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Posts Tagged ‘“Beauty and the Beast”’

Lyricist/author Howard Ashman on the off-Broadwday  set of “Little Shop of Horrors”

“HOWARD” My rating: B+ (Debuts Aug. 7 on Disney Plus)

93 minutes | No MPAA rating

“Howard” is a laughter-through-tears emotional powerhouse that will leave you convinced that when Howard Ashman died of AIDS in 1991, we lost a musical theater genius.

As the lyric-writing partner of composer Alan Menken, Ashman was largely responsible for the off-Broadway hit “Little Shop of Horrors” and then went on to rejuvenate a dying Disney animation division with monsters like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast.” (The fact that those films went on to spawn wildly successful theatrical versions only adds lustre to his accomplishments.)

Don Hahn’s documentary begins with a recording session for “B&B” in New  York City.  As Hahn’s narration informs us, nobody at the time knew that within nine months Ashman would be gone.  He never got to see the finished film.

On the visual side Hahn (a producer of “Beauty…” and director of the doc “Waking Sleeping Beauty”) exploits a treasure trove of home movies from throughout his subject’s life.  There’s so much material, in fact, that the film needn’t rely on talking-head inserts.  The many contributors to this film (among them Menken and Jeffrey Katzenberg) are heard in voiceover but not seen, leaving center stage to Ashman.

The earliest glimpse into Ashman’s creativity comes from his sister, who recalls her brother turning his bedroom into an elaborate designed theater in which individual toys became players in a vast adventure.  Before long he was organizing neighborhood kids into giving backyard performances.

Young Howard had little interest in sports, but wrote poems for every occasion.

(more…)

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Dan Stevens (beneath the CGI) and Emma Watson

“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 17)

129 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Is Disney’s live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” as good as the old-style, hand-drawn 1991 original?

Nope. But it’ll do.

After a slow middle section, the film delivers the emotional goods. And along the way, it establishes Emma Watson, late of the Harry Potter franchise, as a name-above-the-title star.

This remake is the latest in Disney’s recycling of its classic animation library — see last year’s “The Jungle Book” and “Cinderella” the year before. The film, from director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” “Chicago”), hits favorite familiar notes while introducing some new (and mildly controversial) elements.

Its strongest component remains Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman’s score from the first film, a collection of hummers that immediately please the ear and quickly take up residence in the head. Small wonder a stage version became a Broadway smash. (I found the the three new tunes written for the film by Menken and the late Tim Rice to be forgettable.)

The story is by now familiar to all. Belle (Watson) is too smart to fit into traditional girly categories, setting off suspicions among her provincial fellow villagers in 18th-century France.

When her father (Kevin Kline) is imprisoned in the enchanted castle of the Beast (Dan Stevens) — a vain and cruel prince working off a curse — Belle trades places with the old man. Over time she wins over the Beast’s staff, domestics who have taken the form of household objects and eventually gains the love of her grumpy host.

Meanwhile the villagers are being stirred up by Gaston (Luke Evans), the preening he-man who wants Belle for himself.

Following the nifty production number “Belle,” which introduces us to our heroine and her circumstances, “Beauty and the Beast” slows to a crawl, only to pick up an hour later when the Belle/Beast relationship starts to assert its romantic pull.

The problem is one of size. The cartoon “Beauty,” nominated for a best picture Oscar, ran for 84 minutes. It was taut and wasted nothing. (more…)

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