‘Beauty and the Beast’: the live-action spectacle

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Bill Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” is at its most effective when it forgoes its worries about functioning like an ordinary, narrative-based film and throws caution to the wind, becoming grandiose and almost gaudy.

During these musical numbers, the cast and costume designers flaunt the wealth and extravagance it took to make this picture, so much so that it feels like a celebration of excess that would have Jordan Belfort struggling to compete. If the film’s production budget (combined with marketing, over $300 million) didn’t rank as one of the most expensive in film history, I would say some of my favorite moments from “Beauty and the Beast” are campy fun with a nine-figure budget.

I’ll sidestep reiterating the film’s plot because I have faith in you as a consumer of media and animated films to already know, even in a vague sense, the story at hand. This time around, Belle is played by Emma Watson in a role that would suit her better if she was given a bit more to say and do and not just a great musical introduction.

The same could also be said for Dan Stevens, who gives a competent, dramatic portrayal of the titular Beast but without much complexity. The two exist in the film to peddle the archetypal nature of both the Beauty and the Beast. She’s a symbol of beauty without wealth and he’s a symbol of wealth without beauty. The two complement one another in a fairy tale dichotomy so well that you forget if the roles were reversed, you wouldn’t buy any of this at all.

The supporting cast is also fun to watch. You have Luke Evans completely owning his performance of Gaston, a contemptible cad who wants to win Belle’s heart through manipulative tactics, and Josh Gad as his closest friend and confidant LeFou. Gad gives a flamboyant and thoroughly investing comic performance, one that is not as over-the-top as expected, nor as it was in the original animated film.

There’s a lot of brightly colored visuals and costumes that prompt a lot of eye-candy and wonderment, and they also do their part in distracting from a film that’s still too fantastical to get past surface details.

What about the underlying romanticism between Belle and the Beast beyond dancing and harmonizing together? What about LeFou’s uncompromising loyalty to such an unappreciative Gaston? When are fairy tales, in all their live-action, remade glory going to start getting a little more in-depth than the way the flagrant display of emotions moves the audience in the moment? Perhaps such questions will elude you while you’re experiencing emotional and cuteness overload.

Bill Condon’s “Beauty and the Beast” is a fairly good affair, a tad long-winded, but not criminally so. It takes a familiar fairy tale and gives a linear live-action treatment similar to “Cinderella” but not as tightly formed on a cinematic level. This is more of a spectacle than anything else punctuated by some good character moments, and while that does indeed make for good scenes, it doesn’t sustain an entire two-hour film as well.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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