The Disney Factory never rests, and its latest product is making big, flashy live-action versions of its beloved animated films, themselves adapted from classic tales. We’ve had Cinderella and The Jungle Book, and now Beauty and the Beast gets the razzle-dazzle A-list do-over.
In this version, free-thinking Belle (Emma Watson) rejects her boorish suitor (Luke Evans) and, through a bad deal her dad makes, winds up imprisoned in a gloomy castle with a moody, unlovable beast (Dan Stevens). For company, she has books and a lot of talking furniture and knickknacks. In time, Belle sees past the Beast’s dreadful visage — a puzzling CGI-generated furry blankness that suggests bad taxidermy more than fearsome ugliness — and her love solves everything.
It takes a full two hours to wind through this story that everybody already knows, and director Bill Condon (of the lamentable The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2) throws a lot on screen to distract us. At times, the special effects threaten to overwhelm not only the slim plot, but also the human actors, who get lost in caverns of artificially generated production design. There are costumes galore, a spooky Escher-like castle, and song-and-dance numbers. The big showstopper, “Be Our Guest,” puts a lot of cutlery in air, while tipping the top hat to Singin’ in the Rain and 1930s Busby Berkeley musicals. (But is a kaleidoscopic synchronized dance number as impressive when it is created, not by people, but by computer code?)
The much-ballyhooed inclusion of a gay character in Beauty is sort of a shrug in 2017. The confirmation is a quick throwaway, and if chaste dancing between two men makes them gay, well … OK. On such thin evidence, one could make an argument for many of the other men in this movie who favor heeled footwear and flowery vestments (it’s like a Liberty of London fabric bomb went off) and burst out in show tunes. And not having seen the cartoon version, throughout most of this film, I mistakenly thought the constantly freaking-out candelabra and ornate clock were a same-sex couple.
To recap: lady and beast, fine; lady and handsome prince, throw a big party; man and other man, sure; candelabra and clock, NO!