them, to be exact. That’s the film’s global box office take in dollars as of this writing.

It’s a well-crafted film, bright and engaging and full of vivid characters. No doubt there is a new generation of moviegoers who experienced this timeless tale for the first time, since the 1991 animated version now falls into “classic film” category, as strange as it may seem.

I can only hope they experienced as much joy and thrills I had when I first saw Belle and the Beast dance together for the first time.

But I bet not.

Let’s start with the fact that Emma Watson has many wonderful qualities, but a singer she is not. Her frail little voice just can’t carry big Broadway-style show tunes (by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken). Her Belle doesn’t have that sense of hesitation we admired, existing more as a latter-day proto-feminist.

I also didn’t care for the look of the Beast (Dan Stevens), who can’t help looking like a dude in a fur suit. It seemed like the filmmakers were trying to turn him more into a classic romantic figure than a tragic, magically cursed prince.

The story is well-known: inquisitive young girl comes to be the prisoner of the Beast, who is trapped in his castle along with his entire staff of servants by a fell hex placed on him a decade earlier. If he doesn’t find someone to love him soon, the curse will remain forever.

Luke Evans plays the villain, martial hunter Gaston, who covets Belle for himself. Josh Bad is his right-hand henchman, LeFou, who does some pining of his own.

Rounding out the vocal cast are Emma Thompson, Ewan McGregor, Audra McDonald, Ian McKellen and Stanley Tucci. Kevin Kline plays Belle’s (live-action) father.

There are four brand-new songs in addition to all the originals from the animated movie, though only one, “Days in the Sun,” is memorable.

Billion-dollar payday or not, there’s just very little magic in seeing a virtual shot-by-shot remake of one of the most beloved films ever.

Bonus features are truly wondrous, though you’ll have to buy the Blu-ray version to get nearly all of them. The DVD contains only a music video.

There are about 10 minutes of deleted scenes, as well as an extended version of “Days in the Sun.” A sing-a-long version lets you jump straight to all the songs.

Perhaps the neatest feature is “Enchanted Table Read,” in which the cast carries out an elaborate table read of the film, including singing, dances and set pieces.

There is also a making-of documentary and several featurettes focusing on the people in front of and behind the cameras.



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