'Beauty and the Beast': The New Castle's Hidden Nod to Walt Disney

Beauty and the Beast Still Ballroom - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Disney

The new Beauty and the Beast may be based on a cartoon, but to re-create Belle's world for the live-action reimaging, the filmmakers found lots of real-world inspiration — especially when it came to building out the Beast's castle, which reflects such opulent edifices as the Chateau de Chambord and the Palace of Versailles.

Four-time Oscar nominated production designer Sarah Greenwood admits that she knew Disney’s new film would be “slightly daunting task” since the 1991 animated classic — the first animated film to earn a best picture Oscar nomination — is “Disney’s baby, but we were going to do it justice.”

Working with her longtime collaborator, set decorator Katie Spencer, and their team, Greenwood brought this world to life mostly on the backlot and soundstages at the U.K.'s Shepperton Studios. Since the story is set in France during the 1740s (rather than an alternate fairy-tale world), Greenwood says she aimed to give the look “a touch of reality,” and that started with research trips to France, including a stop at the Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley, which they later learned was also visited for inspiration when the 1991 movie was made. Greenwood says she also “cherry picked” inspiration from architecture in additional countries including Germany and Portugal.

The Beast’s new castle combines architectural styles, but the majority of it is French Rococo, a style prevalent in 1740s France, which is found, for instance, at the Palace of Versailles.

The most iconic set is the ballroom, where Belle, in her yellow gown, dances with the Beast. Greenwood says director Bill Condon considered re-creating the camera moves of the 1991 film, but he decided to keep it “more grounded” and “slightly less extreme.”

The glass chandeliers are based on those from the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. “They were the size of a London Bus. They were 14 feet high and 7 or 8 feet wide. And there were 10 of them,” Greenwood says.

Key inspirations also included Wies Church in Bavaria. The floor of the film's castle was made from 12,000 square feet of faux marble, based on a pattern found on the ceiling of the Benedictine Abbey in the Czech Republic. If you look closely, the team also placed a monogram in the middle of the floor. What initials did they choose? W.D., which, says Greenwood, is a “quiet homage to Walt Disney. Also the W was lovely.” (The monogram also appears on the back of the throne).

The biggest challenge surrounding the ballroom was that it had to have five looks — from the most opulent version seen in the opening scene to the neglected and frozen look after the curse is placed on the castle.

Other castle sets included Belle’s bedroom, which took inspiration from Nymphenburg Palace in Munich; the west wing, where the Beast keeps the enchanted rose, which is designed in Italian baroque to appear more sinister and dark; the library, inspired by research in Portugal; and the kitchen, which has a Danish look.

The French village where Belle and her father live encompassed 28,787 square feet on the backlot, inspired by various French villages including Conques in the South. The fountain is based on St. George’s Fountain in Rothenburg on the Tauber River in Germany.

Much of the Be Our Guest musical number was, of course, created with visual effects, but Greenwood explains that the process started by photographing real props on the table, with theatrical lighting.  “As much as we could was real. We made the cake at the end — and the explosion at the top of the cake.”