Beauty and the Beast review: the shocking truth about Disney's 'pro-gay' movie
Beauty and the Beast, Disney: *****
It's all been a bit predictable. From the moment news emerged earlier this month that Beauty and the Beast featured Disney's first gay character, many Christians have been loudly vocalising their disapproval. There have been calls for Disney-boycotts from high-profile leaders including Franklin Graham; influential bloggers have talked of cancelling their planned holidays to Disneyworld, and various people have talked about the animation studio's worrying 'LGBT agenda'.
Of course, all of this commentary came before the film had even been released, stoked by a knowing interview given by director Bill Condon to gay lifestyle magazine Attitude. I hope he knew what he was doing when he told a journalist that the film featured 'Disney's first exclusively-gay moment'; it has certainly drawn out a response.
In watching the film however, it's hard to know what exactly Condon was referring to (it's a shame to have to start here, but the pre-movie hype kind of demands it). The 'gay' plot line in question involves pantomime villain Gaston, a narcissistic swashbuckler who is as straight as his trusty sword, and his sidekick LeFou, a man who has clearly bought the hype around his heroic leader. LeFou is obviously in love with Gaston, but also knows for certain that his feelings will always be unrequited. We learn this in a couple of longing glances, and the occasional line with a gentle double meaning. That's it. There's no kiss; there's no sense at all of a gay relationship. LeFou simply has homosexual feelings, because he's a homosexual man.
I saw the film with my 9-year-old daughter. She's very smart, and is also pretty good at picking up film subtext. From talking to her afterwards, it was clear that while she'd enjoyed the LeFou character, his sexuality hadn't even registered with her. She appeared to have absolutely no idea that there was anything 'different' or 'strange' about LeFou – the whole thing had gone over her head.
And of course it did, when everything else that was going on was far more interesting to her. Those who boycott Beauty and the Beast will miss out on a spectacular treat of a film. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens are superb in the leading roles, the former taking the extraordinary pressure of inhabiting a beloved character in her stride. At times it's almost a shot-for-shot remake of the 1991 animation, meaning you're constantly measuring Watson against Paige O'Hara's Belle. She's thankfully up to the task, as are a fabulous supporting cast including Ewan Macgregor (with the most knowingly dodgy accent ever), Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson, doing a fabulous Angela Lansbury impression in the film's central musical number.
The songs are the making of the film, and include all the favourites from the cartoon plus four originals. In every instance they deliver, from the raucous (and of course, slightly gay) 'Gaston', to the wonderfully overblown 'Be Our Guest', while Watson's vocals on the scene-setting 'Belle' are great… if thanks to a little bit of help from auto-tune. Fans of the original, of musicals, and of well-crafted family entertainment, should all be delighted.
Some Christians however, won't be. There's no getting away from the fact that the film suggests that some people are gay (there's even the briefest hint towards the end that LeFou might not even be the only one), and for some that's apparently an unacceptable idea to expose our children to. Having seen the film, I find this idea really worrying. What are we actually communicating to the rest of the world when we want to 'protect' our children from the idea that it's ok to be gay? Are we really saying that we're worried it might be contagious? That exposing a child to the legitimacy of same-sex attraction could somehow rewire their brains? If that is what we're saying, then not for the first time we find ourselves in conflict with popular science, and if it's not what we're saying, then Christian opponents of the movie are in serious danger of bigotry. What possible business to we have moralising to people who don't share our beliefs? We certainly don't find a mandate for that in the Bible.
Worryingly though, the Bible does have a few things to say about one of the other central ideas in the movie – a romantic relationship between a human and an animal. Exodus 22 v 19, Leviticus 18 v 23 and Deuteronomy 27 v 21 all suggest that anyone who has relations with an animal must be put to death – and this concept is much more central to the fantasy than the mild homosexual subplot. If we follow the logic of Franklin Graham and others, is Disney subtly trying to push a 'bestiality agenda' on to our children? There's certainly a lot more evidence for the fact. If you really want a reason to boycott the movie, the fact that Emma Watson seriously starts to fall for a big lion/dog/bear thing is your golden ticket.
Of course I'm being facetious to make a point – but please realise that this is exactly how ridiculous certain Christians currently appear to the watching world. And that's the real sickening truth about Beauty and the Beast – not that it contains a gay character, but that the Christian response to it is massively undermining the church's mission in 2017.
Perhaps Disney is trying to 'legitimise' homosexuality in this film, but it certainly isn't evangelistic about it. Among the hundreds of millions of young people who will see Beauty and the Beast, some will be in the process of realising that they are gay – and the fact that Disney is prepared to show this as normal might be good news for their mental health. We have got to get over the idea that being honest about the fact that some people are gay is damaging to the innocence of children; if we're going to start down that line, there are a host of much bigger things to be worried about: Internet pornography, smartphone addiction and all-pervading consumerism for starters.
The one saving grace is that not all Christians think like those who are calling for a boycott without even seeing the movie. The trouble is that the haters tend to shout loudest, and that means a challenge to the rest of us: to make clear to our friends and the rest of the watching world that we're not bigots, and that we don't oppose the very idea that there are gay people in the world. It doesn't matter what your theology is on the subject, Jesus calls us to love people, not divide, label or boycott them.