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Palo Alto Weekly

- March 17, 2017


'Beauty' not as animated as it used to be

(Century 16 & 20)

Few properties have a greater market penetration than an animated Disney musical, so it's been no great surprise to see the Mouse House capitalize on the possibilities of exploiting such material, with direct-to-video sequels, then Broadway musicals and now live-action animated remakes (live action combined with animation). The 1991 classic "Beauty and the Beast" — the first animated film to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars — now gets the live-action treatment, but where last year's "The Jungle Book" felt fresh and vibrant in live action, "Beauty and the Beast" proves dispiriting.

Director Bill Condon ("Dreamgirls," "Mr. Holmes") only manages to breathe life into the material when he diverges from the original film, as in the sumptuous bookends set in the pre- and post-curse castle of the French prince of swell hair (Dan Stevens). There, Madame de Garderobe (Broadway goddess Audra McDonald) sings a new number as the screen fills with gloriously costumed waltzers.

Once the prince is cursed to live as a beast, his castle enchanted, and his attendants turned into furniture, not much changes about "Beauty and the Beast," except our enjoyment of it. At first, it appears the material may play in live-action: "Belle," the number that introduces the story's winningly bookish heroine (Emma Watson) kicks off the story proper with a bit of musical charm and a handsome village square populated with a diverse chorus.

The always welcome Kevin Kline shows up as Belle's father, then Luke Evans as dastardly narcissist Gaston (both, not for nothing, solid singers), and the injection of character actor vigor stokes hope that this was all a pretty good idea after all. But then we arrive at the cursed palace, domain of a CGI beast (who obviously hails from the Uncanny Valley) and his collection of photo-real furniture: candelabra Lumi

— Peter Canavese


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