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Thursday, March 23, 2017 12:04 am

Beast forgets that less can be more

Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast.

 

It was one of the most frustrating film-going experiences in recent memory. Disney’s live-action remake of its classic animated feature Beauty and the Beast is a combination of touching moments and garish excess, a movie that eschews the notion that sometimes less is more. Director Bill Condon goes out of his way to dazzle and distract the audience when all he had to do was tell this magical tale with a bit of whimsy and sincerity in order to move us. He and his cast succeed in doing that quite effectively on a number of occasions, which makes the outlandish set pieces and superfluous extra songs all the more difficult to bear.

To be sure, this is a dazzling physical piece of work, the production design top-notch throughout, whether in the rendering of the lived-in provincial town where Belle (a very good Emma Watson) resides or the magical living castle where the Beast (Dan Stevens) and his band of personified objects are doomed to live in various states of altered physical forms. Seems a curse was brought down upon all of them for denying shelter to an old woman who happened to be an enchantress with a wicked sense of justice. However, the curse can be lifted if someone falls in love with the Beast, who will then return to his human form, as will his servants Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), her son Chip (Nathan Mack), Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci). They’re hoping Belle will be the answer to their prayers, as she resides in the castle, having taken the place of her kind father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who foolishly plucked a rose on the Beast’s estate and was imprisoned by the creature for his offense.

The familiar moments are the best, as most of the songs from the original film are rendered in a quiet, grounded matter that allows the emotion behind each to shine through. This is most evident when the strains of the title tune are played, sung simply by Thompson, while coupled with scenes of the Beast and Belle getting to know one another, their first signs of affection coming forth. This is a show-stopping moment in all the right ways as it simply cuts through the artifice to concentrate on the emotions at play, all done with a subtle touch by all. It’s an unabashedly romantic sequence and the highlight of the film.

However, this approach is forgotten far too often at key moments throughout. “Be Our Guest” is presented as an over-the-top Busby Berkley extravaganza that is cut together so quickly and contains so many different zooming colors it’s likely to cause seizures. “Gaston,” in which we get to hear all about the virtues of the vacuous “hero” (Luke Evans, very good in a thankless role) from his compadre LeFou (Josh Gad), is needless and grinds things to a halt as does a flashback that reveals the fate of Belle’s mother. These moments, as well as a protracted climax (is there any other sort these days?), rob the story of its urgency, preventing it from building towards any sort of emotionally satisfying ending.

While the song “Days in the Sun,” which tells of the Beast and his friend’s wish to become human again, is a worthy addition, in the end there’s a sense of bloat about this movie that prevents it from becoming the classic Disney desperately wants it to be. In wanting to provide the audience with spectacle, Condon and screenwriters Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos have committed the cardinal sin when it comes to bringing romantic fairy tales to life – they’ve obscured its heart.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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