It was officially announced last week that Emma Watson will be playing Belle in an upcoming live-action film adaptation of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It will be a musical using Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s songs from the animated film (and presumably from the stage version), will be directed by Bill Condon, and is due for release sometime next year. The film was actually announced last summer, but it didn’t really feel real until it had some casting to go along with it. I personally couldn’t be more thrilled about Emma Watson as Belle. I think she’ll bring the right amount of brains and attitude to the Disney Princess role, and I have little doubt that they can get her singing skills up to scratch. But with the film more a reality now than it was two weeks ago, it’s the perfect time to play casting director and fill out the other major roles in the film. Read on for some of my ideas (which may not be particularly original), and then leave a comment to let me know who you’d like to see singing alongside Emma Watson next year.
Beast – The role of the Beast is actually a surprisingly tough one to fill. It’s almost two roles, one as a charming, handsome prince from the film’s finale and the other is a frightening, fur-covered monster. Unless you’re going to cast two different actors as the Beast and the Prince, which wouldn’t make much sense, the actor will have to be convincing in both. He’ll need to be someone in Emma Watson’s age range, too. If you remember from the movie, the Beast does very little singing in the film (about 6 lines in “Something There”), so on the surface the actor’s singing voice wouldn’t be a big concern. On the other hand, they could easily pull one of the Beast’s songs from the stage version in order to give the actor more to do (and to flesh out the film’s running time), such as “If I Can’t Love Her.” This complicates things. It’s tough to find an actor in his 20s who can sing but who also has the sort of presence required to be menacing and intimidating. And while I assume they’ll use some combination of CG/motion-capture and makeup effects, his voice will have to sell the audience on the role. My pick would be Jonathan Groff, who has the Disney connection from playing Kristoff in Frozen and the Broadway experience to carry a big role. He’s handsome enough to play a prince, but there’s a bit of darkness to him that would suit the Beast well. Plus he has some comedy chops, which is important in capturing that often-ignored aspect of the Beast.
Gaston – Gaston is a great role for a beefcake actor to really ham things up. I’ve seen Hugh Jackman’s name thrown around quite a bit for the role, and while he’s quite the physical specimen, with the Broadway background to fit in the role well (he actually played it onstage in Australia in the mid-90s), I think he’s too old at 46 to play a character stalking 24 year old Emma Watson. Instead I’d go with Chris Pine, who was hilarious as a shallow, self-absorbed douchebag prince in Into the Woods, and is just the right combination of charming and goofy to make a killer Gaston. He showed off a surprising voice in Into the Woods, and if there’s a more Gaston-worthy moment in recent memory than Pine ripping open his shirt while singing “Agony” then I can’t think of it. He may not be as close to the size of Gaston as Jackman is, but I’m sure they can work around that with some clever filming techniques.
LeFou – I can’t imagine any who would make a better LeFou than Josh Gad. Gad’s an experienced singer, stole every scene voicing Olaf in Frozen, and would provide the perfect foil to the slick Gaston. He’d get to perform “Gaston,” a show-stopping comedy number, and provide a good chunk of the film’s slapstick comedy. Gad even looks a little bit like LeFou.
Maurice – This is the role I struggle with the most, because I just can’t come up with anyone who really wows me. It’s a pretty simple role, requiring no singing (unless they bring in his duet with Bell from the stage, “No Matter What”), and requires someone warm and fatherly but who is also a crackpot inventor. Since I can’t think of anyone else, let’s go with Emma Watson’s Harry Potter costar, Mark Williams, who played the somewhat bumbling Arthur Weasley in that series.
Lumiere – Now here is where things get a little more interesting. We don’t yet know how the animate household objects will be portrayed in the film. I would assume we’ll get some mix of CG and motion-capture, as anything else (actors in costumes?) would seem rather silly. For Lumiere, you need someone who is the ultimate showman, who has the sort of stage/screen presence and the voice to pull off the film’s biggest number. I’ve seen a lot of people suggest Neil Patrick Harris for this role, and I can certainly see the appeal. He’s a definite showman, he makes an entertaining ladies’ man, and he can sing. But I just don’t feel he’s quite right. For one thing, his voice isn’t as deep and rich as Jerry Orbach’s was in the original role, and I’ve always felt like Harris is more of a comedian and the role of Lumiere isn’t strictly comedy. Instead I’d go with the popular suggestion for Gaston, Hugh Jackman. Jackman is quite the showman, as has been seen repeatedly, but his voice is much closer to what I’d want for “Be Our Guest” than Harris. He has the right level of charm and swagger (Lumiere is like a sophisticated Gaston in a lot of ways), and unlike in the role of Gaston, here Jackman’s age isn’t an issue.
Cogsworth – I actually think Neil Patrick Harris could make a great Cogsworth, and he’d still get to sing assuming “Human Again” makes the cut of songs in the film. But if you want a fussy, British, worrywart, it’s hard to go with anyone other than Martin Freeman after watching him in the Hobbit trilogy. His Bilbo Baggins (not to mention his Arthur Dent) has so much in common with the tightly-wound Cogsworth. There are a good number of actors who could fill this role, including Eddie Izzard or even the original actor in the role, David Ogden Stiers.
Mrs. Potts – Really, the only acceptable answer for Mrs. Potts is Dame Angela Lansbury, but at age 89 it’s probably unlikely that she’d return (plus Chip would have to be her grandson or great-grandson rather than her son). So if she can’t do it there are several options as to which way to go, and it all revolves around how you want to handle “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s actually a deceptively tricky song, much more difficult to get right than “Be Our Guest” or any of the others. It’s so softly sung by Lansbury, setting the perfect tone. It can’t be treated like a showstopper, and it has to feel completely natural. It has to highlight what’s happening onscreen rather than detracting from it. You can’t put someone with a voice like Idina Menzel on it, because she’d overpower the moment. But you have to have someone with the talent level of Lansbury but who can have that soft delivery. In my ideal version of the film, I’d cast Julie Walters as the speaking voice of Mrs. Potts (she’d be perfect in the motherly role), but I’d use Lansbury’s 1991 vocals for the songs. Some things are just too perfect to change, and their Walters’ speaking voice would actually mesh pretty well with Lansbury’s singing voice. Walters did sing in Mamma Mia!, so theoretically could sing the part as well, but I’d rather stick with the original song vocals. Another option, if they want to go a different direction with the role and the song, would be Christine Baranski, who also would be great in the role and has the singing voice to back it up. But if they’re going to do away with Lansbury’s version of the songs, the best option has to be Dame Julie Andrews. At age 79 she hasn’t appeared in a film since her voice role in 2010’s Despicable Me, but can you imagine anything more perfect than Julie Andrews as Mrs. Potts? I have no doubt they could adapt it to her current vocal range, and there is hardly anyone with a more legendary Disney status than Julie Andrews.
What do you think? Who would you cast in the well-known roles from the movie? Do you think the Beast’s look will be achieved with makeup or with CG/motion capture? How will they do the enchanted objects? Is Hugh Jackman too old to play Gaston? Would Neil Patrick Harris make a better Lumiere? Is there someone great who hasn’t been thought of? Are there any songs from the stage you’d like to see brought into the film? Do you think Emma Watson will make a good Belle? Does Beauty and the Beast even need a live-action adaptation? Let me know in the comments!