After watching Beauty and the Beast, we were able to sit down and interview Director Bill Condon and Alan Menken (Music by). If you’ve seen the film, I imagine you had all the questions like I did. Why this? Why that? Those new songs! I wanted to gush over how much I loved the film while simultaneously find out why they decided to do things the way they did. Thankfully they share the answers to many of our burning Beauty and the Beast questions.
Alan Menken’s Impact
Let me just get this out of the way. You know me, Disney geek. So Alan Menken has composed scores for some of my favorite Disney movies like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tangled, and Pocahontas. Even though I wasn’t blessed with musical talent, music is one of my lifelines. When I hear songs I’m transported to a different place, my spirits lift, I become more empathetic.
So, here it is. My first big press event. I’m already nervous as it is. This is our first interview of the day..of the trip. I want to ask a question that a friend sent me, and I feel my heart race a bit. So I finally get the chance, I start to ask it but then talk a bit about how Alan’s music has impacted my life. The music has helped me through hard times when I needed to escape reality for a few minutes. My daughters and I dance to his songs all the time. And then, I start crying. No, no, no! Swallow those tears. Pull yourself together!
I finally ask Alan Menken how hearing stories of how his music has impacted people has impacted him.
“Basically I was a kid who liked to practice the piano, and I was a nervous kid with an ulcer, and I just was a dreamer.”
Alan: “It’s unreal. It’s unreal. It gives me, frankly, more of a sense of what we think of a collective consciousness, that we’re all a part of a collective consciousness because, we as artists are conduits for emotion and for things, they really come through us. I just feel very blessed honestly, blessed that I’m a vehicle for that. That’s amazing and wonderful, because basically I was a kid who liked to practice the piano, and I was a nervous kid with an ulcer, and I just was a dreamer. Then somehow I found that writing songs was really, you know, composing was where my brain would settle. And I just did it and did it and did it and now it has an impact on people like that. You know, I’m just living my life, and it’s had that effect and wow.”
Wow, indeed. So I may have made a bit of a fool of myself, but I’m a dreamer myself. Music is powerful.
What Drew You to the Story of Beauty and the Beast?
Alan: “I was drawn to the story by Disney. I mean it was basically Howard Ashman and I were working Little Mermaid, it hadn’t been released yet but people were very happy with it, and they said how about Beauty and the Beast? We’re interested in doing that next. I have to say Howard and I actually, we had Aladdin but Aladdin had to go back to development because we were a bit too edgy. There was more development work to do on that so Beauty and the Beast then came in and became the next thing we worked on together.”
Bill: “I have to say it was, so I come in. There’s this movie, this classic, perfect movie that already exists and for me more than anything it was the score, the chance to really roll around in that music and to restage it. To do a new version of it in a live action format especially those songs. It just felt to me like a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
They were right. The animated Beauty and the Beast is a classic, perfect movie. I’m so happy they took on the challenge to make a live-action Beauty and the Beast, because it’s phenomenal! I love them both.
About the New Songs in Beauty and the Beast
Were the songs new?
Alan: “They’re brand new. No, Days in the Sun, before Bill was on as a director, this goes back to about 2008. There was discussions about a movie version of Beauty and actually went as far as early script and when I was in London working on Sister Act, Tim was there and I said let’s try working on a couple of songs. The Days in the Sun, the genesis of that actually began back there as sort of a lullaby moment. But once Bill came aboard then that really got reworked to be a vehicle of so much back story and we’re threading a lot of story to it. And the other songs I would say they were the song we decide at the beginning. Some moments we followed through on. You know, the actual conception of the songs was yes, here they are. The actual execution was two years of here are these songs, you know, black and blue and we’re gonna reprise it here, and we’re gonna put it, you know, so a little bit of How Does a Moment Last Forever into the middle of Days in the Sun. We’re gonna take Days in the Sun theme and we’re gonna put it at the top as the Aria and just, you know you begin, you have these threads and you begin to weave with them.”
This just fascinates me, because the new songs are exquisite, full of emotion. I’ve been telling my friends that Beauty and the Beast and the new songs are better each time you watch the film. They didn’t believe me at first, but now after watching it more than once, they’re believers.
Decisions, Decisions About Old Songs
What was the hardest decision to make when you were filming the movie of taking the music out or put in?
Bill: “Well we didn’t take anything out, that’s the thing. You know, you look at the animated film and there’s absolutely nothing missing. I would say I’m gonna speak to you for a second that there was a song that was originally conceived for the animated film, put into a reissues of the film and put into the Broadway musical called Human Again, right which is a fantastic song and I think one of your favorites. That was an early conversation that just felt even in a movie this scale it took two and a half years to do Be Our Guest and Human Again is even bigger in away and that just became something that we had to sacrifice. And so part of the feelings and what happens in Human Again got translated really into Days in the Sun which has a very different feel.”
Alan: “And Human Again also, I gotta say I mean I must say because of Howard, it’s a brilliant song. It really is but it was always problematic, always. It was a nine minute sequence going through so many sections and so many edits, you know, basically watching the entire coming together of Belle and the Beast and watching the objects react and going into a scene and coming back to the song. So it was always a challenge to get it in. We ended up cutting it down to about six minutes by the time it got back into the animated movie and then I think it got cut even a little further for the Broadway show, but I think in the future maybe we’ll do a whole music called Human Again and make up for it.”
Preserving a Timeless Classic
What are the challenges of preserving the timeless classic with integrating new things?
Bill: “I think again it was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing, you know. So it was like you start to, you bring it into the real world and you start to ask questions that didn’t matter in the animated film. How did Belle and Maurice wind up in this village? What happened to her mother? How did the Prince become such a dissolute figure that he was worthy of being cursed? And, it’s interesting you start asking those questions and you start to bat around what the possible answers are. Then you’re making something different but I think for me I could ever really rely on my own kind of reverence for the original film in knowing when you’re changing something or going too far. I hope never to cross that line.”
“It was always about revealing more. It wasn’t about reinventing.”
Wow, they nailed it. It wasn’t about reinventing Beauty and the Beast. It was about revealing more. We just needed a little more insight. I love how Bill Condon used the word reverence. He knows how important these characters are to fans. Beauty and the Beast is wonderful and a fantastical journey through new revelations. Thank you, Bill Condon and Alan Menken! Goosbumps from the first notes.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is in theaters now! See it more than once, trust me.
Thank you, Disney, for inviting me on a press trip for Beauty and the Beast. All opinions about real tears shed during the film and interviews are my own.