The story had initially been a parable to encourage women into learning to love their husbands they were made to marry by arranged marriage. Ever one to eschew source material for a more marketable story, Disney heavily reworked the story to give both of the title characters more of a sense of agency to the proceedings. Beauty became Belle, a strong, intelligent young woman who speaks for herself. The Beast becomes a vulnerable figure who lashes out in rage but opens up to kindness and eventually, love.
Rounding out the cast were a villain, Gaston, inspired by the character Avenant in Jean Cocteau's 1946 film adaptation of the story, and his sidekick, the buffoon LeFou. Belle has her father Maurice, her horse Philippe, and the Beast's castle is staffed with people who have been transformed into objects, most notably Lumiere the candelabra, Cogsworth the clock, Mrs. Potts the teapot, and Chip the childish teacup.
The movie became a hit and became the first and only animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. A couple of years later, a Broadway musical adaptation premiered, and a few direct to video midquels were released, telling more stories of Belle's time in the castle during the enchantment. Last week, Disney's live action/CGI remake was released.
LeFou's story in the new film has been rewritten. While still comedic, he is not such a buffoon, now clearly in love with Gaston, frustrated that Gaston goes after Belle. During the climax of the film when the villagers attack the castle, LeFou is pinned down and left behind by Gaston and decides to change sides, highlighted by saving Mrs. Potts when she falls. LeFou's story is one that many LGBT people know too well, loving someone who doesn't love you in return.
But the queer influence in Beauty and the Beast was already there. Howard Ashman was a gay man who had AIDS and died before the animated film was completed. And it's believed that the Beast's living under the enchantment became an allegory for living with AIDS.
Belle's love as a cure for AIDS might not be the easiest analogy, but the allegory really becomes strong in the third act when Belle reveals the existence of the Beast to the villagers. Despite her claim that the Beast is kind and gentle and her friend, the toxic male Gaston makes the baseless claim that "The Beast will make off with your children! He'll come after them in the night! ... I say we kill the Beast!" This launches "The Mob Song," in which the villagers give into fear, and inflate the believed threat the Beast poses, ending with the line, "And fifty Frenchmen can't be wrong," suggesting that as a majority, they must be right.
Substitute the idea of the Beast with the LGBT community, and the parallel draws itself. The Beast and his servants seek only to live peacefully and better their lives, but they're being made out to be a danger and being unfairly persecuted. (The new film makes it clear that the villagers would be the friends, family and neighbors of the staff if not for the curse.) One might even try to compare the raid on the Beast's castle to the Stonewall Riots.
Gaston's defeat is by the Beast having Gaston at his mercy but choosing to let him live, proving that he is not the monster he has been made out to be. Gaston, however, stabs the Beast in the back (a traditionally cowardly move), then loses his footing and falls to his presumed death. Perhaps this is hopeful thinking on Ashman's part when the allegory is considered.