Bill Condon was an inspired choice by Disney for the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast.
After all, there are few people I know who have a more exhaustive knowledge of musicals, both onscreen and on the stage, and he takes the form seriously. He isn”t afraid to call the sacred cows out when he disagrees, and he cares deeply about how these properties are adapted to the bigscreen. When he was working on Dreamgirls, he was incredibly happy, and there”s a joy to that filmmaking as well as a knowledge of the way musicals typically do or don”t work onscreen.
Disney”s committed to turning every animated film they”ve ever made into a live-action film, although I”m not sure how you define that term anymore. Is Alice Through The Looking Glass a live-action film? Is Pete”s Dragon a live-action film? Is Warcraft a live-action film? When major characters and/or environments are created entirely inside a computer, what do you call that?
In the case of this film, what”s exciting to me is seeing how Condon stages some of the biggest numbers of the original. When he worked on the script for Chicago and when he shot Dreamgirls, he had to think about how to stage some incredibly well-known numbers. With Beauty and the Beast, you”re talking about one of the most beloved of the modern Disney musicals. I would argue that without Beauty and the Beast, the rest of the modern Disney musical era would have never happened. When they recently made The Jungle Book, Jon Favreau and the rest of his collaborators decided not to make it a full-fledged musical. They let Bill Murray sing “The Bare Necessities,” mainly because there would have been riots in the street if they hadn”t, but for the most part, they side-stepped the songs. I liked how they handled “Trust In Me,” which Kaa sang in the original, turning it into a dialogue exchange.
Beauty and the Beast is something else entirely, though, and if there is any director in Hollywood right now who knows the value of a big musical number, it”s Condon. I”m curious to hear what Emma Watson and Dan Stevens sound like as singers, but it”s Luke Evans who has the role to die for if he gets to perform “Gaston.”
For those of you who weren”t old enough to experience Beauty and the Beast theatrically, it was a remarkable experience, at least here in Los Angeles. The El Capitan had just been renovated at great expense, and the studio was happy to have a new flagship theater. They booked it as a special experience, treating it during its first month in theaters as more of a live theater ticket than a movie, and if you wanted reserved seats at the El Capitan, it was something like $25 a seat.
After every single number, there were huge bursts of applause, and it was amazing to see how people reacted. That went on for the next two or three Disney movies, but Beauty was the one where it felt like they had conquered the form finally. It wasn”t shocking when they managed to get a Best Picture nomination for it because people were absolutely rabid about it. I”ll bet Condon saw those performances and got to experience that at the El Cap, and that it informed the choices he made as he prepared to make this film.
The trailer”s fine as teasers go. But the real reason I”m excited about this has everything to do with seeing the right person attached to the right genre with the right material.
Beauty and the Beast is in theaters March 17, 2017.