(Not everyone will agree with everything in this review, and that’s okay. I just want to give you the heads-up on the content so you can decide what’s right for your family. I’m going to tell you the facts, and my opinions on them.)
I love thematic consistency. I’m an English nerd at heart, so these things resonate with me. The new movie, Beauty and the Beast, is just like its main character–beautiful inside and out. Visually, the movie is sweeping and moody and gorgeous and monochromatic and colorful, all at just the right places. The cast is outstanding, and you’re going to love the end, when you get to see all the voice actors become human. The music is, of course, lovely and familiar. There’s some new music, too, and I think it works. Everything you love about the animated movie, you’re going to fall over for in the live-action movie.
But you’re probably not reading this so I can tell you all of that, so let’s get to it. What do you need to know before you plunk down your money for tickets?
The Gay Controversy
Beauty and the Beast found itself in the middle of a controversy after director Bill Condon commented that the Le Fou character has “a nice, exclusively gay moment” in the movie. This blew up. Lots of very vocal Christians were outraged, many demanding that the movie be boycotted. To say nothing of what was going in countries like Russia and Malaysia. So, should you be concerned?
Here’s what all you’ll find if you’re looking for LeFou’s sexuality. LeFou and Gaston have a close friendship, just like in the original. But by close, I don’t mean emotionally close, because let’s face it–it’s Gaston. He’s vain and selfish. Their closeness is the kind where, in high school, some goofball managed to make friends with the popular captain of the football team. So now he’s a lackey who fawns over the popular guy and thinks everything about him is great and tells him so. Because he’s afraid of being rejected by the cool guy. That’s the relationship between LeFou and Gaston.
It’s also common in movies to make the bootlicker very unmanly to heighten the brute machismo of the big guy. So, when LeFou is singing about Gaston, telling him all the time how great he is, and coming across as more effeminate, that’s what’s going on. Just like in the original. During the Gaston song, LeFou is dancing around and he ends a line with his back up against Gaston with Gaston’s arms around him, and asks, “Too much?” It’s for comic effect, not LeFou’s attempt to make a move.
Gaston asks LeFou why no woman has ever snatched him up. If Disney was out to make a big play, this would be the moment. But Le Fou answers that he has been told he’s “too clingy.” Given that his whole life is in service to Gaston’s whims and vanity, it’s funny. It sounds more like a funny way of saying that he needs to get a life than that he’s gay. Unless I’m not aware of some code, I’m not getting gay from “too clingy.” By the way, when Gaston can’t get Belle, LeFou tries to redirect him to the other women who swoon when they see him. (Earlier, he told the pining girls, “It’s never gonna happen.” I hardly think that was a “back off, he’s my man” move.)
I read one commentator who suggested that a conversation between LeFou and Mrs. Potts, where he says he and Gaston are “in a bad place,” and she says he can do better, is suggestively gay. I don’t get that. Why can’t it just be that LeFou deserves better treatment that how Gaston treats him? Again, unless there’s some code I don’t know about, this feels like we’re approaching rorschach territory. You can see what you want to see in it.
There’s a scene when the wardrobe attacks three men by spraying them with fabric, ribbon, wigs, and women’s clothes. Two are horrified, and one sashays happily away. It’s about two seconds. To me, it adds to a scene that is equally intense fighting and comedy. I don’t think it’s offensive any more than I think Timon in a grass skirt (The Lion King), Aladdin’s genie in a cheerleader uniform or harem costume, or Mulan in a male warrior’s gear are offensive. The reason is that in my reading, the biblical prohibition against cross-dressing isn’t about this.
Okay, so the “gay moment” comes at the very end during a ball. LeFou is dancing with a woman, they all change partners, and the man from the wardrobe scene (who’s now dressed as a man again) becomes his dancing partner. They don’t break into a passionate tango or start making out. They start dancing together for a few seconds before it goes to the next dancing partners, and the next, and so on.
I tried to find some pictures online to show you exactly what happens, but they aren’t up yet. Give it a few days, and I’ll bet they’ll be accessible through Google.
My Conclusion on That
Those are the facts about what happens in the movie, so it’s up to you to decide what’s right for your family. But in my opinion, an unromantic, comic dance embrace, calling himself “too clingy”, being able to do better, a man smiling in a dress, and two men briefly and unemotionally dancing together isn’t going to raise any flags or questions in kids’ minds. In fact, I don’t know what the conversation is in the gay community, but I’d be surprised if they’re confidently tagging any of this as a “gay moment.” It would seem weird that Disney would want to make a gay statement in this movie (because it’s an existing story, and the theme doesn’t lend itself), and this would be a lot of work to get there. I don’t buy it.
Here’s how I think this got overblown. Josh Gad, who plays LeFou, wanted to create some depth of character in his mind about LeFou. Actors do this all the time. They make up a backstory or motivations to make their characters more realistic. Faced with a character whose cartoon version was a full-on buffoon, Gad needed to dig a little deeper. And by the way, the script does a lot of the heavy lifting because this Gaston has an actual conscience and insight, neither of which Gaston possesses. So, sometimes, there are things about a character in the minds of the actors or writers that help them understand the characters, even if those things are never shared with the audience or reader. Remember when J.K. Rowling later said that Dumbledore was gay? This reminds me a lot of that.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
Besides the “gay moment” controversy, what else should parents know before taking their kiddos to see the movie?
It Can Be Scary and Intense
There are some scary scenes. Know this: This live-action version is definitely scarier and more intense in some scenes than the original animated version. There are two scenes with the wolves, and they are scary. The beast is supposed to be scary (and not just because his tattered cloak looks like he borrowed it from Grizabella in Cats!), and he is. The first time you see him, he’s sneaking up on Maurice, who is about to take a rose from Beast’s garden. First, you see his figure before Maurice does, and then when Maurice snaps off the rose, the Beast jumps down and roars at him. There’s a similar jump-scare when he saves Belle from the wolves. And when he fights with and fully roars at the wolves, it’s intense. The other kind of scary moment with his appearance is when Belle goes to save Maurice in the castle and meets Beast, she asks him to come into the light so she can see his face. It’s the first time you see him, so it’s startling.
Disney does a good job of bringing down the intensity of the villagers vs. the castle battle. Because it’s villagers fighting coat racks, candlesticks, saucers, etc., it’s mostly humorous. But…
Hate Shows Its Ugly Face
There’s some pretty nasty hate in the movie. Gaston is deeply, darkly selfish. Not only is he willing to tie up Maurice and hope the wolves kill him, then get LeFou to lie for him, but he’s also willing to have Maurice (and Belle!) carted off to some sketchy mental hospital for not complying. Yikes. And when he goes after Beast, he really goes after him. First, he whips the villagers into a frenzy by telling lies that feed on their fear, and then he uses several weapons to try to kill the Beast once he gets to the castle. He even shoots Beast more than once, and you see Beast fall. (Spoiler alert: Beast actually dies…but is brought back to life, obviously. Can yourkids handle that?) There’s not blood or gore, but the sentiment is very violent. That can be scary.
Here’s the good news about Gaston. Although he’s selfish, vain, arrogant, violent, disloyal, and cruel–he is clearly the bad guy. Anyone will walk away seeing that all of those negative qualities are what makes him bad, and not someone you want to be (or be friends with).
Other Potential Pings on Your Radar
For Christian parents, other elements in the movie that might hit your biblical radar include: magic (the kind that is clearly prohibited in Scripture), heavy drinking (the Gaston song scene is just one scene in the pub), and disrespecting your elders (Gaston turns on Maurice when he won’t let him marry Belle; this is the father of the woman he claims to love). Note that all of these were in the animated version, so no new content here. And do we really have to entertain discussions of beastiality? Does anyone seriously think that’s what’s going on here?
The one thing that you need to be aware of that was not in the original is that Beast refers twice to his (and everyone’s in the castle) condition as damnation. That’s not theologically correct, clearly, especially since he’s referring to a curse that came not from Eden, but from magic!
The Good Stuff
Now let me tell you what’s really good for your kids in the movie. The themes are appearance, true beauty, self-sacrifice, love, kindness, and independent thinking. Among others. Belle is an outstanding role model for little girls. She’s smart, assertive, loving, modest, family-focused, brave, independent (without disrespecting her father), teachable, hard-working, and insightful. Even though she knows she’s different, she’s not willing to stop being herself so townsfolk will treat her better. She has the right priorities, and she’s committed to them. She even has the chance to escape the Beast but doesn’t take it because it means leaving him to die from his wounds in the woods. Later, she actually rides in on a white horse (in the yellow dress, no less) to try to save her father!
The Beast is cursed because he was shallow and selfish. He has to learn to be unselfish to break the curse. Once he allows himself to change enough to love Belle, he really loves her. Enough to let her go, even though he’s sure she’ll never come back. Because it’s the right thing to do.
The characters in the castle have a sweet community among themselves. There are great friendships, family relationships, and love relationships. They remain hopeful and make the best of what is definitely a tough situation. They stick together. And they immediately welcome Belle into their community.
You’re also going to see racial diversity in the opening ball scene and in the people cursed in the castle. There are even mixed-race couples.
We get more backstory on Belle’s and Beast’s mothers. They are sad stories, one of which becomes the story of a committed and loving father, and the other of which becomes the story of a selfish and misguided father. Both are sad. Both characters have to deal with their personal histories and find a way to heal from them instead of being destroyed by them. At some point, we all have a sad story, so this is a good way to introduce that idea to kids.
Something else great about the movie is the dress. You know, the yellow one. They’ve updated it, and it’s dreamy…
To me, the thing you need to be wary of is the scary parts, which are short. But this is a deal-breaker for some kids. If that’s yours, just wait and see the movie in another year or two. For all the other stuff, it’s really a matter of conviction. I hope I’ve given you enough information to know what you should do for your family. If not, there’s something to be said for paying the money for a ticket to go preview it yourself before you take your kid(s) if they really want to see it.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this review, and on the movie. Let me know what you think in the Comments!