Beauty & the Beast is a tale as old as time — with sur­prises

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Di­rec­tor Bill Con­don was only in­ter­ested in turn­ing Dis­ney's an­i­mated clas­sic "Beauty and the Beast " into a live-ac­tion film if he could use Alan Menken's Os­car-win­ning score. He re­mem­bers fondly when it came out in 1991 and how it not only so­lid­i­fied Dis­ney's an­i­ma­tion re­nais­sance after "The Lit­tle Mer­maid," but also helped re­vi­tal­ize the movie mu­si­cal at a time when the genre was ba­si­cally dead. The New York Times the­ater critic Frank Rich even called it, some­what con­tro­ver­sially, "the best Broad­way mu­si­cal score of 1991."It's fit­ting, then, that the twin­kling in­stru­men­tals of Menken's pro­logue are the first thing you hear in the new trailer for the film , re­leased Mon­day by Dis­ney.

Set for a March 1, 2017, re­lease, the film stars Emma Wat­son as Belle, Dan Stevens as the Beast and a ro­bust sup­port­ing cast in­clud­ing the likes of Luke Evans, Ewan McGre­gor, Stan­ley Tucci, Emma Thomp­son and Gugu Mbatharaw. The film will fea­ture re-record­ings of Menken and Howard Ash­man's songs, as well as a few new ones. "We talk about how tech­nol­ogy is a rea­son for do­ing it 25 years later, but the fact is, too, that the genre it­self has re­vived and peo­ple are more accepting. There's a wider au­di­ence for just the joy of break­ing out into song," said Con­don, who also wrote and di­rected "Dream­girls." "It feels like the au­di­ence has caught up again."

In­deed, in­ter­est in the project is ex­traor­di­nar­ily high. In its first 24 hours on­line, the trailer gar­nered 127.6 mil­lion views - best­ing the first day trailer stats for both "Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens" and "Fifty Shades Darker" by over 13 mil­lion views. Any­one who has seen the an­i­mated film is sure to be struck by some fa­mil­iar im­agery in the trailer, recre­ated and made real in mag­nif­i­cent de­tail - like the grand ball­room and Belle's yel­low gown. But Con­don was not re­stricted solely to draw­ing from the an­i­mated film.

The new movie also con­tains nods to Jean Cocteau's or­nate black and white ver­sion from 1946, Con­don said, as well as his own unique vi­sion. "We went in with the idea that we were go­ing to set it in a very spe­cific time - the early 18th cen­tury in the French coun­try­side," Con­don said. They took pains to make sure the house­hold staff re­sem­bled items - clocks, teapots, can­de­labras from that time and place.

More mod­ern

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the big, splashy tech­ni­cal set-piece is "Be Our Guest," in which the an­thro­po­mor­phized house­hold items stage their own Busby Berke­ley-in­spired num­ber to serve Belle a meal. It wasn't easy. "For us it was tak­ing some­thing that an­i­ma­tion does easily - imag­in­ing danc­ing can­dle­sticks and mak­ing it real," he said. The film is not just a re­mem­brance of "Beauty and the Beasts" past, how­ever. They've made Belle even more mod­ern than she was in 1991, when it was some­what ex­tra­or­di­nary to have the cen­ter of a Dis­ney film be more in­ter­ested in books than boys.

In this ver­sion, she's an in­ven­tor too, and be­ing por­trayed by an ac­tress who is a hu­man­i­tar­ian and a UN women's am­bas­sador. "Hav­ing some­body who is de­vot­ing her life to those causes was in­valu­able as we started to rein­vent this fem­i­nist char­ac­ter," he said. Also, Con­don, whose films fre­quently deal with sub­jects per­tain­ing to gay iden­tity, is em­brac­ing that con­text here, too. He said the late lyri­cist Howard Ash­man, who had AIDS at the time, closely iden­ti­fied with the Beast's story as "some­body who is cursed and whose curse is break­ing the hearts of those who love him and the fan­tasy that this curse could be lifted."

Ash­man died of AIDS re­lated com­pli­ca­tions months be­fore the an­i­mated film even hit the­aters in 1991. "Right from the start it, in a very per­sonal way, grew out of that tragic gay mo­ment and then be­yond that it's a mu­si­cal," Con­don said. "I don't want to give too much away, but I think there are ac­tu­ally a few more ex­plicit mo­ments that might sur­prise you."

— AP

In this file photo, Di­rec­tor Bill Con­don speaks dur­ing the photo call for the film Mr Holmes at the 2015 Ber­li­nale Film Fes­ti­val in Ber­lin, Ger­many.

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