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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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