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updated: 3/15/2017 10:24 AM

'Beauty and the Beast' a faithful but less magical remake of Disney classic

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  • Video: "Beauty and the Beast" trailer

  • Dan Stevens shows Emma Watson some of his animal moves in the live-action adaptation of Walt Disney's animated classic "Beauty and the Beast."

    Dan Stevens shows Emma Watson some of his animal moves in the live-action adaptation of Walt Disney's animated classic "Beauty and the Beast."

 
 

In Bill Condon's good, but not great, live-action remake of Walt Disney's animated musical fantasy "Beauty and the Beast," Emma Watson constantly smiles as dancing dishes and singing silverware prepare a spectacular meal in the showstopper number "Be Our Guest."

But where are her reactions of utter awe and astonishment?

This is an opportunity squandered by Condon, a director who brings this familiar tale to life with a strong cast, impressive camera lens acrobatics, four new songs and astonishing visual effects.

Yet, this "Beauty and the Beast" lacks the magical zip-a-dee-doo-dah of the 1991 original, a jewel (along with "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin") in the crown from Disney's renaissance period.

It doesn't help that "Beauty and the Beast" arrives so soon after Damien Chazelle's "La La Land" reinvented the American movie musical with its narrative innovations and bold clashes of period costumes, technologies and music styles.

That's OK, because most viewers don't expect or want "Beauty and the Beast" to be anything more than an exact live-action translation of the animated classic.

To that end, Condon's visually opulent, slower-tempo movie mostly succeeds, with a few embellishments (such as what happened to Belle's missing mother) tossed in to spice up its nostalgia quotient.

Watson, armed with her crisp, natural British accent, practically glows as she portrays the reserved bookworm Belle.

The affable opening number "Belle" shows how she is viewed by the catty townspeople. We meet her eccentric inventor father (Kevin Kline in character actor overdrive), viewed as the village idiot.

The narcissistic and manly villain Gaston (Luke Evans), who's especially good at expectorating (does he even know the meaning of that word?), wants to ring Belle's wedding chimes.

She will have nothing to do with him, unlike his fawning companion LeFou (Josh Gad), who turns out to be the most blatantly (and awkwardly) gay character in a Walt Disney release.

The famous back story involves a young and foolish prince ("Downton Abbey" star Dan Stevens) who publicly disgraces an ugly old beggar woman.

She reveals herself to be a beautiful enchantress who curses the prince to remain a beastly combination of a sasquatch and a ram unless a woman falls in love with him.

But the clock is ticking in the form of a magic rose that keeps losing its crimson petals. When the last one drops, the prince remains trapped forever.

Condon, who directed the movie version of "Dreamgirls" and the last two chapters in the "Twilight" saga, takes a "more is more" approach here so that the tightly edited 84-minute animated original stretches to a tenuous, 129-minute live-action extravaganza.

The Beast's castle staff -- turned into stiff furniture and inexpressive home accessories by the beautiful witch -- possesses a fraction of the bold, individual personalities of their animated originals.

Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and Chip (Nathan Mack) are fun to watch, but almost get swept away in a storm of showy visual effects.

Condon's Belle and Beast seldom achieve the magical chemistry of their animated counterparts (voiced by Robby Benson and Paige O'Hara).

Nonetheless, Watson is a dead-ringer for the original Belle, and Stevens' Beast boasts a literary IQ rivaling her own, a nice touch of intellectual parity.

And a good plug for libraries.

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