The Beauty and the Beast 1991 animated film was revolutionary in plenty of ways. Forget for a second that the film kickstarted a Disney Renaissance – which introduced classics like Aladdin and The Lion King. The Beauty and the Beast 1991 film was also the first animated piece to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. And it had a hidden message, too.
Apparently, the film was one big metaphor for AIDS. Specifically, the treatment of the Beast. This was revealed by Bill Condon, who is directing the 2017 live-action remake. In an interview with Attitude, Condon noted that the 1991 film’s lyricist, Howard Ashman, had AIDS. This fact was subtly reflected in the handling of the film’s characters.
Familiar Story, Hidden Message
We’re all familiar with the tale as old as time. Book-loving Belle is taken prisoner by the Beast, who is pretty much ostracized and excluded for being a hideous, ferocious creature. While we are initially led to believe that that’s his true nature, we soon learn that he’s not so bad after all.
This characterization was a late shift in the production of the Beauty and the Beast 1991 feature. Belle was meant to be the main focus of the plot; eventually, Ashman pushed for a more sympathetic scope for the Beast, too. His experiences of carrying a disease like AIDS – and so being the subject of rejection by much of society – wound up in the script, though in a hidden way.
“Specifically for him, it was a metaphor for AIDS,” Condon said, “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.”
Sadly, Ashman passed away in 1991, shortly after the film started screening. He would go on to win a posthumous Oscar for Best Original Song (for none other than the iconic Beauty and the Beast track), and become forever tied with one of Disney’s most beloved hits.
A Modern Retelling
The pressure is on for the Beauty and the Beast 2017 remake to hit all the right notes. Leading lady Emma Watson is fully aware of depth present in its titular heroes. “I think it was really important for (Dan Stevens, the Beast) and I to develop and understand why each of our characters feel as if they don’t fit in,” she said.
In a move that could make Howard Ashman smile, Le Fou was shifted to be gay in this version.
Beauty and the Beast will be released on March 17, 2017.