It has been more than 25 years since Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast first hit the silver screen.
When Walt Disney Pictures announced it would make a live-action adaptation of the 1991 classic, it was no surprise that it sent the internet into meltdown.
Josh Gad, 36, (Frozen, The Internship), who plays LeFou in the much-anticipated remake, calls the animated version the Frozen of his generation.
“It was the first time that I realised how powerful an animated movie can be,” Gad said during a recent visit to Sydney.
“There’s a reason it became the first animated movie ever nominated for (an Oscar for) best picture. I think that that story is as timeless today as when it was when it was first released in 91.”
The story follows bright, independent young woman, Belle (Emma Watson), who lives in a French provincial town with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline).
Obnoxious town heartthrob Gaston (Luke Evans) wants to marry Belle, but she continually rejects his advances.
One day Maurice becomes lost in the woods and stumbles on a castle where he takes refuge from the cold night.
The Beast (Dan Stevens) who owns the castle takes Maurice prisoner, but Belle soon comes to her father’s rescue, trading her own freedom for his.
Along the way she meets the Beast’s enchanted household objects who help lift her spirits when she resigns herself to a life of entrapment.
And so the story of the Beast and Belle’s unlikely relationship unfolds, with the themes of female empowerment and not judging a book by its cover running throughout the film.
“What’s so great about this version of Beauty and the Beast is it really does honour everything that came before, without being slavish to it. It adds a new dimension as well,” Gad said.
Gad’s character LeFou is Gaston’s sidekick. He worships the ground Gaston walks on, but is also used as Gaston’s punching bag.
Under the directorship of Bill Condon, each character has been given the chance to grow, and the audience is given a bigger insight into Belle’s early childhood.
“For me, when I first got the call to be a part of this, I was excited, but also nervous because the character of LeFou … is defined by things you can only get away with in a cartoon,” Gad said. “He has his teeth knocked out, he gets sat on by animals, he gets thrown across the room by Gaston multiple times.
“I sat down with Bill Condon, our amazing director, and said, ‘If (LeFou) is dumb as a box in the original, what if we made him as dumb as a fox, meaning there’s actually more there than meets the eye’.
“We gave him a little bit of pathos, we gave him this humanity that I don’t necessarily know he has in the original, which, without giving too much away, I think brings into question his blind devotion to Gaston.”
But the relationship between Gaston and LeFou is hilarious to watch, with Gad and Evans happy to take on the role of the comic relief despite being the villainous characters.
“Much of that came out of playfulness and improvisation between Luke and I,” Gad said.
“The scene where Gaston and I are going through the woods on the carriage with Maurice, it was very cut and dry in the original script.
“I said to Bill (Condon), ‘What if LeFou tries to calm Gaston down by taking him back to the war …’ and it creates this wonderful, unexpected moment of comedy.”
Condon recently named LeFou as Disney’s first openly gay character, but Gad has shrugged off the controversy surrounding this — with several cinemas, and even some countries, threatening to ban the film — saying the film is one of “unity”.
While teaching audiences that beauty comes from within, filmmakers have spared no expense on the set and costumes in the live-action Beauty and the Beast.
About 27 mammoth sets were built to bring the film to life, including the Beast’s castle, library and ballroom, the enchanted forest and the town of Villeneuve.
About 1500 red roses and 8700 candles were used during the research and production stages of the film.
The 10 glass chandeliers in the Beast’s ballroom are based on chandeliers from Versailles and each measure 4.26m by 2.13m.
The enchanted forest surrounding the Beast’s castle features real trees, hedges, a frozen lake and 20,000 icicles. It took 15 weeks to create.
And Belle’s iconic yellow dress was made from about 55m of feather-light satin organza, accentuated with 2160 Swarovski crystals. It took more than 12,000 hours to make and used 914m of thread.
There’s even a tribute to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et le Bete, which is the original French version of Beauty and the Beast, through the lights on the terrace and staircase in the Beast’s castle and the rose colonnade on the castle grounds.
They used a combination of physical performance capture and MOVA facial capture technology, along with stilts, prosthetics and other cinematic tricks, to make former Downton Abbey star Stevens a realistic, brooding Beast.
While it unfolds on cinema screens as a live-action film, much of the film, including the Beast and parts of the set, were created using animation and computer-generated imagery.
But despite the visual delight, Gad said it’s the original Alan Menken score, and songs by Menken and Howard Ashman, that people really love.
“There aren’t a lot of experiences that … will take you to another world, make you laugh, make you cry, make you want to sing, make you want to get up and dance,” Gad said.
“I can’t tell you how cool it is coming from Broadway, coming from doing shows like Book of Mormon and bringing those skill sets to the silver screen.”
The cast, including Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald and Nathan Mack, spent about four months filming at Shepperton Studios, outside London in mid-2015.
Gad said recording the song Gaston was one of his favourite parts of filming.
“To rehearse that song for five weeks with Luke, to see it come to life, record it and then perform it over the course of three days, you can’t help but look around and go, ‘I have the greatest job in the world’,” he said.
“There are about 20-23 different endings we recorded to the song and each one I think had a variation. The one that ended up in there was literally done as a joke to make Luke laugh and, of course, that’s the one that made it into the film. So I’m thrilled that lands the way it lands because it was done as a joke.
“It was actually really one of the most heartbreaking things to end this film because nobody wanted to leave. Everybody had so much fun making it. We wanted it to keep going.
“Now seeing it with an audience finally, after a year-and-a-half of making, it’s so thrilling to see the rewards of that endeavour.
“To see the audience laughing in all the right places, to see them applauding the musical numbers that we shot in a bubble with nobody clapping because they didn’t want to ruin the take. All of that really adds up to this incredible moment where the fruits of our labour are finally being rewarded. This, in many ways, I hope, will be as definitive for a new generation as the original ‘91 version was for my generation.”
Clarissa Phillips visited Sydney as a guest of Disney (Australia).
Beauty and the Beast is in cinemas on Thursday.