Beauty and the Beast: Shedding Some Candlelight on the Filmmaking Process

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My history with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is quite substantial. I can still recall seeing the animated feature in theaters, opening the VHS video tape on Christmas morning, and then a few years later visiting New York City and seeing my first Broadway show, which (as you may have guessed) was Beauty and the Beast. So needless to say, I was giddy at the thought of seeing this newest iteration. Interestingly, only 26 years separate the two films, the closest of all the animated turned live action adaptations Disney has released so far.

beauty and the beast live action
Special Shoot on the terrace of Belle Étoile, in Paris Alan Menken (composer), Bill Codon (director) and the film’s stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Luke Evans & Alexis Loizon .

With so many fans sharing vivid memories similar to my own, it begs the question, “How does one go about adapting a film that for many people is their favorite of all time?” Thankfully, Director Bill Condon, Composer Alan Menken, and the Cast were on-hand to answer some of these pressing questions and shed some “candlelight” on the filmmaking process.

From Animation to Live Action

When it came to adapting the film, the entire creative team and cast had a similar mantra, “Don’t screw it up.” The first step, according to Mr. Condon, was to get over the terror first. Then it is was all about answering the basic questions. With the new medium being live action, you know that you’re going to have actors, in this case Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as Belle and the Beast, in real locations who have to fall in love with each other. While animation tends to be a little more exaggerated, as the creative team brought everything into reality and began investigating the behaviors of all involved new questions arise. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in a village where they’re outsiders? How did the Beast become such a cold and callous young man? By answering those questions, within the confines of 18th Century France, new bits of story lead to new songs which ultimately lead to something that, at it’s core is very familiar, but also entirely new and unique to the live action medium.

Becoming the Beast

For Dan Stevens, becoming the Beast was a much different challenge since, in the final film, the character is created via motion capture and CGI. So his approach to playing the Beast was much different than previous characters.

beauty and the beast live action
Belle (Emma Watson) comes to realize that underneath the hideous exterior of the Beast (Dan Stevens) there is the kind heart of a Prince in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio’s animated classic directed by Bill Condon.

For Mr. Stevens, it was a very physical engagement since he had to support a muscle suit whilst on stilts, a challenge he had never encountered before. It was decided that the backstory for the Prince was that he was a dancer before being transformed into the Beast. So Mr. Stevens trained himself like a dancer and even learned three different dances for the role. In addition, getting to know his costar during these dance lessons really helped build the trust between them. Mr. Stevens even joked that he’s going to set up dance lessons with all his future costars whether there’s a waltz in the movie or not because it was so successful.

Humanizing a Disney Villain 

Disney animated villains are in a class all their own. So when it came to humanizing Gaston for the live action film, Luke Evans found ways to build a character that was more than just a nefarious narcissist. According to Mr. Evans, a villain shouldn’t start out as the bad guy, but simply end up one. To a lot of people in the village, Gaston is the hero. Impeccably dressed with great hair and a chiseled look, Gaston is a stud. With a great pal like LeFou at his side, the pair exude a lot of humor which helps the audience find them at least somewhat likable at first. It’s not until Gaston realizes that Belle is not going to change her mind that the cracks start to appear and jealousy takes over. Compared to other Disney villains, Gaston has no book of spells or magic powers, he’s a human being, but one who is able to use his status within the village to rouse a crowd into an angry and fearful mob. So through the course of the film you see a buffoonish yet celebrated solider turn into an animalistic monster who is out for blood.

Belle, Heroine and Role Model

On the opposite side of the spectrum is smart, beautiful, and empowered heroine Belle, played by Emma Watson. When it came to modernizing the character, Ms. Watson began by taking what was already establish in the animated film and expanding it. So while Belle’s love of reading is still considered “odd,” she’s now a literacy advocate teaching the young girls of the village to read. For Ms. Watson, she’s just so grateful to play a character that is so fearless despite being an outsider willing to go against the status quo.

beauty and the beast live action
Director/co-screenwriter Bill Condon on set with Belle (Emma Watson) in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio’s animated classic. The story and characters audiences know and love are brought to life in this stunning cinematic event…a celebration of one of the most beloved stories ever told.

The film stars: Emma Watson as Belle; Dan Stevens as the Beast; Luke Evans as Gaston, the handsome, but shallow villager who woos Belle; Kevin Kline as Maurice, Belle’s father; Josh Gad as LeFou, Gaston’s long-suffering aide-de-camp; Ewan McGregor as Lumière, the candelabra; Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, the harpsichord; Audra McDonald as Madame de Garderobe, the wardrobe; Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Plumette, the feather duster; Hattie Morahan as the enchantress; and Nathan Mack as Chip, the teacup; with Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, the mantel clock; and Emma Thompson as the teapot, Mrs. Potts.

[infobox]Directed by Bill Condon based on the 1991 animated film, “Beauty and the Beast,” the screenplay is written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos and produced by Mandeville Films’ David Hoberman, p.g.a. and Todd Lieberman, p.g.a. with Jeffrey Silver, Thomas Schumacher and Don Hahn serving as executive producers. Alan Menken, who won two Academy Awards® (Best Original Score and Best Song) for the animated film, provides the score, which includes new recordings of the original songs written by Menken and Howard Ashman, as well as three new songs written by Menken and Tim Rice. “Beauty and the Beast” will be released in U.S. theaters on March 17, 2017.[/infobox]

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