Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST arrives in theaters on March 17th. This live-action spin on the iconic 1991 animated contains new sets, new music and a brand new Belle: Emma Watson (Hermione Grainger in the HARRY POTTER films). She is a perfect Belle, the new sets are stunning, and we have four new songs to absorb into our Disney music lexicon. Consider this a primer for the film, as director Bill Condon and composer Alan Menken share their thought process behind composing new songs and adapting BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for live-action.
For many of us, the original animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST holds a special place in our hearts. How did the director Bill Condon and composer Alan Menken approach adapting the story for live action? Luckily, the two were on hand at the Los Angeles Press Conference on March 5th to describe their approach. Also appearing were actors Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Josh Gad (LeFou), Audra McDonald (Garderobe) and Guga Mbatha-Raw (Plumette).
Bill Condon: You just start with that basic idea and take it to a new medium. Emma is going to play a character in new locations that has to fall in love with the Beast. So all the behavior which is in an animated film is a little more exaggerated. This has to come into reality, and once you start to investigate that, then you realize there are questions maybe you never asked before that you want to know about.
How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village? And that then leads to new songs, and suddenly you’re creating something new.
Alan Menken: Yeah, we had these discussions. When Bill came aboard we had meetings about what we would add, and one of the things we talked about was getting into the backstory of how Maurice and Belle came to the town and backstory for the Beast, how he became such a cold and callous young man, and also trying to root ourselves much more in the time and place, 18th Century France, and that really helped immensely.
Menken may be the composer for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but above all he is a storyteller. He doesn’t set out to create iconic songs, he sets out to tell the story, serve the characters and give each project “its own unique musical stamp.”
Menken: There’s no more collaborative form than musicals. They call it a musical and I’m the composer, but the truth is it’s a director, it’s a choreographer, it’s a lyricist, it’s a book writer, it’s a composer, it’s an orchestrator, it’s an arranger, it’s everything put together.
Menken, Condon and the other collaborators sought to tell BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in a new way. First, they looked at the initial tentpole moments from the animated movie and decided which songs would stay: “Beauty and the Beast”, “Belle”, “Gaston”, “The Mob Song” and, of course, “Be Our Guest”.
Menken: Then what we do is, as you put them in place, you look at it like architecture. Where do we need the emotional support?
The answer? New songs were added to support the backstory of several characters, a strength in this live-action version. Let’s go through each new song and listen to them in preparation for seeing BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
Sung by Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe) at the opening of the film, “Aria” describes the Beast, his castle and subjects before the enchantment fell upon the castle.
Maurice (Kevin Kline) sings about his past love – Belle’s mother. The song itself does not tell his backstory, but depicts his longing for a time that has passed into memory.
“Days in the Sun”
This song is in place of “Human Again”, a deleted song later released in the 2002 Special Edition DVD. “Days in the Sun” is sung by all the inanimate objects longing for their human forms. It’s also a chance for several A-list actors to show off their musical chops. Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Adam Mitchell & Clive Rowe all join in the lament.
This song is special. If you recall in the animated BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, the Beast never sings. Well, Alan Menken has given the Beast (Dan Stevens) his song. It comes at the moment that the Beast has finally learned to love, but in doing so realizes he must sacrifice his future because of his newfound love for Belle. Let’s give it a listen.
Menken: In the Broadway show there was a song called “If I Can’t Love Her.” The Broadway musical is definitely a two act structure, so we wrote this song for the Beast, because at that act break is the moment where the Beast out of anger has driven Belle away and it was important – we needed at that moment for the Beast to sort of howl for redemption. But in the structure of a live action film, which is more of a three act structure, Bill felt, and I agree with him, that the more satisfying moment is the moment when the Beast lets Belle go because she’s no longer his prisoner, and he loves her, and the spell will not be broken now, but at least he knows what love is.
Hopefully this primer will help you navigate this new live-action BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. After hearing from the creators, familiarizing myself with the soundtrack a bit more, I’m certainly anxious to see the film again.
As a special treat, here is “Gaston” as sung live by Josh Gad, Luke Evans and accompanied by the composer himself, Alan Menken!
Tune in to Episode 160 of Skywalking Through Neverland to hear more behind-the-scenes stories from Emma Watson (Belle), Josh Gad (Le Fou), Dan Stevens (Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston) and Audra McDonald (Garderobe). Like the time that a wild horse would not behave for Josh Gad, or just how much Belle made an impact on a young Emma Watson. Listen here:
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST will be released in U.S. theaters on March 17, 2017.