The following is an excerpt from Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condon’s foreword to the Entertainment Weekly collector’s edition The Ultimate Guide to Beauty and the Beast. To read the rest of his piece, pick up the special issue, on newsstands now.
The year is 1932, and the movie is Rouben Mamoulian’s Love Me Tonight. A clock strikes six…a woman sweeps the sidewalk…a cobbler fixes a shoe…and the city of Paris starts to wake up. Maurice Chevalier’s head pops out of a turtleneck, and he sings a great Rodgers and Hart song, asking everyone he meets, “How are you?” As an opening number it has rarely been matched, and it’s hard to imagine that Howard Ashman didn’t have it in mind when he created Beauty and the Beast‘s equally brilliant introductory number, “Belle,” almost 60 years later.
I think a lot about Love Me Tonight when people ask the inevitable question: “Why?” As in, “Why remake a classic movie that is not only beloved but also pretty much perfect as it is?” There’s only one reason I can think of, and it’s that this Ashman-Menken musical still has more to say and more to reveal.
Beauty and the Beast arrived in 1991 and reintroduced audiences to the pleasures of the well-crafted movie-musical, after a decades-long dry spell. Ashman and Menken understood that the artificial world of an animated fantasy would allow people to accept conventions that had fallen out of fashion in the six decades since Love Me Tonight invented them. But even as an animated film aimed primarily at children, Beauty and the Beast had a darkness and complexity that allowed it to connect to people of all ages. I believe part of it always wanted to break out of its two-dimensional frame to return to its live-action roots. When I was invited by Disney to attempt such a translation, I jumped in headfirst, both thrilled and terrified by the challenge.
This article originally appeared in the Entertainment Weekly collector’s edition The Ultimate Guide to Beauty and the Beast, featuring the casts and creators of the new film and the animated classic, on sale now – or subscribe to EW to get it free with your order.