In the Spirit of Howard Ashman: Bill Condon on “Beauty and the Beast”

Kim Masters interviewed Bill Condon, director of “Dreamgirls” (2006), who also directed the new adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) on Saturday, March 25th, 2017. Speaking on the film, Bill Condon noted how he wanted to make the remake in the spirit of the original lyricist of the 1991, Howard Ashman, who died before the premiere of the original animated film in March of 1991 due to AIDS:

“Here, you are dealing with something that is not only a classic, but something that is nearly perfect in the form that it’s in… and so that the original animated film was based on musical theater and live action…. [Howard] was this kind of guiding force for us, because he’s the one who came up with the objects who sing and dance, that hadn’t been there before he arrived” (Masters and Condon 2017).

Condon did not wish to make a shot for shot remake of the film, instead, he wanted to make a film that appeared realistic and felt real. The production design consisted of large sets, some of which took five minutes to cross, and the Wardrobe character, which was actually constructed, had pulleys and various traditional mechanisms similar to “Mary Poppins” (1964 Stevenson) (Masters and Condon 2017).

In terms of the “gay moment”, the widely publicized issue that spoke of Disney including a gay moment in the film, this sparked an international issue, with Russia outright banning the film but allowed it to be played to audiences 16 and over. “Malaysia demanded cuts to the film, which would eventually allow an uncensored version to a PG-13 rating. Obviously, this became a distraction from Disney’s point of view, as they had invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the film and probably just as soon had avoided any further discussion of the controversy” (Masters and Condon 2017). Condon notes that he certainly did not intend for this to be an issue, and was originally intended to be a surprise. According to Condon, a reporter leaked the information without the full context resulting in the widely publicized news which lead to overreactions: “I feel that it’s a conversation that’s happening outside of the context of people having seen it… It’s turning animation into real life, and you try to get to the human aspects that make people behave the way they do and the story’s been around for three centuries* now and it keeps getting told and it’s about this basic thing of looking beneath the surface, and looking deeper and accepting people for who they are and if you’re going to make that in 2017, you have to been more inclusive…” (Masters and Condon 2017).

*To correct Condon, just for fun, the story of Beauty and the Beast can be dated back to 16th century Italy.

However, the problem that the remake has is that it is essentially a shot for shot remake of the 1991 film. It does Howard Ashman a wonderful service, but it attempts to make something, like the “gay moment” (which was hardly noticeable in the film to begin with) and turns it into nothing spectacular. While the film broke box office records and is a continuation of the new trend that the Disney Company is taking, the film has an interesting production history, even if the film itself is nothing groundbreaking, in terms of technological innovation, like the original was.


Work Cited

Masters, Kim, and Bill Condon. “Bill Condon on the challenges of adapting a ‘tale as old as time'” Audio blog post. The Business. KCRW, 25 Mar. 2017. Web. 25 Mar. 2017.

 

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