Beast remake not a clone

Emma Watson plays Belle and Dan Stevens is the Beast in Beauty And The Beast.
Emma Watson plays Belle and Dan Stevens is the Beast in Beauty And The Beast.PHOTO: WALT DISNEY PICTURES
Emma Watson plays Belle and Dan Stevens is the Beast in Beauty And The Beast.
Bill CondonPHOTO: REUTERS

Live-action remake of Disney's classic Beauty And The Beast has more depth to the story and new songs

American director Bill Condon, 61, admits to feeling pressure over the huge hype surrounding his live-action remake of Disney's 1991 classic Beauty And The Beast.

The trailer for his new film alone had 126.7 million views within the first 24 hours of its release, making it the third most-viewed online trailer of all time, after Rings (2017) and The Fate Of The Furious (2017).

In a telephone interview with The Straits Times from Beijing yesterday, where Condon was promoting the new movie, he says that one of his "biggest fears" of taking on this project is knowing how popular the original animated flim had been.

"There is that fear that when people love the original film so much, that we would somehow do something that would betray the original.

"Because it means so much to people, I thought it was so important that we not reinvent the entire thing."

Having said that, he wants to clarify that the new film, which opens in cinemas on March 16, is not a blatant clone of the old one.

The new take on the musical will add more depth to the story, and at least three new songs, he says.

"We want people to really believe this romance and how do you do that? By knowing more about the characters.

"So that means adding story to explain what happened to Belle, what happened to her mother, what happened to the Beast and what influenced him into becoming the monster who deserved that curse. So to answer those questions, we had to add scenes, and of course, we had to musicalise that."

The upcoming remake stars Harry Potter actress Emma Watson as Belle, and Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens as the Beast.

Taking on the role of the villainous Gaston is Luke Evans.

Big names such as Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor lend their voices in supporting roles.

With so many A-listers working together on a single project, Condon says that shooting the film's final celebration scene was one of the most memorable moments of his life.

"When you have everyone in human form, from Ewan to Ian and Dan, and they are all on the set together singing and dancing, it's just one of those things you never forget," says the film-maker, whose directing credits include Kinsey (2004), Dreamgirls (2006) and The Fifth Estate (2013).

He also puts to rest any lingering doubt over Watson's singing abilities.

"She has never been in a musical before, but it was something she was interested in doing, so she recorded a song for us.

"I heard it and she has a really lovely voice. So in terms of casting, she is the only person we considered for the role. She lived up to, and exceeded all of my expectations. She's the secret sauce to making this new movie work."

Although this is a fairy tale and is centred on one of Disney's most famous princesses, the director is confident that the film will appeal not only to young girls.

"The Beast is a great character and I always felt connected to him. He is actually more scared and sensitive than what we would think of someone who became an actual animal.

"We all think of ourselves as monsters at certain moments and want to feel that even that monster side of us could be understood and be made better."

Sounding genuinely excited, he adds: "I just want fans to know that everyone who worked on this movie loves the original as much as you do."

•Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

•Beauty And The Beast opens in cinemas on March 16.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline 'Beast remake not a clone'. Print Edition | Subscribe