It's 26 years since the original, but the furore surrounding the Beauty And The Beast remake has proved the Disney classic's lost none of its magic. Gemma Dunn finds out how the enchanting adaptation came to life

It may be a tale as old as time, but Beauty And The Beast is one classic worth retelling. Released in 1991 during Disney's second Golden Age of animation - along with the likes of The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Aladdin - the treasured film, based on the first published version of the fairy tale, La Belle et la Bete, by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, has enchanted generations.

And, paying homage to the original, its latest revival - a live-action big-screen musical - is set to continue the magic, featuring all the iconic songs (plus a few new belters to boot!) and characters.

With Bill Condon at the helm, and an ensemble cast, including Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson, it's one of the year's most eagerly-awaited releases.

We find out how they pulled it off...

When searching for talent to bring beloved protagonist Belle to life, the film-makers couldn't anticipate a better candidate than British actress Emma Watson. "I've loved Beauty And The Beast since I was four years old," says Watson, 26. "I remember Belle as this feisty young woman who spoke her mind, had these ambitions, and was incredibly independent and wanted to see the world. She had this relationship with the Beast where they were toe to toe. And that, to me, seemed like such a terrific dynamic and interesting kind of relationship that I'd never seen before in a fairy tale."

For the Beast, a spoiled and arrogant Prince transformed by the curse of an enchantress, they opted for Dan Stevens, and a fully-digital Beast was created through performance and facial capture technology.

"Bill and I spent a lot of time talking about how we could add some nuances to my character to make him more dimensional than the Beast from the animated film," says Stevens, 34, best known for his time as Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. It was quite interesting, trying to find those little human beats that would make him less animalistic, and more a human trapped inside this creature," notes the Croydon-born star.

Luke Evans and Josh Gad play egotistical village heart-throb Gaston and his bumbling sidekick LeFou. "Gaston gives me the opportunity to play both sinister and ridiculous, and it's wonderful," says former West End star Evans, who marks his screen singing debut with the villainous part. Gaston doesn't see the world the way everyone else sees it. He's at the top of the pyramid and everyone else is below him," adds the Welshman, 37, whose previous credits include The Hobbit and Dracula Untold. He thinks he can do no wrong and doesn't understand why Belle doesn't want to be his wife. I mean, God, is she mad? Is she blind? Is she stupid? He doesn't get it, which is funny in itself, so I really tried to play up the comedic aspects."

He bounced off accomplished funny man Josh Gad - best known as the voice of Olaf in Box Office smash Frozen. "Gaston is this very central figure in their village," says Gad, 36. "And LeFou is like a historian celebrating Gaston's legacy, who is always there to remind the public how important his contributions were. If Napoleon Bonaparte had a sidekick, it would be LeFou."

When the studio first pitched the idea to Condon, it's fair to say he was a little intimidated. "I consider the 1991 film to be a perfect movie," explains Condon, 61, whose previous movies include Dreamgirls and the Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts I and 2. When the film was released it was groundbreaking, in the way the story was told and with that incredible score from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, so I initially did not want to go near it."

But with the promise of it being a "full on" tribute to the musicals of Golden Age Hollywood, and the cinematic potential stemmed from modern-day technology, Condon hopped on board.

"It's 25 years later and technology has caught up to the ideas introduced in the animated movie," reasons the New Yorker. "Now it is possible, for the first time, to create a photo-real version of a talking teacup on a practical set, in a completely realistic live-action format."

Fans will be pleased to know the reboot features the much-loved anthemic songs from eight-time Oscar-winner Alan Menken and his late collaborator Howard Ashman's original score.

From Something There to Be Our Guest and, of course, the enchanting Beauty And The Beast song, composer Menken, who's joined forces with lyricist Tim Rice, felt an agenda to "keep the essence of the animated", while also obliging Condon's request to add new tracks to the mix.

"There's a wonderful ballad that the Beast has, If I Can't Love Her', that's become iconic in its own right, but it's a first act curtain number," says Menken, 67, referring to the Broadway adaptation. In looking at that, and the ways we expanded the back stories of the Prince/Beast and Belle, it became clear there were three important spots where we needed new songs."

The new numbers include For Evermore, a soaring ballad performed by the Beast; Days In The Sun, a heart-warming song performed by the characters in the castle, and Our Song Lives On.

Designing costumes befitting a fairy-tale world is a prodigious undertaking, but industry great Jacqueline Durran took it in her stride. With a department of embroiderers, milliners, jewellers, painters and textile workers, the British artist - who won an Oscar for her work on 2012 historical romance Anna Karenina - designed everything from the villagers' peasant costumes to the ball gowns worn by 35 debutantes at the Prince's ball.

Her biggest hurdle came in the form of Belle's iconic yellow dress. "The dress was always going to be yellow, as an homage to the animation," explains Durran, whose team set themselves the challenge of using Fairtrade fabrics. What we tried to do was re-interpret it and flesh it out by adding more texture, and making it feel like a real living costume."

Taking over 12,000 hours to make, the gown was created from multiple layers of feather light satin organza dyed yellow (180ft in total). The top two layers were printed with gold leaf filigree in a pattern matching the ballroom's Rococo floor, accentuated with 2,160 Swarovski crystals.

Beauty And The Beast opens in cinemas on Friday, March 17