Beauty and the Beast (dir. Condon) 2017.

With Emma  Watson and Dan Stevens.

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Written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos.  Music and lyrics by HOward Ashman and Alan Menken.

With Emma Watson,  Dan Stevens, and Kevin Kline.

The remake of Disney’s animated film has many things going for it.  The fairy tale of the redemptive power of love and compassion features a feminist heroine.    The musical score has aged very well.  Cast members Emma Watson, Kevin Kline and company perform beautifully.

Disney is Disney is Disney.  You can’t get away from the extra flourishes on the gown, the cutifying of the candlestick and arms holding up the candelabra.  How can you outdo the original re-imagining of the enchanted castle by Cocteau?

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Scene from Cocteau’s La Belle et La Bete featuring human arms holding candelabra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is also hard not to compare the live action film with the animated one released in 1991, which the 2017 version seems to want to recreate with special effects.

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There are visual references to the Morgan Library when Belle comes upon her dream library, complete with balcony stacks and ornate marble flooring that has a circular pattern in the center.  My ear heard “Don’t go into the west wing!” come straight from the Hitchcock drama, Rebecca.  And who would not recognize the mountain top scene in the Sound of Music as Belle finally feels free from her provincial life?

Gaston (Luke Evans) has the appropriate mean streak.  He and his side kick, LeFou (Josh Gad) sing it loud and proud what louts these provincial men just returned from war are.   The streak of homoeroticism is welcome along with the witty narcissism.  How to tell the story of the redemptive power of love without making it too mushy is made easier because Belle is a heroine of the first order. Her father admonishes her to be fearless and so she is.

Maurice (Kevin Kline) and Belle’s (Emma Watson)  scenes together really click,  convincing you of their tight bond.   Maurice seems to be a tinkerer creating a beautiful contraption made from mysterious gears and precious metals.

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Some of the scenes seem needlessly busy with choreography more suitable for Gladiator, with its digitally enhanced cast of thousands.  Bill Condon likes musicals with great pizzazz, so he has dressed up the set making me long for the neatness of the animated movie which actually seemed to have given the filmmakers more freedom.  How tiresome is Dan Stevens’ opening scenes with the over-costumed ladies and gentlemen dancing.  When he is transformed into a beast, I felt sorry for whoever was having to wear that gigantic costume.  Stevens’ voice is altered as if he is in a witness relocation program.

Auto tune just about ruins the song about Gaston, or is it the sound design that drowns out the human voice with amplified orchestral bombast?  In fact, I would guess that all of the songs are autotuned.  Why would you need to autotune Audra MacDonald’s voice?  Richard Condon has an over the top style of directing that takes a perfectly good premise and overdoes.  Is he afraid that we won’t get it that Gaston is a narcissistic bully?  This overdoing every flourish feels like the director does not trust the intelligence of his audience, and slightly annoys me.  It is the equivalent of a great chocolate cake with too much frosting.

Still those scenes with Kline and Watson are worth seeing, and the star of the show for me is someone I had not known of before, Hattie Morahan. Morahan plays several crucial roles including the witch who appears at the opening scene and puts all of the wheels of the plot into motion.

 

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About Patricia Markert

Moviegoer.
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