MOVIE BUFF-ET: “Beauty and the Beast” entertains, but something’s missing that was there before


Disney Studio’s live-action remake of its 1991 animated classic “Beauty and the Beast” is quite an accomplishment.

The film, directed by Bill Condon, is already a financial success, setting box-office records for the month of March that most productions only dream of in the more lucrative summer and holiday seasons. Its global take soared past $450 million on Wednesday and will likely catapult over the $600 million mark this weekend.

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As for the quality, the movie delivers. The film is stunningly beautiful and idyllic. It’s just what you would expect from Disney. While there are additional songs, the film is very faithful to the original, which was the first animated movie nominated for Best Picture, in tone and spirit.

The casting is superb with Emma Watson (Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter films) excelling in the lead role of Belle. Watson’s singing voice is not of the quality of Paige O’Hare, who supplied Belle’s voice in the original, but it was strong enough for me to not worry about the difference midway through her first song.

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey and Legion) plays dual role of the Beast and the Prince, aided and abetted by CGI that’s even more impressive than the film’s trailers suggested. While his performance does not stand out to the degree of Watson’s, it’s definitely not a weakness.

Luke Evans, however, is Watson’s equal as the narcissistic cad Gaston, who longs to make Belle his trophy wife by whatever means necessary. Gaston is a plumb of a role, and Evans devours it. His work as the villain only lifts Stevens and Watson as the heroes of the story.

Kevin Kline is charming as Belle’s daffy but loving father, and Josh Gad (the voice of Olaf in “Frozen”) puts his prodigious Broadway experience to good use as LaFou, Gaston’s long-suffering sidekick.

Ewan McGregor as Lumière the candelabra, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth the clock, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts the teapot lend excellent support as the Beast’s enchanted servants. It’s hard to imagine Disney finding a more appropriate cast for each of the roles.

I truly enjoyed the movie, and think most that are inclined to see it would as well, if they give the film half a chance.

My one misgiving bout the movie could be taken as a compliment. The film is just too faithful to the original.

Even with the new songs and a few careful fixes and twists to the original story, the movie plays like a cover-band reenactment of a classic album. It’s the same notes, chords, and lyrics but there’s something missing that was there before.

I freely admit this issue might just be me the viewer rather than the movie. While we all watch the same movie, we each process it uniquely, based on our own individuality.

I envy those who saw this movie with fresh eyes. I imagine it was as captivating for them as the original was for me and those who first fell in love with Disney’s original version of the oft told tale back in 1991.

(PG) 2 hr. min.
Grade: B

Classics Corner

The Wizard of Oz

I love old movies, but few films from the golden age of Hollywood could open up today and captivate an audience like it did upon its premier.
Sensibilities and expectations are just too different.

However one film that absolutely could is MGM’s 1939 version of “The Wizard of Oz.” It truly is a timeless piece of filmmaking that still has the power to enchant children and adults some 78 years later.

Maybe it’s because the bulk of the film is set in the fantasyland of Oz, which still shines as bright in all its Technicolor glory as any modern-day CGI setting.

Maybe it’s because talent is talent no matter the time period. Judy Garland (Dorthy Gale) would have just as much wattage today as she did in her hey day.

Though there are modern versions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that are quite pleasing, Garland’s version is the one all others will always be judged by.

There is no maybe about Margaret Hamilton’s performance as the Wicked Witch of the West and Almira Gulch. She’s still gives me shivers of delightful fright when she screeches, “I’ll get you my pretties!” And her blue-hued flying monkeys are straight out of a nightmare.

The film, directed by Victor Flemming and based on the works of Frank L. Baum, once was an annual springtime viewing tradition for many families, airing on CBS each spring from 1956 well into the 1980s, but the advent of home video robbed the movie of that special once-a-year designation.

For decades the movie has been played and enjoyed by fans almost on demand, and that convenience does make the movie seem a little less special, that is, until you actually sit down to watch, and the magic fills the screen again.

Friday night at 7 p.m. (Central) Turner Classic Movies is airing “The Wizard of Oz” as part of its weeklong March Malice festival, celebrating the great villains of the movies.

While its broadcast might no longer be appointment television, “The Wizard of Oz” remains an outstanding film for families anytime the choose to view it.