A big change came to one of the main characters in the live action remake to Disney’s breakthrough animated feature, Beauty and the Beast. No, I’m not just talking about making LeFou gay, I’m also talking about making him “good” too. In the remake to the film, LeFou isn’t the soulless sycophant he is in the original, but rather a confused gay man with a crush on the wrong guy. While this is progress in terms of gay representation, I can’t help but feel like something was loss in the rehabilitation of one of Disney’s most subtly despicable bad guys.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first since this is a common misconception about the character: LeFou wasn’t gay in the original film, or even implied as such. I understand where that impression comes from, since most of our exposure to him comes through in the film’s songs, and in them he’s obsessively complimentary towards Gaston. Removed from the context of the film’s story, that could come across as homoerotic. The truth is though, LeFou’s pathetic fanaticism towards Gaston is just typical sycophant behaviour. He is the sucker fish that has attached himself to the village shark to improve his own status. He’s small,weak, and ugly, so he latches onto Gaston to elevate his position in society. He gawks at women who have no interest in him (the adorably named Bimbettes), and he gets pushed around in bars, but he gets to hang out with the most admired man in town, and all he has to do is heap empty praise on him at every opportunity. Not a great life, but it’s probably what people like him think is the best they can do considering their disadvantages.
An interesting thing here though, is that it’s implied in the movie that LeFou does not have as much respect for Gaston as it would seem, and that he’s actually a lot smarter than him too (not that this says much to be fair). He mocks him subtly and overtly throughout the film, and when the time came for the plan to send Belle’s father to the asylum, it is LeFou who tricks him into “outing” himself as a crazy person. This reveals another side to the character, in that he’s fairly evil himself. This fact, more so than his sexuality, is the main difference between both versions of his character.
The thing about LeFou’s portrayal in the upcoming remake is that it’s meant to be sympathetic. He’s a conflicted queer guy who lets his confusing feelings lead him astray, and while that’s an interesting story to tell for a Disney character, that wasn’t what the story of LeFou and Gaston was supposed to be about. They’re two sides of a dysfunctional relationship that so many men have in real life. Men with the inclination to destroy things and the “friends” who enable their worst instincts just for their own social power. Remember, the Beast was once a prideful blowhard just like Gaston, but an
evil witch enchantress turning him into a beast, and a staff full of well meaning people, tempered his worst instincts. The same can’t be said of Gaston, who never got a reality check from his echo chamber of selfish fawners led by LeFou. A big point of Beauty and the Beast is the idea that people who care about you can see you more clearly than you see yourself, and that maybe you should trust them. Gaston and LeFou are kind of the twisted mirror of that lesson, since everyone sees Gaston as this awesome guy when he’s actually this deeply insecure man child, and no one is talking to him about it because they don’t actually care about him as a person. It’s all superficial, which ties into this film’s overall theme of superficiality vs. deep connections.
I think it’s crazy that Disney hasn’t really had an out gay character in its films before this live action LeFou (and some reports indicate his “gayness” was heavily overblown), but I think an element was missed in the story of Beauty and the Beast when the remake changed its villains from a portrait of the destructive potential of the unchecked male ego, into the kind of story you’d see in a teen drama featuring highschoolers who are just figuring themselves out. It’s interesting in its own right, but it misses the point of what the original film was going for. I’m usually not one to bag on remakes and the changes they make to the source material, but there’s a reason the original Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film ever to get nominated for Best Picture. There’s a lot of things it got right, not just about story telling, but about people. If you’re gonna make meaningful changes to a story, it shouldn’t mess with the key themes it was trying to convey.
Quote of the Day:
“So you want me to throw her father into the asylum, unless she agrees to marry you…? Ohhh that is despicable…(Evil Laugh) I love it!”
Monsieur D’Arque, Beauty and the Beast.