Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remains one of the world’s most enduring and popular romance stories, but the original 1991 cartoon could have turned out much differently were it not for one gay man’s tragic struggle with Aids.
As the stars of the upcoming live-action remake, Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, sit down with Attitude for our new April issue – available to download now and in shops today (1 March) – the film’s director Bill Condon reveals the heartbreaking true story that helped shape the 1991 film, and how it inspired him to create Disney’s first explicitly gay character on film.
The director reveals how the work of Beauty and the Beast‘s lyricist Howard Ashman shaped the story audiences know and love today, as the American playwright battled with Aids while working on the film.
“Disney had been developing Beauty and the Beast for decades,” Condon explains. “But there was a specific version they were working on developing in the Eighties.”
“On the heels of The Little Mermaid they showed it to [composer] Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Ashman had just found out he had Aids, and it was his idea, not only to make it into a musical but also to make Beast one of the two central characters; until then it had mostly been Belle’s story that they had been telling.
Condon continues: “And specifically for him it was a metaphor for Aids. He was cursed and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him and maybe there was a chance for a miracle and a way for the curse to be lifted. It was a very concrete thing that he was doing.”
Tragically, Ashman passed away on 14 March 1991, just four days after the first screening of the original film. He would go on to win two posthumous Grammy Awards, but his real legacy would be the lasting effect on the Beauty and the Beast story – one that will be relaunched into the public consciousness when Disney’s live-action remake hits screens on 17 March.
As well as Ashman’s story and news that the upcoming Beauty and the Beast remake will break historic ground with Disney’s first gay character on film, Attitude’s April issue also sees the film’s leads, Watson and Stevens, discuss the underlying queer sensibility which helped make 1991’s cartoon iteration resonate so profoundly with many gay men.
“I think it was really important for Dan and I to develop and understand why each of our characters feel as if they don’t fit in,” says Emma.
“I certainly felt watching the original that I wanted to know more about why Belle feels that she’s different and why she wants to be different and why she’s naturally different.”