Why Beauty and the Beast will be better than you thought

The tale as old as time is back (again) on big screens and has some devoted fans wondering whether there will be something there that wasn't there before. Here's why you're sure to fall under the film's spell before the last rose petal falls.

Bill Condon has a strong track record of handling beloved material

Fans of the original 1991 film should breathe easy: director Bill Condon knows a thing or two about working on projects with beloved source material. The Academy Award winner has worked on several movie musicals over the last 15 years, directing Dreamgirls and writing the screenplay for best picture winner Chicago in 2002.

Condon, a New Yorker and longtime Broadway theatergoer, also understands how his experiences on those films helped prep audiences for a full-blown return to form such as in La La Land. "Moulin Rouge!, Chicago, Dreamgirls — each movie takes a different approach to make people comfortable with people singing," he told the Hollywood Reporter. " In Chicago, they're all onstage, and Moulin Rouge! is a huge stylization of design and the camera that gets you to giggle and relax." Condon also has experience navigating a rabid fan base thanks to his work on the final two films of the Twilight franchise, and he knows expectations for the live-action Beauty and the Beast are particularly high. "The great thing is that there are so many people who are so eager to see the movie, and that's what you crave as a filmmaker, that there's an audience waiting and committed," Condon said. "But in terms of expectations, you can only make your personal version of what this is. Because I feel like I'm such a true fan of that original film, I could only use myself ultimately as a gauge." And Condon says he stuck pretty close to the source. That's a good sign.

It features the first 'exclusively gay' character in a Disney film

While there have been plenty of subtle suggestions of gay characters in Disney films over the years (think Ken in Toy Story 3), the Mouse House has never officially sanctioned an openly gay character until now. Director Bill Condon revealed in the April issue of British gay magazine Attitude that sidekick LeFou (Josh Gad) will have a "small but significant subplot of his own." Condon said, "It is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."

But not everyone is totally onboard for LeFou's new romantic subplot. Noted Christian evangelist Franklin Graham wrote a lengthy Facebook post admonishing parents for supporting the film and the Disney company. In a similar move, an Alabama movie theater announced it wouldn't be screening the film.

Either way, the inclusion of an openly gay character in Beauty and the Beast not only is a historic moment for Disney but also serves as a beautiful tribute to one of its creators. Howard Ashman, the original film's lyricist, was battling AIDS during his time at Disney, working from his home under the care of a private nurse.

Belle is totally a feminist

Since her first appearance onscreen in 1991, Belle has long been seen as unique among Disney princesses, far more focused on her independence and smarts than her interactions with princes. Original screenwriter Linda Woolverton was herself something of a phenomenon for Disney, too. As the first female screenwriter for an animated Disney film, Woolverton wanted Belle to be a different kind of Disney princess, "one that isn't based on being kind and taking the hits but smiling all the way through it," as she told Time. But it wasn't easy. Her script was often subject to regressive rewrites. She told Entertainment Weekly, "Every single line of Belle's dialogue was a battle [with the studio]."

Though Woolverton is not involved in the new film, the feminist ideas she championed 26 years ago are still very much intact. Emma Watson, a noted feminist in her own right, pushed for the film to take Belle's feminist ideals even further. Belle is now an inventor and is more active in the new film, too, thanks to Watson's insistence on not wearing a corset.

Director Bill Condon agreed: "We wanted to make sure that she remained a feminist figure and someone who looks to the future."

The supporting cast is insanely talented

Though Emma Watson and Dan Stevens get top billing in the Disney live-action adaptation, the supporting cast is stacked with talent. For starters, frequent Bill Condon collaborator and revered British thespian Sir Ian McKellen lends his iconic voice to worrywart Cogsworth alongside Ewan McGregor's amorous candelabra, Lumiere. The Moulin Rouge actor hasn't sung onscreen since 2003's Down With Love and was excited to join the cast.

Other big names lending their voices to the objects at the enchanted castle including Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci, six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, and of course, two-time Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson as the iconic Mrs. Potts. The wise, singing teapot was first brought to life by the legendary Angela Lansbury, but Thompson already has plenty of experience and critical acclaim tackling one of Lansbury's other iconic roles: Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. Surely, she'll have no trouble with the title song.

Rounding out the starry cast on the human side of things, is Luke Evans as Gaston, the aforementioned Josh Gad, and Oscar winner Kevin Kline as Belle's loving if eccentric father, Maurice, who also has some musical experience of his own.

The Beast gets his own new song

For a story where he's one half of the title couple, the Beast barely sings at all in the 1991 animated film. The Broadway musical sought to remedy this problem with a huge solo number for the Beast at the end of Act I called "If I Can't Love Her." Director Bill Condon wanted to include the song in the new film but couldn't make it work with the plot. The result is a brand new song for Dan Stevens' Beast called "For Evermore." Composer Alan Menken revealed to Entertainment Weekly that the song is a tender moment for the Beast, as he's let Belle go back to her father whom she misses. You can feel your heartstrings tug already. Josh Groban also recorded a version of the song, which will be featured on both the film's soundtrack and during its closing credits.

And there are even more new songs

Don't worry, all your favorites from "Be Our Guest" to "Gaston" are still included in the new adaptation, but in addition to the Beast's "For Evermore," Alan Menken and Tim Rice have composed two other new songs as well. These songs include one for Belle and Maurice called "Our Song Lives On" and another entitled "Days in the Sun" sung by Audra McDonald and Ewan McGregor. Of "Our Song Lives On," Menken told Entertainment Weekly, "The first time it's sung, it's Belle's father singing as he's completing a music box, and basically it's about, 'How does a moment live forever? How do you hang on to precious moments?' Then, it's reprised by Belle, and then it's the song that's actually over the end credits at the end of the movie."

But it's "Days in the Sun" that producer David Hoberman believes will net Menken a ninth Academy Award. Menken says, "'Days in the Sun' is a moment when all of the objects in the castle—and Belle—are going to sleep. Basically, everybody in the castle is having memories of what it used to be when they had their days in the sun. It's sort of a combination of a lullaby and a remembrance of happier days for everybody." The song specifically features tour de force performer Audra McDonald who plays Madame De Garderobe.

Even Belle has a new song! Sort of. The team also decided to have Watson perform "A Change in Me," which was featured prominently in the Broadway musical and will likely be brand new to those unfamiliar with star Susan Egan's showstopping performance.

The visual effects are just as beautiful as the original

The spectacular 1991 version was the first full-length animated film to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards and helped inspire the creation of the best animated film category, which was introduced 10 years later in 2001. While critics and audiences were moved by the story and songs, Beauty and the Beast also wowed with groundbreaking visuals, specifically during the iconic ballroom dance sequence. It was the first film to integrate hand-drawn cels with computer-generated 3-D backgrounds. Using an animation program co-developed with Pixar, Disney animators created and composited every frame of film, adding shadows and colors to make the 3-D look more lifelike. The results thrilled critics.

Condon and his visual FX team have been working hard to seamlessly blend CGI with live-action while still keeping the awe-inspiring romantic visuals of the 1991 film. Condon admitted to the Hollywood Reporter that it took a few tries to get it right. However, the team realized that with so many CG characters, grounding the film in real, practical elements was key. "The thing that was fun, given that we knew there were these CG characters, was making sure that as many elements as possible could be real," said Condon. "The sets were massive, like an MGM movie circa 1950. You could go from the entry to the dining room in the castle, all the way to the ballroom, across two sound stages. They were all connected. We built the entire village."

And given the number of positive reviews, it sounds like the hard work paid off. A.O. Scott's review in the New York Times notes, "There are a few moments—a climactic high-elevation fight scene that looks like every other climactic high-elevation fight scene; a chase through the forest involving wolves—where the digital seams show, and you're aware of the cold presence of lines of code behind the images. Most of the time, though, you are happily fooled. More than that: enchanted."

The 'tale as old as time' gets new, expanded storylines

With Disney's recent trend of turning its beloved animated classics into live-action films, it would be easy to wonder why the "tale as old as time" needed to be told yet again. However, like Kenneth Branagh's loving update of Cinderella in 2015, this new Beauty and the Beast comes with expanded material. There may be something there that wasn't there before!

Screenwriters Evan Spiliotopoulos and Stephen Chbosky worked to bring out Belle's empowerment and deepen her background, making her a "far more intelligent, confident woman." Plus, audiences will finally learn a bit more about Belle's mother and the Beast's childhood, too.

Director Bill Condon is sure this isn't going to just be a reboot of the 1991 film, telling the Nerdist, "It was really about exploring and digging deeper, inevitably, because you're bringing people into a live action world. My deepest hope is people see the movie and feel that the additional scenes and the additional material is stuff they always wondered about and wished had been there, so they don't even remember what was in the animated film and what wasn't. That it all becomes of a piece."