It built its reputation on princesses finding their prince, living happily ever after in storylines which set the benchmark for romance for generations of children.

Now, Disney is to move firmly into a new era as it introduces its first "exclusively gay moment", disclosing the new version of Beauty and the Beast will star a manservant exploring his sexuality.

The live-action version of Beauty and the Beast is already on course to be the most thoroughly modern film of its kind, with star Emma Watson discussing how she made the role of Belle more feminist.

The team have now revealed one character, LeFou, will experience Disney's first ever "gay moment" on screen, as he struggles with his feelings for ultra-macho leading man Gaston.

Josh Gad as LeFou in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Photo / Disney
Josh Gad as LeFou in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast. Photo / Disney

In an interview with Attitude magazine, director Bill Condon said: "LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston.

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"He's confused about what he wants. It's somebody who's just realizing that he has these feelings.

"And Josh [Gad, who plays LeFou] makes something really subtle and delicious out of it.

"And that's what has its pay-off at the end, which I don't want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."

In the original 1991 animated film, LeFou is introduced as the hapless sidekick of Gaston, the swaggering ladies' man who hopes to woo Belle with a series of ill-judged seduction techniques.

LeFou is best-known to fans of the film for singing Gaston, a pub ditty aimed at cheering up the spurned hero.

With lines like "For there's no man in town half as manly / Perfect, a pure paragon", some forward-thinking fans had speculated there may be more to their relationship.

Their hopes will be confirmed when the new version is released in the UK on March 17.

It stars Watson as book-loving Belle, revamped in this version to be an inventor in her own right and wear riding boots instead of impractical ballet shoes.

The beast is played by Dan Stevens, best-known to British fans as Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey.

Sir Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson star as a clock and a teapot, while Luke Evans will play Gaston and Josh Gad takes the role of a LeFou.

A brief clip of the film released online on Tuesday shows a flamboyant Gad singing his ode to Gaston in a pink neck bow and winking at his drinking mates.

Attitude declares Beauty and the Beast "Disney's gayest film ever", with a "same-sex surprise" for fans.

It comes after years of pressure from some fans, who have petitioned for more represention of the LGBTQ community on screen.

Matt Cain, editor-in-chief of Attitude magazine, said: "It may have been a long time coming but this is a watershed moment for Disney.

"By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural - and this is a message that will be heard in every country of the world, even countries where it's still socially unacceptable or even illegal to be gay.

"It's only a first step towards creating a cinematic world that reflects the world in which many of us are now proud to live.

"But it's a step in the right direction and I applaud Disney for being brave enough to make it - and in doing so hopefully helping to change attitudes and bring about real social progress."

The new film, however, retain its central love story: the ostracised Belle and the cursed beast trapped in his castle and doomed to a life of loneliness.

Speaking of the film's central love story, and why Belle and the Beast eventually fall for one another, Stevens said: "It's about that sense of persecution.

"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."

Watson added: "'I think it was really important actually for Dan and I to develop and understand why each of our characters feel like they don't fit in.

"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."