Spoilers ahead for Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration on ABC.
Beauty and the Beast stands as one of the most beloved and critically-acclaimed films from the Disney Renaissance after debuting in 1991 and going on to become the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. In honor of the original movie hitting its 30-year anniversary, ABC produced a special that combined live-action performances with animated sequences from the actual movie, with Grammy- and Academy Award-winning singer/songwriter H.E.R. playing Belle and Grammy/Tony/Emmy nominee Josh Groban as the Beast.
The songs were almost all from the original 1991 movie (with one coming from the 2017 live-action remake), and fans of the animated classic could spot some changes that ABC made to iconic musical numbers, like what The Little Mermaid Live did back in 2019. As a millennial who watched Beauty and the Beast many, many times in the ‘90s, I could basically speak the dialogue along with the 30th anniversary special’s cast and caught some big and some small changes. Keep reading for a breakdown of what changed and what remained true to the original tale as old as time!
The prologue that revealed the Beast’s backstory and set up the love story was musically almost identical to the one from the 1991 movie, but the presentation could hardly be more different. The lyrics were accompanied by live-action performers acting out what was being said, complete with an ensemble of dancers, a pre-Beast version of the prince, and the Old Beggar Woman-turned-Beautiful Enchantress. While the stained glass version worked well in animation, the choreography set the 30th anniversary special up as a stage musical as much as a movie. (Beauty and the Beast actually did become a stage musical that has run off and on since 1993.)
Visually, ABC's “Belle” was never going to perfectly recreate a little French town on the Disney lot, but the lyrics were almost entirely unchanged, with the only important exception being the bookshop owner being played by a “madame” instead of a “sir,” with that “madame” actually portrayed by original voice actress Paige O’Hara. H.E.R. made it clear that she could make Belle her own, and I was convinced by Joshua Henry as Gaston from his first note in this song. Throw in paper-eating sheep played by adorable children and composer Alan Menken playing the piano, and it was a fun number!
The reprise of “Belle” was the first musical number of the production with major departures from the 1991 film. While Belle did go into a meadow to sing about her hopes and dreams as expected in the special, she was joined by a bunch of other women and girls in similar costumes for a dance number. It was a change better fit for a stage musical than a movie or TV show, but I took it as a representation of how many people the character has impacted over 30+ years. Plus, it ended with H.E.R. on the ukulele, which definitely was new!
Now, I know that Gaston is pretty scary as a Disney villain who could actually exist in real life as opposed to an evil lion acting out Hamlet, but he gets some of Beauty and the Beast’s catchiest songs, and his first was lyrically unchanged from the movie. Joshua Henry was an ideal Gaston from the jump, and Rizwan Manji showed off his version of LeFou in “Gaston.” Surprisingly, one of the most elaborate numbers from the movie not involving magical furniture was pretty perfectly translated to live-action. Plus, it’s not every production that can add a Broadway-worthy dance break to a song and make it better, but the 30th anniversary special pulled it off!
Again, I know that Gaston is the bad guy and concocts a pretty despicable plan in “Gaston (Reprise)” with his plot to have Maurice imprisoned so that Belle will marry him, but this song is such a self-aware villain number that it’s half evil and half funny. It’s bigger and campier in the ABC production than it was in the animated movie, with a bit of slapstick that wasn’t originally there. It wasn't quite as much fun as "Gaston," but since the characters just don't seem actually dangerous yet, Gaston and LeFou harmonizing on “No one plots like Gaston, takes cheap shots like Gaston” never fails to make me laugh.
"Be Our Guest"
If you want an elaborate number that does involve magical furniture, look no further than “Be Our Guest,” with Martin Short as Lumiere the candelabra! To the 30th anniversary special’s credit, it didn’t just fall back on using the animation and skipping a live-action version of this altogether. Obviously, it had to be much smaller-scale than the 1991 movie that didn’t have to worry about pesky things like gravity and inanimate objects, but between the costuming, choreography, and directing, it was a fun number. Again, this was perfectly suited for a stage musical, but didn’t pack as much of a punch as in animation.
“Something There” once again brought out some adorable children to play animals, and that’s hardly the only change. The lyrics that were the internal monologues of Belle and the Beast in the film were sung out loud, and this was the song that really showed the mismatch of having an expressive Belle opposite played by H.E.R. opposite an expressionless Beast mask. Josh Groban’s face peeked out from under the Beast’s ribcage from time to time, and the singing was great, but this love song would have worked better to sell a romance if the Beast was actually anthropomorphic like the movie. The lyrics remained the same, though!
"Beauty And The Beast"
Adapting “Beauty and the Beast” was bound to be tricky, with Shania Twain replacing the late Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts to recreate an absolutely iconic scene from the Disney pantheon. After “Something There,” I was nervous about watching H.E.R. try to dance with a partner who couldn't show any emotion. Ultimately, I liked that the ABC special just showed the scene from the movie on a screen behind Shania Twain singing, with Alan Menken playing the piano next to her. The tribute to Angela Lansbury at the end was a lovely touch, with the lyrics staying the same. And I didn’t have to watch Josh Groban try to waltz in his Beast costume!
"The Mob Song"
Gaston’s third song is much scarier than the first two! The villain riles the French villagers into a murderous frenzy in “The Mob Song,” and I wondered going in if ABC was going to soften lyrics like “We’re not safe until his head is mounted on my wall” and “Kill the Beast!” for broadcast. Those remained as originally written, but production changed the rather gruesome line of “We’ll lay siege to the castle and bring back his head!” by cutting the line short at “castle.” Notably, that line is included in the soundtrack currently available on Spotify, so Joshua Henry did record it.
LeFou has more to say and is campier in the ABC special as opposed to the movie, and I think that I might be physically incapable of saying anything negative about Joshua Henry as Gaston. He was very good at being very bad, and seemed to be having fun with his cape. The special also includes women in the murderous mob marching to the castle in a departure from the film, but keeps the “save your children and your wives” and "fifty Frenchmen can't be wrong" lines.
Beauty And The Beast (Reprise)
“Beauty and the Beast (Reprise)” definitely had the most changes from the movie to the special. A chorus sang the reprise in animation while Belle and her now-human prince danced, whereas H.E.R. donned a version of Belle’s famous yellow dress and walked up to a microphone to sing with a maskless John Groban for a duet. Then, all bets were off when H.E.R. left the stage and came back playing the electric guitar! The rest of the cast came out for a final bow, and it was a completely nontraditional Beauty and the Beast ending that nevertheless worked for what this production was.
Honorable Mention: "Evermore"
There was one other song in the ABC production that I didn’t mention here, and that’s because this was a special celebrating the 30th anniversary of the original and not the fifth anniversary of the live-action version starring Dan Stevens and Emma Watson. “Evermore” came from the 2017 live-action movie. Still, Josh Groban sang it for viewers tuning in to this special, and I’d say that it was a great addition even though it wasn’t part of the original.
If you missed the special when it aired on December 15 on ABC, you can find Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration streaming with a Disney+ subscription. The original film and 2017 live-action remark can be found on the Disney streamer as well!
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Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).