'Beauty and the Beast': 9 Differences Between the Live-Action and Animated Movies — and Why They Matter

5:30 AM 3/16/2017

by Ashley Lee

A washing machine, a heartbroken harpsichord and a beastly ballad are among the small tweaks that make a big impact in the new Disney movie.

Beauty and the Beast Ballroom Scene Split - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest; Courtesy of Disney

Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast features just a little change from its 1991 animated classic.

"The most difficult part was both honoring the original animated film and also giving it its own identity," producer David Hoberman told The Hollywood Reporter. "But there's also a lot you can get away with in animation that you can't get away with in live-action."

Therefore, the new movie — starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci — introduces new characters, backstories, songs, motivations and even logistical details. Added producer Todd Lieberman: "Because there's so much emotion in the original movie, there's also a lot of room to explain where that emotion came from."

THR outlines the nine most notable plot differences between the two adaptations complete with each reason for tweaking a tale as old as time.

[This story contains minor spoilers from Beauty and the Beast.]

  • A Most Peculiar Mademoiselle

    "There must be more than this provincial life," sings Belle at the beginning of both movies. The animated villagers couldn't understand the "most peculiar mademoiselle" because of her affinity for books. Yet the live-action version sees Belle not only feeding her own knowledge, but also opting to share that knowledge with others as well. The classic opening scene now has those villagers (who are much more diverse, by the way) scowling at her for using a makeshift washing machine (remember, this is France in the 1740s) and teaching another young girl how to read.

    "Belle [is] where we worked in the 21st century element, because she is a far more intelligent, confident woman," screenwriter Evan Spiliotopoulos told THR. "She's in fact making little inventions to ease the life in the village."

    Deepening her intellect helped to even out the ostracism between Belle and the Beast. "It's about that sense of persecution," said Dan Stevens, who plays Beast. "Belle is seen as a bit of a freak within her community, this girl who reads and invents things and is a bit too clever for the local Establishment. And Beast is obviously persecuted because of his appearance."

  • A Spoiled Prince

    The live-action movie shares more about the Beast's life before the curse that transformed him after he refused to be kind to an old woman. Not only is his scathing personality shown to audiences, but the household staff further explain how he came to be so cruel (and how they didn't try to stop that from happening).

    "It’s not just about refusing an old woman shelter in a storm, which is what happens and triggers the curse, but there’s a lot of behavior leading up to that — there’s something not quite right in his heart, and it needs to be put right," Stevens told THR. "Something Bill, Emma and I wanted to put out is this sense of entitlement and privilege of this spoiled prince who was raised wrong, really, and left to grow into a monster, a hideous man child. It makes for a more interesting journey."

    A few curse logistics are also clarified this time around: It's not just the castle that's enchanted, but also the entire city, leaving everyone to forget that the royal family ever existed (and therefore making sure no one looks for them). Also, a magical woman who is present at the end of the film witnesses the titular characters' love and reverses the curse. Stevens said of the details, "I think it was quite smart, actually!"

  • A Questioning LeFou

    Director Bill Condon revealed that LeFou, Gaston's sidekick played by Josh Gad, is gay, making him Disney's first-ever LGBTQ character. "LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston," Condon explained. "He's confused about what he wants. It's somebody who's just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that's what has its payoff at the end, which I don't want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."

    Though this change has caused a bit of controversy — an Alabama theater is refusing to screen the movie, and Malaysia is deciding whether or not to release it — Gad said it "added a really beautiful complexity to his character. … Like many of the additions to this movie, I think it's a beautiful, subtle moment that does its job and is left alone."

  • A Motivated Imprisonment

    Why was Belle's father, Maurice, being held captive by the Beast in the first place? Both films see Maurice get lost while riding through the forest and seeking refuge in the Beast's castle. In the animated version, the Beast walks in on Maurice's intrusion and therefore imprisons him. But the live-action version has Maurice initially entering and exiting the castle freely, but getting caught red-handed while trying to steal a single rose for Belle — an annual tradition between the father and daughter.

    The change in motivation for Maurice's imprisonment is a switch back to the original fairy tale, written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and later slightly changed and released again by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Plus, intruding is one thing, but trespassing and theft are another. 

  • An Empowered Heroine

    The animated Belle offers to take her father's place in the Beast's prison — a decision he accepts over Maurice's objections. That exchange is made without anyone's permission in the newer movie: Belle cleverly gets the Beast to open the cell's door for one last father-daughter farewell, after which she pushes out Maurice and locks herself away. The Beast doesn't mind, as long as he's holding someone captive. Likewise, the animated Chip is the one who rescues Maurice and Belle when they're later held captive at Gaston's request, but the live-action version sees the two escaping together by picking the lock.

    "She is a little different," Emma Watson told Good Morning America of the tweaks toward empowerment. "I think we had a little bit more space and more room to tell a bit more of Belle's story in this one. I hope she's a slightly more modern version. … She was updated a little bit, but she was pretty progressive in her DNA, really. She was a bit of a rebellious Disney princess."

  • A New Character

    LumiereCogsworth, Mrs. Potts and Chip have a new friend in the castle: Maestro Cadenza, a musician who is transformed into a large and ornate harpsichord on the first floor. He is married to Wardrobe — now named Madame Garderobe (pictured above) — who is housed in Belle's room on the second floor.

    Cadenza and Garderobe are voiced by Stanley Tucci and Audra McDonald, respectively, and their subplot of constant separation has viewers empathizing with characters besides Belle and the Beast as outlined in "Days in the Sun," one of three new songs Alan Menken and Tim Rice wrote for the live-action movie.

    "You have more of a backstory for these characters so you'd feel invested and want them to be together again. The Wardrobe and the Cadenza can’t ever even see or touch each other — it’s sad!" McDonald told THR. "They’ve all got loves and lives they’re missing, and they feel some culpability for why things have happened, so that makes the ending more emotional."

    Added Hoberman, "We wanted to add a character in an effort to make it our own. We went through a lot of ideas, and that particular one was Bill’s — and he really wanted to cast Audra McDonald in this movie!"

    The addition of Cadenza came in handy for the fight between the household staff and the angry villagers. As for McDonald, she loved being with Tucci on set: "The hardest thing about working with Stanley is that you can’t get anything done because he’s making you laugh all the time! I adore him."

  • A Mysterious Mother

    Another new character is Belle's mother, as the live-action movie explains that she died from the plague when Belle was very young. "The mom had to have died somehow," said Hoberman. "We went through many incarnations of ideas, but we also wanted to be truthful to the period. The plague seemed like a natural fit."

    The reveal occurs when the Beast shows Belle a magical book that lets them travel to anywhere in the world, and she wishes to see her childhood home in Paris with fresh eyes. The two then discover a beak-shaped plague mask, and Belle later reassures Maurice about the truth he was never able to discuss. Menken wrote the new song "How Does a Moment Last Forever" for the scene, complete with "very French" themes, he says.

  • A True Villain

    In the animated version, Gaston is a goofy egomaniac who pays off Monsieur D'Arque, the head of a local insane asylum, to pronounce Belle's father insane and lock him away, leaving Belle free to marry Gaston. But D'Arque's role in the wrongdoing is minimal in the retelling, as Gaston, played by Luke Evans, handles his evildoings against Maurice with his own two hands.

    "He does some truly villainous things in this, so you've gotta take him as a real, face-value villain, not just this goofy guy," explained Lieberman.

    It's a tweak that required lyrical changes in "The Mob Song," said composer Alan Menken, "because Bill wanted this sense of Gaston as a demagogue at that point," while LeFou questions his allegiance to Gaston.

    "Luke is such a strong performer — I remember looking at lots of different readings for the character and they all played it pretty broad," recalled Lieberman. "He's the only one who made the choice to play it real, and that grounded the entire villain plot."

  • A Beastly Ballad

    Unlike the animated classic, the new movie gives the Beast his musical moment. "It would've been perfect to have Beast sing in the animated [movie], but we just weren't able to find that moment in that particular medium," composer Alan Menken told THR. "But on Broadway and in the live-action film, it's essential that the Beast sing. See, the Beast is really the protagonist of the story, whose life has changed in the most dramatic way. [It] also ramps up everything for the end of the movie, when it's just action, action, action."

    Entitled "Evermore," the ballad takes place after the Beast lets Belle go, knowing that doing so means his curse will never be broken. Still, he sings that she remains with him: "Wasting in my lonely tower, waiting by an open door / I'll fool myself she'll walk right in, and be with me for evermore." Josh Groban sings another version on the soundtrack.