Beauty and the Beast marked Disney Animation's return to fairy tales. Upon its release in 1991, the enchanting tale as old as time was beloved by critics and audiences alike, many of whom marveled at the film's transcendent animation — not to mention that its central heroine completely revolutionized what it meant to be a Disney princess. Considered a smashing success for the studio, Beauty and the Beast even scored a historic Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards.
So who the hell would be crazy enough to remake such a celebrated classic?
His name is Bill Condon, the man responsible for bringing Academy Award–winning musical Dreamgirls to life in 2006, who puts his theatricality to good use in Disney's live-action remake. Starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in the title roles, Condon's Beauty and the Beast manages to capture the magic and whimsy of the original while also adding a bit of something that wasn't there before: depth. It's not that we necessarily needed to know what happened to Belle's mother, or how the Beast felt in the moments after he told Belle to return to her father — those details aren't essential to the plot — but knowing them makes the timeless tale feel even more complete.
Since we've seen the much-anticipated live-action remake opening today (March 17), let's dive into some of the biggest changes Condon made to the story.
Belle is more than a bookworm — she's an inventor
In an effort to make Belle a more “proactive” princess, Watson and Condon decided to make her — and not her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline) — the inventor in the family. Belle invents a kind of washing machine so that she can spend less time doing her daily chores and more time reading and teaching the other young girls in their quiet village how to read. However, in this poor, provincial town, well-read women like Belle are a threat, and so the villagers make an example of her and publicly destroy her invention. (In doing so, they toss her clean linens on the dirty ground. Rude.)
Maurice is an artist
Belle's papa is not the “crazy old Maurice” we're familiar with from the animated film. Kline's graying patriarch is an artist who makes and paints intricate music boxes to sell at a nearby market. Maurice is a free spirit — Belle takes after him — which occasionally puts him at odds with the narrow-minded townspeople. He's still completely devoted to his daughter, but the pain of his wife's death keeps him from fully opening up to her.
Belle’s tragic backstory is fully explained — thanks to a little magic
In the 1991 film, the whereabouts of Belle's mother are never explored, but the live-action version makes things very clear: Belle's mom died when she was just a baby. Thanks to a bewitched book that the Enchantress left for the Beast — it can transport you anywhere your heart desires — it's further revealed that her mother died of the bubonic plague in Paris. Poor Maurice had to leave his dying wife and flee with Belle before they were infected too.
Beast and Belle take a detour to Paris
Speaking of that enchanted book, the Beast tells Belle to use it to go to any destination in the world, so she decides on the Paris of her childhood, the “crumbling, dusty attic” where her mother died all those years ago. (For this moment, Watson reprises “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” which her father sings in the beginning of the film.) Before leaving, Belle takes her mother's dearest possession: a glass rose.
There's a reason for the Beast's bad behavior
Like father, like son. In the animated original, the prince is a narcissistic jerk who turns the Enchantress away because he thinks she's an old, pathetic hag. But the live-action version tries to at least explain how the prince became so cruel. When the prince was just a young boy, his mother died of an unnamed illness (cue the new song “Days in the Sun”) and he was raised by his brutish father which, in turn, made the prince grow into an unkind monster himself.
Chip is an only child
In the 1991 film, Chip has a cupboard full of brothers and sisters, but in Condon's film, he's an only child. He's still just as cute.
Some of the lyrics in “Gaston” have changed
Don't freak out if you notice some of the lyrics in “Gaston” have changed. The film's rowdy ode to its smarmy villain features some alternate lyrics written decades ago by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman. So while Gaston no longer sings about having biceps to spare, his savage hunting method is gamely explained.
“When I hunt I sneak up with my quiver, and beasts of the field say a prayer,” he boasts. “First I carefully aim for the liver, and I shoot from behind.” “Is that fair?” LeFou asks, to which Gaston responds, “I don't care” (a bit of foreshadowing for Gaston's final showdown with the Beast). But don't worry! He's still especially good at expectorating.
The Beast gets a song, too
Do you know what the 1991 film needed? A showstopper for the Beast. In Condon's Beauty and the Beast, he finally gets it. “Evermore” isn't just the best new song of the bunch — it's one of the best songs in the entire film, thanks in part to Stevens's emotional delivery. Menken and lyricist Tim Rice have penned a powerful new ballad for the Beast, which he sings after letting Belle go free. As he watches her ride off to her village, the cursed prince stands atop his lonely tower, reflecting on the woman who stole his heart.
“Now I know she'll never leave me,” he sings. “Even as she fades from view / She will still inspire me / Be a part of everything I do.” (I'm not crying. Nope. Not a single tear.)
There’s a new addition to the Beast’s castle crew
Stanley Tucci stars as Cadenza, a musician turned harpsichord who's married to Audra McDonald's Madame de Garderobe — and they are madly in love. Cadenza is so extra. He's basically an eccentric maestro who's operating at a 12 every second of every day, and his manic energy breathes a little life into the castle before Belle arrives. He also keeps losing his teeth — er, his harpsichord keys — and by the end of the film he's basically toothless. What's not to love?
The Enchantress is an actual character in the film
In the animated film, the Enchantress only appears in the prologue, as the story of the cursed prince plays out on a stained glass window. In this film, however, she has a much more significant role, and her motivation for cursing the Beast is fully explained. I'm not going to give away the surprise, but let's just say she pops up during several crucial moments. The prologue is also extended to feature a new musical number — and Stevens's best homage to David Bowie. (You'll see.)
The Beast tries to mansplain Shakespeare to Belle
The Beast and Belle first bond over Shakespeare after the surly minotaur criticizes her for liking Romeo and Juliet. During the film's opening number (“Belle”), she mentions that she's just finished reading the Shakespearean tragedy about two star-crossed lovers in fair Verona. The Beast doesn't miss an opportunity to tease her about it. (Let me guess, Beastie, you're more of a Hamlet guy.) But Belle later catches the Beast reading King Arthur and the Round Table, a romance about Guinevere and Lancelot, and has some fun at his expense.
Every time a petal falls, the castle starts to crumble
In a new twist, the enchanted rose doesn't just spell doom for the Beast and his servants; it also brings about the destruction of the castle. Every time a petal falls, a part of the castle is destroyed. Sure, it's an overwrought metaphor for the Beast's own humanity, but it makes that final scene between the Beast and Gaston on the rooftop of the castle much more precarious.
And about that “exclusively gay moment ...”
Honestly, it's not that big a deal. While you could make the argument that Josh Gad is subtly playing into LeFou's affection for Gaston, you could just as easily make the argument that LeFou's a loyal friend. Basically, LeFou's sexuality is there if you squint hard enough. That said, there are two distinct moments in the film that are indeed progressive for Disney.
One involves Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe forcing three of Gaston's burly henchmen into makeup, wigs, and colorful dresses. While two of the men run off in a fit, the third smiles into the camera and struts down the staircase. (Werk.) At the end of the film, that same guy is seen dancing with LeFou alongside Belle and the prince. So I guess that's our “exclusively gay moment.”