When the animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” was released in 1991, it became an instant classic. In fact, it was the first full-length animated feature in movie history to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and grossed over $400 million worldwide, truly sparking the modern-day renaissance in Disney animation.
Now, 25 years later, Disney is releasing a live-action version of the spectacular musical. Bringing to life some of the most remarkable moments in movie cartoon history – in particular, an utterly stunning recreation of the show-stopping musical number “Be Our Guest,” in which everything from candelabras to exquisite furniture comes to life – the new movie is an artistic triumph.
However, the new film has been dogged by controversy for the past couple of weeks, since its director Bill Condon said that it has “a nice, exclusively gay moment.” There has understandably been a lot of concern from Christian groups and parents as to what that connotes. I’ll get to a description of the scene and my thoughts on it in a moment.
The movie opens on an arrogant young man (Dan Stevens) getting primped for a lavish party. But when an elderly woman enters his castle during the festivities, seeking some refuge from a storm and offering a perfect red rose in exchange for the favor, the man denies her.
It turns out the woman is an enchantress, and she subjects him and the friends attending the party to a terrible curse, turning him into a beast and his friends — the grand bouteiller Lumiére (Ewan McGregor), his sweetheart Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw ), court composer Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci), the grand maitre Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), the head of the kitchen Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), her son Chip (Nathan Mack) and the maestro’s wife, opera singer Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald) – into household items.
Lumiére becomes a candelabra; Cogsworth a clock; Cadenza a harpsichord; Potts a teapot, and Chip a chipped tea cup. She then leaves the Beast with the red rose, warning him that he and his friends will be trapped in their current conditions forever if he cannot find true love with a woman before the last petal drops.
Years later in a small town, a young woman named Belle (Emma Watson) is more interested in books than boys. When a dumb hunk ex-soldier named Gaston (Luke Evans) attempts to woo her, she shoots him down, leaving him to be cheered up by his constant sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad).
Meanwhile, Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline), heads out on a journey, promising to return with a rose for Belle. Chased and nearly eaten by wolves, he races to presumed safety at a castle, only to find that it’s the beast’s home and that he is taken prisoner when he tries to leave with the rose.
Belle learns of his predicament and races to save her father, and winds up offering herself as a prisoner in exchange for him. Thus, an evolving relationship is born- one that goes from complete antipathy for each other to a blossoming romance, and one that is endangered when Gaston leads a horde of townspeople to try and slay the beast.
Director Bill Condon and his ace team of filmmakers and effects wizards do a fantastic job in transforming the imagery from animation to realistic life. They have also attempted to flesh out the storyline and the characters’ emotions more, with the addition of three new songs to the classic Oscar-winning score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman.
But the controversy over the “gay moment,” which one survey has found could drive 95 percent of “faith-driven consumers” (aka Christian conservatives) from seeing the movie, threatens to overshadow all of that. What it boils down to is that throughout the movie, Gaston’s sidekick LeFou is seen basically fawning over him without it being quite clear that there is more than friendship involved in his feelings. The comments he makes are played for subtle laughs, and should largely go over kids’ minds.
Yet in a final celebratory dance scene, LeFou is seen dancing at first with a woman amid a sea of male-female couples. When the couples all switch partners, another effeminate man who was briefly seen earlier in the movie spins into LeFou’s arms and they both smile at the camera for a split second before dancing off together into the crowd.
It’s basically about 20 seconds of the movie, though it does build on the several quick side comments and glances earlier in the film. The question that parents and other concerned viewers will have to decide for themselves is whether that quick moment and the general vibe of LeFou’s character should invalidate the rest of a film that is otherwise outstanding family entertainment.
In my opinion, it shouldn’t ruin the overall film for anyone. But there is the possibility that if a movie or TV show opens the door to troublesome content a little bit and succeeds financially, then the door keeps getting pushed over the years until blatantly immoral content is normalized.
In this case, I believe that the moment is so short and that the one gay couple are amid a sea of straight ones, thus making it highly unlikely that anyone will be propagandized or have a harmful moral result. I think the bigger shame would be to miss out one of the sweetest, and otherwise family-friendly, movies to come out in a long time.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.