On March 17th, audiences will be transported to Villeneuve, a quiet village where a young woman doesn’t quite fit in. They will travel with her as she finds herself the prisoner of a forgotten enchanted castle and the Beast that lives within. And they will watch in awe as her charm and courageous spirit breaks through to the monster, revealing the man trapped inside.

Over 25 years have passed since the animated film became an instant classic and Alan Menken has returned to expand the score with some new songs. “You have the initial tent pole moments from the animated movie and those are going to stay, and then as you put them in place, you look at it like architecture. Where do we need the emotional support? Sometimes the songs will respond to a moment. Sometimes you’ll go, ‘I feel like we need a song in this spot,’ and we will massage the story so a song could fit there.”

“They often say in musicals that people sing when it’s no longer enough to speak,” explains director Bill Condon. One of the new songs in the film is a ballad called “Evermore,” which the Beast belts out after letting Belle go. “I think it’s one of the dramatic high points in all of literature, the fact that the Beast at this moment lets Belle go, becomes worthy of love, and discovers what love is, but at the same time sacrifices his future. And so we talked about the fact that we needed a song, and of course there had been a song in the stage adaptation.”

“In the Broadway show there was a song called ‘If I Can’t Love Her,’” Menken adds. “But each iteration of Beauty and the Beast is a different medium in a way. There’s an animated musical, there’s a stage musical, and there’s this. The stage musical is definitely a two act structure, so we wrote this song for the Beast, because at that act break is the moment where the Beast out of anger has driven Belle away and it was important – we needed at that moment for the Beast to sort of howl for redemption or just say I’ve given up. But in the structure of a live action film, which is more of a three act structure, Bill felt, and I agree with him, that the more satisfying moment is the moment when the Beast lets Belle go because she’s no longer his prisoner, and he loves her, and the spell will not be broken now, but at least he knows what love is.”

When you revisit a project as classic and iconic as Beauty and the Beast, you will naturally attract some of the top talent in the entertainment industry. For many of the cast members, getting the call was a dream come true. Laughing Place readers can certainly relate to Broadway star Audra McDonald’s response to the call. “I said yes the minute that Disney called because you say yes when Disney calls. If they told me that, you know, you were gonna sell churros in the park, I’d be like, yeah, I’m there, let’s do it.” The next time you’re at Disneyland, you may want to see if the Cast Member selling churros has a name tag that says “Audra.”

“The animated film was perfect,” McDonald continued, “So I don’t think Disney or anybody here or anybody involved with this live action film was like ‘We got to fix Beauty and the Beast.’ So I think in that way the pressure was off… Now it’s our turn to tell the story, this incredible story that’s been told for 300 years.”

“I remember first getting the call, and I immediately flashed back to being a kid,” recalls Josh Gad, who has already cemented his future Disney Legend status for bringing Olaf to life in Frozen. “I was 10-years-old, it was 1991, and I saw the movie in a small theater in south Florida, and I remember that the response was something I had never seen before, which was audiences applauding after these animated characters were singing these songs. It was very unusual. Prior to that, like The Great Mouse Detective didn’t have much applause when I saw it. And The Black Cauldron certainly did not. So what Ashman and Menken brought to the Disney library was hearkening back to a time of the Sherman Brothers.”

Emma Watson was inspired by Belle at a young age and fought for her character integrity during the entire process of creating this film. “It’s really remarkable to play someone that I’m almost sure had an influence on the woman that I have become. I think the first time I saw Paige O’Hara sing ‘Belle (Reprise)’… I just immediately resonated with her. I mean, I was so young I didn’t even know what I was tapping into, but there was something about that spirit, there was something about that energy that I just knew she was my champion. And I think when I knew I was taking on this role, I wanted to make sure that I was championing that same spirit, those same values, that same young woman that made me a part of who I am today.”

Of course, there have been some changes to the story, and Belle’s character is no exception. “In our film, she’s actually an activist within her own community,” adds Watson. “She’s teaching other young girls who are part of the village to read, and you know, moments like that where you could see her expanding beyond just her own little world and trying to kind of grow it, I loved that, it was amazing to get to do.”

Luke Evans brings Gaston to life, a character who is even more villainous and plotting this time around. “A villain shouldn’t start out as the bad guy. A villain should end up being the bad guy, and I think with Gaston, outwardly, you know, to a lot of people in that village, he is the hero. He’s a bit of a stud. He’s got the hair, he’s got the looks, he’s always impeccably dressed, not a bad singing voice. He’s got a great pal who makes everybody support him and sing about him. And I wanted the audience to – in a way, I just thought, let’s make them like him a little bit first, so that when the cracks start to appear, they do it very subtly.”

If you’ve been waiting for Beauty and the Beast with wild anticipation, then you’re probably familiar with the controversy surrounding this adaptation’s representation of LeFou as a gay man. Director Bill Condon elaborated on this character choice, explaining that they not only had to adapt the animated film to the live action medium, but also translate it to 2017. “And what is this movie about? What has this story always been about? For 300 years it’s about looking closer, going deeper, accepting people for who they really are,” he explains. “And in a very Disney way, we are including everybody. I think this movie is for everybody, and on the screen, you’ll see everybody, and that was important to me.”

With record-breaking advance tickets sales and YouTube trailer views, Beauty and the Beast is already guaranteed to become one of the top grossing films of 2017. And with such a powerful story, such amazing music, and these incredible performances, I wouldn’t be surprised if it exceeds the already high expectations. Alan Menken expressed his concerns during filmmaking. “My mantra throughout the whole thing was ‘Don’t screw it up.’” On March 17th, you can decide for yourself whether Alan had any reason to be fearful or if this film has recaptured the magic of the original.