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Inside Track: Disney’s Beauty And The Beast

Secrets Of The Mix Engineers: Frank Wolf
Published June 2017
By Paul Tingen

Frank Wolf at his own Studio F facility.Frank Wolf at his own Studio F facility.

The resurgence of film musicals continues, with Disney’s Beauty And The Beast the most successful yet. Hollywood veteran Frank Wolf oversaw the complex recording and mixing process.

In an era where album sales are declining, movie soundtracks seem to be bucking the trend. In 2017 alone, Trolls, Moana, Fifty Shades Darker and La La Land have all yielded hit albums, and the latest to do so is Disney’s Beauty And The Beast, a live-action remake of Disney’s own 1991 animated film that has already become the highest-grossing live-action musical of all time. Both versions feature the same songs by composer Alan Menken, famous for countless theatre productions and classic Disney movies like The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), Pocahontas (1995), and Tangled (2010). The 2017 version of Beauty And The Beast contains a new underscore (the instrumental music that supports the on-screen action) and three new songs composed by Menken, with lyrics by Tim Rice.

All songs are sung by the cast members, such as Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (the beast), Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Ewan McGregor, and so on, with orchestral accompaniment, sometimes reinforced with a rhythm section, all in a romantic and theatrical musical style heavily influenced by Broadway and French music. Three of the songs appear twice, during the end titles and on the soundtrack album, the second time recast as pop songs, sung by Celine Dion (‘How Does A Moment Last Forever’), Ariana Grande and John Legend (‘Beauty And The Beast’), and Josh Groban (‘Evermore’).Beauty And The Beast has become the highest-grossing live-action musical movie of all time.Beauty And The Beast has become the highest-grossing live-action musical movie of all time.

Both the film and the soundtrack versions of the song ‘Beauty And The Beast’ were mixed by Peter Mokran, while Celine Dion’s song was engineered and mixed by Humberto Gatica and Martin Nessi. The remainder, including all the songs that appear in the movie, the underscore and the rest of the soundtrack album, was recorded and mixed by Frank Wolf, a music industry veteran with an enormous amount of experience — Allmusic.com lists more than 400 credits! Wolf has long-standing working relationships with Disney as well as with Menken, also having worked on the latter’s scores and/or soundtrack albums for Hercules (1997), Home On The Range (2004), Tangled (2010) and Mirror Mirror (2012).

More Than Before

Work began in London in the Spring of 2015, with discussions between Wolf, director Bill Condon and music producer Matt Sullivan. “I knew that Bill really did not want to do simply a remake of the 1991 version,” recalls Wolf. “The first major change, obviously, was that it’s a live-action movie, and it was going to be darker and more emotionally intense than ’91. All the arrangements were new, and while they were in some cases similar, they tended to be a lot bigger. We wanted the orchestra to be big and dramatic and sweeping and fully of action. And we knew that the songs that have a rhythm section needed some kick.

“We also did not want the vocals to be as far up front as they were in ’91. The balance between music and vocals always is a fine line when you are working on a theatrical project, because you want to be able to hear every word, and when you look at the character on screen you want to feel that he or she is singing to you, but you don’t want them to be so loud that they’re no longer supported by the music. We watched the ’91 versions of ‘Belle’ and ‘Gaston’ and, particularly in the latter, you...

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Published June 2017