Jon M. Chu, who directed “In the Heights” and is currently working on a two-part “Wicked” adaptation for Universal, is bringing his special sauce to another beloved musical property: Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
“Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Anniversary,” combines original footage from the animated masterpiece (the first animated feature ever to be nominated for Best Picture) with new live-action performances and Chu, as producer, as assembled an all-star line-up. H.E.R. and Josh Groban star as Belle and the Beast, with Rita Moreno as the narrator, Joshua Henry as Gaston, Martin Short as Lumière, David Alan Grier as Cogsworth, Rizwan Manji as LeFou, Jon Jon Briones as Maurice, Leo Abelo Perry as Chip and Shania Twain as Mrs. Potts.
But what is this 30th anniversary celebration all about? And why was Chu so compelled to remake “Beauty and the Beast” yet again? Read on to find out.
What is “Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Anniversary” exactly?
Well, “Beauty and the Beast” turned 30, when they were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. I was obsessed with “Beauty and the Beast” growing up, I was obsessed with all Disney Animation during that golden age. And I went opening weekend, I had all the toys, I still have them in their box, I never opened them because I thought they were going to be worth so much money one day because this movie was the shit. I even have the advertisements from the newspaper, the one sheet from it, I just saved it all. I had trading cards.
I saw a version back then, that was the work-in-progress version of the movie, which was what they sent out as a screener for the Oscars, one of my friend’s dad had it. And that was what inspired me to go into making movies because I watched it thinking that animation is magic. But when you see the drawings of it, you realize like, oh, human beings made this. They drew it just like I draw in my sketchbook at home and made it into this. And to me, that was mind-blowing. It stayed with me for all these years.
When they did a “Little Mermaid” special last year where they showed the animated movie and they did these interstitials with live with a live audience when they did the live performances. I wanted to do the same, but it’s but I also wanted to reinterpret some of the numbers and do things like the wolf chase where there wasn’t a number, but we make it a number in our movie, or when the rose petal falls. We take that from the movie and have all these dancers represent the rose petals just to pay homage to the idea of creativity. That is a celebration of actual creativity, that it’s not just about “Beauty and the Beast” existing but it’s about inspiring new generations, my generation. And me as a storyteller, now I’m here and I get the honor of paying tribute to that. And then also giving pathways for these young choreographers to reinterpret these numbers, and hopefully inspire another generation. I hope this is additive to the legacy of “Beauty and the Beast.”
What was the biggest challenge of this particular production?
The challenge was how do we be complementary to the original movie and not take away from it? And so how do we like take something like Belle’s reprise and make it feel contemporary and an anthem for young people where it’s not just her feeling sad about this guy asking her to get married but really empowering and Belle in our version actually is joined by other women in it and she even meets her younger self who had all these dreams and our hopes of this adventure ahead. And it takes what “Belle Reprise” felt like and tries to physicalize that. I think finding those little gaps, finding where the rose petal dance is really works because at one point the rose petals are really sad, the rose petals leaving is a sacrifice and it’s actually beautiful and then the last one is it brings them back to life. Basically getting in the headspace of storytellers who first did it and trying to find our way in. That was probably the hardest because we had all different versions of how to do that and how to delicately do that.
Did you consult with any of the original creative principals from the first movie?
I had to do a lot with Alan Menken because we were working with his music and so stuff that we were reinterpreting, we were talking to him and his team, and he had to listen to me. I would Zoom with him because he was always around in different places and he’d give notes. And it was great. It was like working on “Beauty and the Beast” with Alan Menken, that’s crazy. I have Lin-Manuel Miranda on one side, I have Stephen Schwartz on the other and have Alan Menken on the third line. It’s been a crazy, crazy year, to be honest.
Can you talk about your approach to casting?
Just the fact that we got Martin Short and convinced him to do this and showed him all the things we were doing. He’s such a huge proponent of creativity. I wasn’t sure because I’d never met him before, if he’d even be interested in this. But I think he was such a sucker for creativity and all these young choreographers who were putting forward, to show what they do. I think he was so into it and his “Be Our Guest is insane. It’s insane to think that “Be Our Guest” has been done so many ways, at every talent show and every Disney on Ice and Disneyland show and Broadway. Like how are you going to redo it and the way we do it is so fun. So it feels very Martin Short.
But H.E.R. specifically, I’ve been wanting to work with H.E.R. for a long time. We found this in a weird way together too. I didn’t know if she would be interested in doing it, but she’s a huge Disneyphile. And I think the moment it was announced, she even released something on her TikTok where she’s singing the opening. And she kills it. And when she brings her guitar out, just wait. Josh Groban of course, is amazing. And to have a Black and Filipina Belle. And I feel like you don’t even question it. It’s just really great to bring that fantasy to life.
What are you most excited about people watching in this version?
There’s definitely multiple things, but I think I think our “Be Our Guest” is crazy. I just think it’s so fun. It’s not just a big dance number. I think it’s just weird and cool. I think when people first come into this movie, the opening prologue is really compelling to me that we do an interpretation of the stained-glass window. And I think that’s really cool. And of course, the rose stuff is just spectacular. It’s all overhead. And so it just feels like you’re looking at this kaleidoscope of rose petals moving and it’s really innovative, actually.
“Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Anniversary” is on ABC on Thursday and on Disney+ on Friday.