The following article is from Entertainment Weekly’s collector’s edition The Ultimate Guide to Beauty and the Beast. To read more from the cast and creators of the new film as well as the animated classic, pick up the special issue, on newsstands now.
The original 1991 animated film is packed with memorable songs, from the swaggering “Gaston” to Angela Lansbury’s loving rendition of the title track. But it’s “Be Our Guest” that deserves classification as the showstopper. In a film tinged with romance and heartbreak, Lumiére’s hospitable welcome is a moment of pure joy, as flatware and cutlery waltz around the Beast’s dining room. When it came time to devise a live-action version of that culinary cabaret, director Bill Condon wanted to spare no expense.
“It’s a four-minute number that cost more than Mr. Holmes‘s entire budget,” the director says, referring to his 2015 film about the retired Sherlock. “It’s taken over a year to put it together — and obviously, six months before that to plan it. I would guess that it is pretty far up there in terms of the most intricate and elaborate musical numbers ever shot.”
Condon says he’s particularly proud of the sequence, and when he and visual effects producer Steve Gaub explain just how much work went into it, you can see why. Months before anyone even picked up a knife or fork, Condon recruited choreographer Anthony Van Laast to plot out the scene. “I’d seen a hundred animation films before, but I’d never really thought that some choreographer had put it all together,” Van Laast says. The collaborators looked to masters like Bob Fosse and Busby Berkeley, drawing particular inspiration from Esther Williams extravaganzas with scads of performers. “They approached it as though they were going to put on a stage number on a Broadway stage,” Gaub says. “If you couldn’t imagine it [like that], then we weren’t doing it quite right, you know?”
The filmmakers then recorded footage of human dancers as a reference point for the visual effects team. This took a little bit of imagination. “You’d give an animator a four-limbed dancer and say, ‘Okay, now make that knife do that,'” Gaub says, laughing. Once the sequence was completely plotted out and edited, it was time to shoot real plates, silverware and models of Lumiére and Cogsworth on-set, all so the camera could capture the exact lighting of each object, right down to the textures of the tablecloth or the shine of the ceramic. “I think many people are probably expecting that when we get to ‘Be Our Guest,’ it’s going to be 100 percent CG and go for the ride,” Gaub adds. “But I would say over 90 percent of what an audience is going to see on the screen started with a plate that was actually shot in the dining room set that we built.”
As for the scene’s only human participant? Let’s just say Emma Watson wasn’t sad when they wrapped. “‘Be Our Guest’ looks like the most fun scene to be part of as Belle but, paradoxically, was the most boring scene to be part of as Belle,” she says, laughing.
Entertainment Weekly’s special issue The Ultimate Guide to Beauty and The Beast, featuring the casts and creators of the new film and the animated classic, is on sale now.