Over two decades ago Disney introduced the story of a young courageous woman who wanted something “more than this provincial life.” She loved her father and fell in love with a beast. This tale, as old as time, has been reinvented into a live action film. But of course you already knew that. What you didn't know is that while the story was adapted and meant to be as close as the original classic from 1991, it’s also made to resonate with the modern female. Emma Watson
(Belle) wanted to make sure the story was both encouraging to woman and admirable as well. Very much like the Watson activist and artist we already know about.
Tony winner Audra McDonald, who plays Madam Garderobe (Italian diva turned wardrobe) shared with us her love and respect for the original film. She pointed out, ‘no one was trying to make the original film better, but they did try to bring purpose and relevance.’ When she learned Emma Watson would play Belle, she knew it was going to be something special. “Knowing, not only did we have this incredible creative team but, that Emma Watson was going to be Belle and knowing how much Emma has affected girls of my daughter’s age” she was pleased. Much like Emma, Belle is “independent, strong, who was educated, who’s sticking up for girls and women and who does all the rescuing in the film.” Because of Emma and what this film represents is “why I knew it was going to be important for our community.”
Watson reminded us that Belle of 1991 kept more to herself in her reading adventures, but 2017 Belle is up-do-date with changes that are not only good, they're also encouraging and educational. “In our film, she’s actually an activist within her own community. She’s teaching other young girls who are part of the village to read, and moments like that where you can see her expanding beyond just her own little world and trying to grow. I love that.”
Beast, played by Dan Stevens (Legion) is very much like the original classic. Exploring more in depth the lives of both Belle and Adam (Beast), there is more music and more singing. Stevens told us that working inside a muscle suit was challenging, but he did train in various ways. He said, “With the backstory, the prince before becoming the beast was a dancer. He loved to dance and so I trained myself like a dancer.” Enchanted by the dancing scene, Emma added, “To be swirling around that Disney ballroom. It was just really magical.”
Unlike the original classic, the Beast serenades with his voice a lot more. Director Bill Condon pointed out that just like in musicals “when people can no longer speak, they sing” and they all did. There was a great deal of collaboration between Bill and composer Alan Menken (who also worked on the original soundtrack of 1991). With musical influence and direction from Menken, the actors recreated famous musical numbers almost identically, including a vivacious bar scene between LeFou (Josh Gaad) and Gaston (Luke Evans).
Josh and Luke both admitted they poured their hearts and voices into these characters. And while adapting something that was already made is challenging, Josh admitted being slightly terrified but overwhelmed with joy on being part of a film he remembers vividly from his childhood.“I got nauseous. I thought, ‘how am I gonna bring a song like Gaston to life?’ And I went to my office and I started singing it. And I literally started choking up,” Josh recalled. “I’m going to be the live version that a lot of kids are going to see. And it was such a thrill. And my kids walk into the office and were so tickled that daddy was singing the song that they know so well. And I thought to myself, this is gonna work, we’re gonna work at it but we’re gonna make it our own.” When the time came to hear everyone perform their musical numbers, Josh admitted, “there were goosebumps” and he wasn't the only one.
Also starring are Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, Kevin Kline as Maurice (Belle's father), Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, Hattie Morahan as Agathe, Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, and Ewan McGregor as Lumière.
Beauty and the Beast opens in theaters March 17th.