Beauty and the Beast is a magical live-action re-telling of Disney’s animated classic, staying true to the original while refashioning the characters for a contemporary audience and updating the score with several new songs. Belle (Emma Watson) is a beautiful and independent young woman, more interested in reading than being courted by the village hunk, Gaston (Luke Evans), until she finds herself taken prisoner by a beast in his castle. As she befriends the castle’s enchanted but cursed staff, she begins to realize that there just might be a kind heart and soul inside of the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) frightening exterior.
During a conference at the film’s press day, co-stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans and Josh Gad, along with director Bill Condon and songwriter Alan Menken, talked about translating the animated feature into live-action, modernizing Belle, finding the physicality of the Beast, making Gaston more than just the villain, how challenging horseback riding can be, the sexuality of LeFou, incorporating the songs into the film in an organic way, and how to find your own place in the world.
Question: Bill, the animated movie is, for so many people, their favorite film of all time. So, when you approached adapting it for live-action, what was the process for you?
BILL CONDON: Getting over the terror first. But then, you just start with that basic idea that you’re going to take it into a new medium, which is live-action. There are going to be actors. Emma Watson is going to be playing a character, on real locations, who has to fall in love with the Beast. An animated film is a little more exaggerated, so it has to come into reality. Once you start to investigate that, then you realize that there are questions that maybe you never asked before, that you want to know about. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village, where they’re outsiders? And that leads to new songs. And then, suddenly, you’re creating something new.
ALAN MENKEN: When Bill came aboard, we had meetings about what would we add, and one of the things we talked about was getting into the backstory of how Maurice and Belle came to the town, and the backstory for the Beast and how he became such a cold and callous young man. We tried to root ourselves much more in the time and place of 18th century France, and that really helped, immensely.
Alan, this is one film in a myriad of films that you’ve contributed amazing music to. What do you think it is about these films that has made them such universal stories for so many people?
MENKEN: We don’t calculate beyond telling the story and serving the characters, and trying to give each of these projects its own unique musical stamp. Beyond that, it’s just storytelling. There’s no more collaborative form than musicals. They call it a musical and I’m the composer, but the truth is that it’s a director, a choreographer, a lyricist, a book writer, a composer, an orchestrator, an arranger and lighting, all put together. I think benefited a lot from the Disney association.