I took the family to see the new Beauty and the Beast on opening day. My take? It’s a hot mess, but a good hot mess. It’s exactly what it intends to be: a cash cow and a tie-in machine aimed at the nostalgia crowd who wants to share a new Beauty and the Beast experience with their kids. Overall, I give it a three-and-a-half out of five.
There was one moment, though, when I just utterly lost it and nearly pissed an overpriced soda out of the leg of my jeans. It’s when it’s revealed that Gaston was in THE WAR. Not any specific war, mind you, just THE WAR. This is brought up twice more in the film; when Maurice calls Gaston “Captain” and when LeFou calms an angry Gaston by bringing up memories of battle.
A joke is never any better for having it explained, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway.
Gaston in the original movie — i.e., Disney's 1991 animated version — is definitely the villain, but contrasted with Luke Evans’s portrayal, he is largely an understandable villain. From Gaston’s perspective, all of his actions are perfectly logical, with his only baffling moment of true malevolence coming when he attempts to have Maurice committed. Even then, and even though Gaston makes it quite clear his reasons are to emotionally blackmail Belle after she humiliated him at their “wedding,” there’s never any indication Gaston doesn’t truly believe Maurice is mad. Then up comes Belle with proof that there’s an actual monster in a haunted castle just down the way, and he has every right to assume that the Beast is a danger, having already kidnapped two townspeople. That’s Gaston; a boorish, sexist pig with a hearing problem regarding the word “no” that defines himself as a hunter and town protector.
Evans’s Gaston is…less refined. His characterizations are far more transparently villainous, right down to leaving Maurice tied to a tree to be eaten by wolves. He even kicks mud at his three female admirers in a bizarre moment of petty scorn that you would never see in the animated version. The film has him doing everything but kicking a dog and saying the n-word to telegraph that he is the bad guy.
Which is why his being in THE WAR is so freakin’ hysterical.
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Assigning veteran status to male characters in literature is a classic tool of shoehorning depth into them. It’s often a tool of excusing away their negative qualities. There’s an old joke about it.
Male writer who?
War is hell
The thing about Beauty and the Beast, though, is its obsession with the concept of literature and reading. The breakthrough in Belle and Beast’s relationship comes from the gift of a library. In the original movie, Gaston’s initial move on Belle specifically involves him telling her to put down her book and focus on him instead. In the live-action update, Beast proves himself, in opposition to his animated counterpart, to be erudite and well-read, though he is somewhat scornful of his literacy. Point being, Belle herself would be well-aware of the trope.
Gaston's being in THE WAR, instead of making him human or relatable or sympathetic, is supposed to help explain why he is such a bastard. When LeFou is calming him down, he mentions blood and guts and newly widowed women, and Gaston responds with the kind of grin I flash when thinking about cheesecake. Gaston went to war because he’s an awful person who likes carnage and causing pain, not for any altruistic sense of duty or patriotism. It’s a complete subversion of the trope as it is used commonly in fiction, and I could not stop laughing the moment it was mentioned.