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A marriage proposal amid a sea of mini-princesses at 'Beauty and the Beast's' Hollywood opening

A marriage proposal amid a sea of mini-princesses at 'Beauty and the Beast's' Hollywood opening
Olivia Bustillos, 3, of El Monte poses in front of a wall of roses in the lobby of Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre during the first public screening of "Beauty and the Beast" on March 16. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A pint-sized Princess Belle shuffled along Hollywood Boulevard into El Capitan Theatre, carefully lifting the hem of her voluminous yellow skirt to keep it from dragging along the Walk of Fame. She was quickly lost in a sea of identical mini-princesses and their parents (with a few Beasts peppered in) at the Disney-owned theater Thursday night.

Not long after, movie theaters across the city would fill with people bent on catching the "Beauty and the Beast" live-action remake on opening night. But at El Capitan, superfans crowded into the special 6 p.m. show, which (at $36 a ticket for a reserved seat, refreshments and film poster) has been sold out for months.

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Mariella Braniger, 2, of Ladera Ranch gets a ride on her father Robin Braniger€'s shoulders as he walks through the crowd outside the "Beauty and the Beast" opening night at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre.
Mariella Braniger, 2, of Ladera Ranch gets a ride on her father Robin Braniger€'s shoulders as he walks through the crowd outside the "Beauty and the Beast" opening night at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Mike and Sarah Kaczorowski, both 29, flew to Hollywood for the show from Erie, Pa.

"When we first started dating, we talked about it being our favorite movie," Mike said. "So we're pretty excited about it."

The couple started dating 13 years ago when they were 16 and even dressed up as Beauty and Beast for their senior prom. They married eight years ago and have two children, Ella, 4, and Jacob, 2, who were dressed up as Belle and Beast, respectively.

Melissa Firestone, left, of Pasadena and Micheline Pitt, right, of Burbank at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre for Thursday's first L.A. public screening of "Beauty and the Beast."
Melissa Firestone, left, of Pasadena and Micheline Pitt, right, of Burbank at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre for Thursday's first L.A. public screening of "Beauty and the Beast." (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

"Our first night we hung out, we discovered that we both loved the movie and we talked for hours about it," added Sarah. "Now 13 years later, here we are."

The theater went all out for the opening, with props and costumes from the film on display, including the spectacular yellow ball gown worn by Emma Watson in the film and a replica of the story's enchanted rose, sheathed in Swarovski glass, by the auditorium entrance.

Rillie Duce, 6, of Tehachapi poses with the rose in Hollywood's El Capitan lobby at the first L.A. "Beauty and the Beast" public screening.
Rillie Duce, 6, of Tehachapi poses with the rose in Hollywood's El Capitan lobby at the first L.A. "Beauty and the Beast" public screening. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Downstairs by the costume displays, mini-Belle Skylar Gordon, 7, admitted that her favorite princess is actually "The Princess and the Frog's" Tiana. But "since the movie is out," she said, "I wanted to look just like [Belle]."

Skylar Gordon, 7, of Los Angeles is all smiles as she exits "Beauty and the Beast" at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre.
Skylar Gordon, 7, of Los Angeles is all smiles as she exits "Beauty and the Beast" at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

When asked why she didn't want to dress up as Beast, she shook her head vehemently and said, "I didn't want to look like a boy."

Kids weren't the only ones in the cosplay spirit at the fan screening. Nataly Santos, 26, who opted for Belle's blue dress and white apron look from early in the film, admitted that "Beauty and the Beast" was a "really bad obsession" she had growing up.

"When I first saw the trailer, I couldn't stop crying," she said. "It's just everything to me."

So much so that she made an entire business out of it: Belle's Enchantment, a princess party company based out of Downey.

"I have my entire family here watching it with me," she said.

The audience at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre watches "Beauty and the Beast" on Thursday night.
The audience at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre watches "Beauty and the Beast" on Thursday night. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Matt Garrett, 30, opted to see the film alone after his friends couldn't get tickets. "It's a tale of female empowerment and overcoming obstacles and difficulties," he said. "It's a timeless classic, really."

Garrett admitted that his favorite character is "the little tea cup," Chip Potts. "It's that feeling of being just a little off, you know?" he said. "Also this optimism that's really kind of cool.

"[Also], the hairy one," he said of Beast. "Everyone wants to do the right thing and he really had a sense of what was right. He just couldn't bring himself, because of his beastly nature, to be a regular human being."

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"For me, 'Beauty and the Beast' takes me back to when I was a child myself and going to see the movie with my mom," said the theater's director of special operations, James Wood. "It's still her favorite movie to this day. I think about the joy I had then and seeing other people come in and get to experience that for the first time with their kids … it just brings joy to me."

Dressed in yellow as Belle, Samantha Ruiz, 7, of Monterey Park leaves Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre after the first L.A. public screening of "Beauty and the Beast" on Thursday.
Dressed in yellow as Belle, Samantha Ruiz, 7, of Monterey Park leaves Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre after the first L.A. public screening of "Beauty and the Beast" on Thursday. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

At 20 minutes to 6, guests began filing into the theater to see a live organist perform music from the film's familiar score. A light-and-projection show also took place, featuring an ornate Swarovski crystal curtain. As the music stopped and the organ disappeared, a seat-number-based raffle took place with guests winning merchandise from the film, including autographed posters, books, journals, phone cases and shirts. Then a big surprise was revealed.

Jennifer Miyano, 32, of Hermosa Beach shows the rose purse she decorated in honor of "Beauty and the Beast," which had its first L.A. public screening Thursday at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre.
Jennifer Miyano, 32, of Hermosa Beach shows the rose purse she decorated in honor of "Beauty and the Beast," which had its first L.A. public screening Thursday at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Audience member Emely Saracay, dressed in a Belle-yellow dress, was called to the front of the theater under the guise of having won a raffle prize. The curtain was raised, revealing her boyfriend, Osvaldo Velazio, dressed as Beast.

"There's something I'm not and that's perfect, but there's something that I am and that's in love with you," he said, getting choked up as the audience recorded the proposal on their phones.

"Will you be the Beauty to this Beast?" he asked, dropping to one knee. The audience erupted into cheers.

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