As her name suggests, Belle is indeed lovely. She’s also sweet, kind, gentle and as bright as the stars on a moonless night. She adores her father. And she simply loves to read good books and dreams of being part of the adventures those printed pages depict.
There’s only one problem: Belle’s long list of terrific character qualities make her something of a misfit in her little provincial town. In fact, the townspeople see her as flat-out peculiar. Why would anyone bother with all that reading and dreaming and the like, they say, when she could just settle down and be happy? Or at least make some guy happy?
Like Gaston, for instance.
Gaston is a lantern-jawed brute who’s regularly fawned over by all the other young women in town. And in his mind, deservedly so. Why, just look at his smile, those muscles, those twinkling eyes. Even Gaston’s old army companion, LeFou, can’t help but sing Gaston’s praises. And he’s a guy.
Of course, the most handsome and desirable man in town naturally gravitates toward the most beautiful and desirable woman. And that would be Belle. Gaston is determined to take her as his wife. And once they’re married, well, he’ll cure Belle of her passion for reading and dreaming and all that silly stuff. Belle, however, isn’t interested. She’d rather care for her loving Papa, the town’s clocksmith, and wait to see what possibilities the future might hold for her rather than take up with an empty-headed lug like Gaston.
But none of that matters much, it would seem, in light of recent events. While her father was off trying to sell his mechanical devices in the nearest city, some wickedness must have befallen him: His horse returned without him.
In a panic, Belle goads Papa’s old-but-smart horse to take her to her father, wherever he may be. And the animal carries her to the gates of a gloomy, obviously forgotten castle. What could have happened to this overgrown old place? And why doesn’t anyone in the village even know it’s there?
Inside the strange, crumbling fortress she finds a cell. And inside that cell she finds her father. “Go away, Belle!” the old gent cries. “Forget about me. I’m lost to you.” But Belle could never just walk away from her beloved Papa. “Everything I am is because of you,” she tells him.
Besides, it’s too late.
The surly owner of this enchanted castle has heard the commotion and storms into the shadow-cloaked dungeon. With bared teeth and an angry roar, he makes the facts clear: Papa has trespassed and unwisely tried to pluck a rose from his property, and a price must be paid. If Belle wants to take his place, so be it. But someone will be the lifelong prisoner of … the Beast!
The Beast, it turns out, is a cursed prince who must find someone to love him in his current monster-like form in order to break the spell condemning him to that state. Of course, Belle doesn’t know any of that. She simply shows great love and bravery in her willingness to take her father’s place. She is willing to set all her dreams aside to insure her father’s well-being and freedom. (And her father is willing to do the same for his daughter.)
Over time, Belle’s heroic, sacrificial character impacts all the residents of the castle—including a talking candlestick, a clock and a teapot, among others. These formerly human servants all work diligently to serve their furry prince and to find a way to break the curse on the castle, because their fate is directly linked to his. Belle’s presence also positively impacts the Beast, who moves from constant rage and selfishness to humility and kindness.
Eventually, the Beast realizes just how much he loves Belle. He even goes so far as to set her free so she can aid her father—even though that means he’ll likely remain alone and permanently cursed. The Beast also defends Belle from a pack of attacking wolves, becoming badly wounded in the process. And he spares an enemy rather than letting him die.
A disguised enchantress turns the handsome (and arrogant) young prince into a beast until he can learn to love and be loved in return. We see a rose’s petals, linked to her spell, slowly drop away as time runs out for the Beast. That magic also impacts the castle’s servants, turning them into animated furniture and household items. A magical book transports Belle and the Beast to Paris. And magic plays yet another important role in the film’s conclusion.
Twice, the Beast uses strong spiritual language to describe his condition. Once, he says of his fate, “I received eternal damnation.” The second time, he scolds Belle for getting too close to that magical rose, saying, “Do you realize what you could have done? You could have damned us all.”
Much has been made of director Bill Condon’s interview with the UK magazine Attitude, in which he spoke of one character’s “exclusively gay moment.”
“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston,” Condon said. “He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And [actor] Josh [Gad] 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.”
All of that begs an obvious question for parents concerned about this content: How is LeFou actually depicted in the film?
LeFou displays mannerisms and adoring looks at Gaston that clearly suggest he has same-sex attraction for his longtime friend. That attraction is more implied than expressed explicitly, but it’s definitely present in innuendo-laden bits of dialogue in several conversations. (Gaston, for his part, seems oblivious to his friend’s infatuation with him.)
LeFou is obviously envious of Gaston’s female-focused attentions. LeFou frowns at fawning females and tells them, “It ain’t gonna happen,” when they try to get Gaston to notice their feminine attributes. There’s also a moment when Gaston tells his friend, “LeFou, you’re the greatest. I can’t understand why some girl hasn’t snatched you up by now.” LeFou responds, “I’ve been told I’m clingy. But I really don’t get it.”
Another scene finds Gaston starring narcissistically into a mirror, telling himself, “I’m not done with you yet.” LeFou, watching from a distance, adds, “Me neither.” Eventually, LeFou tires of Gaston’s self-absorption, telling another character, “I used to be on Gaston’s side. We are so in a bad place right now.” She responds, “You’re too good for him anyway.”
Despite the director’s talk of LeFou’s desire to kiss Gaston, we never see anything to that effect. The most questionable touching we see between the two soldier friends is a choreographed segment in the song “Gaston” where, while singing Gaston’s praises, LeFou wraps his friend’s arms around himself and then nervously asks, “Too much?” To which Gaston says, “Yep.” Then they dance on.
LeFou also says that he and Gaston were recently wrestling and that Gaston bit him, after which he raises his shirt up to show a ring of bite marks on his stomach.
Later on, two things happen: During the villager’s raid on the Beast’s cursed castle, the enchanted castle servants fight back against the invading humans. A magically animated wardrobe spits out reams of fabric at three henchmen, effectively dressing them all in women’s gowns, wigs and garish makeup. Two of the guys look at themselves in horror and run away, while the last one primps and preens proudly while smiling at the camera. Near the conclusion, LeFou is dancing with a woman in a crowd, then in a quick move gets matched up with the above-mentioned, dress-loving henchman for a brief dance—which is apparently the “exclusively gay moment” that Condon was referring to in his interview.
During the opening musical number, the local butcher eyes a pretty customer approvingly. She raises an eyebrow and asks him, “How’s your wife?” Three young women in tight dresses with plunging necklines repeatedly swoon over Gaston. Some of Belle’s outfits reveal a bit of cleavage, too. Lumière the candlestick and a French maid feather duster become human and kiss. And the animated wardrobe and a piano regain their humanity and share a kiss, too. Finally, Belle and the now-human prince share a kiss as well.
There are several dangerous and perilous moments throughout the film. They’re not bloody, but they are perhaps a notch or two more intense than the animated version. Sensitive young viewers might find them to be too much.
For instance, wolves attack Belle, Papa and the Beast at different times, leaping and snapping at them with sharp fangs. Papa’s horse is bitten. Likewise, Beast receives a savage bite on the shoulder during his tumbling battle with the wolf pack; that wound eventually causes him to crumple over, unconscious.
Upon learning of the Beast, Gaston vows to kill him. He incites a mob of angry townspeople to march on the castle with clubs and pitchforks. A fight breaks out between the human attackers and the anthropomorphized furniture. The townspeople are battered and beaten back—burned, jabbed, thumped and smashed.
Later, the Beast battles an attacker in a vicious battle. The two pound each other with fists, claws and clubs. The Beast is ultimately shot three times (bloodlessly). The attacker falls to his apparent death in a deep chasm. And the Beast collapses to the rooftop and appears near death.
Elsewhere, Belle learns her mother died from the plague. (A flashback shows the woman with nasty sores on her face.) Gaston, knocks out Papa and ties him to a tree, intending him to be attacked by wolves.
Gaston meanly calls a woman a “filthy hag.” We also hear people called “idiots.”
The local pub has bottles of alcohol on its shelves. Patrons drink from flagons of beer. Some glasses at meals could contain wine.
Gaston lies repeatedly to cover his misdeeds and convinces LeFou to lie, too. Some townspeople meanly dump Belle’s laundry into the street because she starts teaching a young girl to read.
This live-action rejuvenation of Disney’s classic 1991 animated musical is in many respects a thing of sumptuous beauty. In fact, some of the scenes in this new Beauty and the Beast—such as the famous welcome-to-the-feast number, “Be Our Guest”—are nothing short of magical. On top of that, this fairy tale fantasy’s encouragements to choose kindness and compassion, and to look beyond surface beauty, all ring as clear and true as a, uh, Belle.
That’s the good news here.
But then there’s all that other stuff that we have to deal with as well. What are we to make of director Bill Condon’s claims that his Beauty and the Beast features Disney’s first “gay moment” (as described above)?
Adults will likely notice the film’s obvious homosexual innuendos and recognize them for what they are. But will kids? In a different, more innocent time, I wonder if these scenes would have been viewed by youngsters as little more than silliness. Alas, however, we live in this activist age. A day when actors and directors and studios feel it necessary to insert such things in an attempt to normalize and elevate certain sexual choices. And, unfortunately, they’ve chosen to do so this time in a movie aimed at children.
Both director Bill Condon and actor Josh Gad seem to be trying to walk back their comments about this deliberate, pro-homosexual agenda—perhaps in light of calls from some prominent Christians to boycott it. Gad told USA Today, “Too much has probably been made of this entire thing. At a certain point what I want to be talking about is how wonderful, how entertaining, how amazing this movie is for all audiences.” Likewise, Condon told screencrush.com, “It’s all been overblown,” and then added, “Why is it a big deal?”
But the fact that Condon doesn’t understand why this could be such a big deal to many who don’t believe homosexuality is normative is telling indeed. The result? Families that don’t embrace Beauty and the Beast’s pro-gay moments will be forced to grapple with how best to respond to them. And for those who were looking forward to revisiting this beloved tale as old as time with a younger generation, that’s a disappointing and difficult decision to have to make.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.