Beauty and the Beast
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Beauty and the Beast

This Beauty’s got such great bone structure, she’s pretty great even with a new blemish or two.

Bill Condon, who nailed the film adaptation of Chicago by keeping it simple, takes the lush route this time around. Audiences will gasp, as they are intended to, at the beautiful scenery, the pretty costumes, the cleverly effective effects. The sets are ornate in the fullest sense of the word: each speck of screen is filled with something beautiful, even if it is a blade of grass or crumbling infrastructure. The objects we’ve come to love over these 25 (!) years look dandy, the scary wolves do, too, which, be forewarned, might freak out a viewer or two.

But even if this rendition pushes us into the 21st Century a step or two (yes, there’s a nod to homosexuality and women’s rights), the bountiful production feels very much on brand. Perhaps it was just the screening I attended, but the audio mix, especially in some of the songs, was off, making it hard, if not impossible to hear the vocals. This is a particularly sad development because the classic numbers, written originally by the great Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, nudged the genre into a surprisingly wry direction. It’s a shame so many of their laugh out loud funny lyrics are lost in the swell of the orchestrations here.

And I do feel rather like the Beast myself noting that the cast is, shall we say, uneven. The great Kevin Kline shows us exactly how this kind of acting is done, as does a wonderfully on target Luke Evans. Ewan McGregor is lithe as the charming Lumiere and Emma Thompson, delightful as Mrs. Potts. You can barely hear Josh Gad, which may contribute to his lack of effectiveness and Dan Stevens is fine as the Beast. It takes some getting used to Emma Watson, who plays Belle as a much tougher young lady than I’ve seen before. The sweet airiness of the original animation has grounded into at least initially, a more sullen and frustrated young woman.

The most glorious scene is, again, when Condon keeps it simple. The Beast and Belle dance to Emma Thompson’s lovely performance of the title song. And I dare you not to get at least a little bit teary as they do.

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