I’ve had a complicated, lifelong relationship with Gaston, beginning when I first saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) when I was five years old and culminating two weeks ago when I saw Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (2017) at age twenty-nine (though, realistically, four days off thirty). And when I say ‘culminating,’ I mean burdening everyone within a twelve foot proximity of me with Gaston related diatribes.
It was suggested to me (by me, in a caffeine fugue, though very earnestly supported by one of my long-suffering casuals who had at this point heard my rant four times in five hours) that I channel these feelings in a healthier way, i.e. away from the innocent, Disney loving youths in my shop and towards the void of the internet.
So here we are, internet. You and me and my Thoughts and Feelings on Gaston. Let’s begin at the logical point:
Why The Crap Do I Love A Boil like Gaston?
Because he’s especially good at expectorating. Because he uses the word ‘expectorating’ in one of the greatest scenes in Disney movie history, which is an impressive feat given that Beauty and the Beast (1991) is arguably (probably, definitely) the most technically amazing and objectively great* Disney movie (though will accept arguments for Moana and Mulan, and possibly The Little Mermaid if you want to pander to my specific interests of shaggy dogs, dudes in capes and mermaids). Because he is, flanked by Claude Frollo and Ursula, the (combination) greatest, scariest, funniest and most realistic Disney Villain of all time.
*A note before we go on: like all of my ramblings, all of my statements are pure opinion and based on utterly no research, and almost all of my absolutes are hyperbolic. But that one is accurate. Beauty and the Beast is technically brilliant. Not a single beat in this movie is wasted and it gets around what would usually be tedious and cringe worthy exposition by leaning wholeheartedly into being a proper musical. Not a movie with songs. A musical. It’s not my favourite Disney movie, but it’s the most well done.
The Villain We Deserve
In hindsight, Gaston was something of a left-field villain for the time, more along the lines of what they tried (and failed miserably – don’t @ me, that movie is a (thoroughly enjoyable) mess – to do with Hans in Frozen). As the angstier parts of the internet like to point out, Gaston could (not should, could) have been the hero of this story: a handsome man, well respected by everyone in the village, tries to rescue the woman he loves from imprisonment by a hideous beast.
Which is nonsense, because Gaston doesn’t love Belle, Belle repeatedly tells him she wants absolutely nothing to do with him, and Belle isn’t imprisoned at that point anyway. You are wrong, angsty internet. Draco Malfoy isn’t a nice boy, either, while we’re at it.
Anyway, what we have here is an ‘alpha’ male (I hate that term and concept, but it serves here), who isn’t mentioned as being powerful by any actual official means. The village has no elected or inherited leaders, as far as we’re told. Gaston has no title or position, no family to speak of, and he’s not mentioned as being wealthy (though he has some coins to splash and a say in the pub, so it could be argued as being implied), so in canon he has no prestige worth noting bar being ‘a handsome fella.’ From this we can surmise that Gaston is just a dude in town who everyone listens to because he’s handsome, charismatic, confident, a sick interior designer and looks really good when his hair is wet.
Which is interesting when you compare him to the other Disney villains up to and around that point. In every example, male or female, villains are seeking to take or hold a seat of power. The Evil Queen wants to stay the queen, Maleficent wants to take revenge and the kingdom, Ursula wants to take revenge and the kingdom, Jafar wants to take the kingdom, Scar wants to…
You get my point.
Of the male villains, we have a definite sense of the ‘other.’ Jafar and Scar are thin, heavy lidded, queer-coded (the trope of giving a character – usually an antagonist – traits and characteristics reminiscent of gay stereotypes while not being explicitly defined as being an LGBTQ* character). They are emasculate and subtle, classic movie villains. Captain Hook is a blatant coward, and portrayed as being unattractive despite his vanity, and mocked and pandered to by his crew. A classic comedic villain, almost pantomime in delivery.
Gaston, by comparison, is masculine in the extreme. He is vain, but understandably so. He is talented, brave, a known cheat at every game he plays but seen as a lovable rogue for it.
He’s also abusive, manipulative and misogynistic. And these are traits that, here, are explicitly portrayed as being both highly masculine*, and undesirable.
[Obligatory note that abuse and manipulation are not masculine by nature, but in Beauty and the Beast 1991 we are shown masculine forms of them, in that they are exhibited by a man celebrated for his supreme masculinity.]
But Gaston isn’t just an evil fairytale bogeyman. He isn’t the evil advisor trying to take the throne. He isn’t the wicked stepmother trying to get her daughters married to the prince before he sees the beautiful Cinderella. He isn’t someone we see in fiction and kind of liken to people we see in the real world. He is someone we see in the real world. He’s every single attractive, well-liked man who survives and, too often, flourishes after allegations of violence, assault and abuse. He is an athlete, he is a politician, he is a celebtity. He’s a boss, he’s a boyfriend, he’s a son.
Usually, we read about his achievements. We hear about what a great guy he is. We see, in a small paragraph, what he is accused of. We hear his defenders, and later, we read him recognised for another achievement, and we see the world forget.
But Gaston is the villain of Beauty and the Beast, a character who doesn’t exist in any form in the original fairytale, invented for children of the early nineties, a privileged man who doesn’t survive his attempts to control and manipulate Belle into a horrible marriage.
Gaston is the best Disney villain because he’s real, and he’s likeable, and he’s terrifying. And because it’s so satisfying when he loses.
So What Did I Think About The Live Action Gaston?
To put it as succinctly as I can, I enjoyed the performance (mostly) and hated the writing.
But succinct is neither a word or concept I like to use on my blog, so let’s start with five minutes of screeching and follow it with the following statement:
They completely watered him down.
Gaston in 2017 is an idiot. He is Gaston at half volume, all the vanity and confidence without much of the charm and none of the manipulation or calculation. A man who can’t think as opposed to a man who prefers not to. A man who went to war and really liked the part with the killing and the shagging and came home a hero, which could have been an interesting element if they’d played it for anything but comedy, but they didn’t.
Gaston 1991 has a clear thought process. Let’s tell the story from his perspective.
He sees a woman he wants, because she’s as beautiful as he is. She ignores him, which is confusing, but Gaston ticks all the boxes a man should and therefore she’s just playing hard to get – or doesn’t know what she wants. Which makes sense, she is a woman. But she rejects him again, flat out, in public. Which is humiliating. In cold fury, he swears to have Belle. Having Belle is now a matter of pride and revenge. (End of Act One)
The entire village, despite seeing his humiliation, pitches in to help him see what a top specimen of manhood he is. They still love him. He’s still their favourite guy. The one person he knows Belle cares for enters his domain in a panic with stories about a monster. His initial, hotheaded reaction is to throw him out for a laugh, but he hatches a longer term plan: to imprison Belle’s father and manipulate her into agreeing to marry him. (End of Act Two)
But when Belle returns, she rejects him – publically – again. And worse, she rejects him for someone bigger, stronger, hairier, possessing every single physical trait Gaston values and every emotional trait he considers a weakness: kindness, gentleness, friendship. Gaston is furious. He no longer wants Belle, even to prove a point. He wants vengeance. He wants proof of his superiority. He locks Belle away, to be sent to the asylum the second he gets home (a woman who doesn’t want him is crazy, after all, which can come at no cost to his reputation or esteem) and artfully – and purposefully – plays on the fears of the village to roil them into a mob. When he finds the Beast, submissive, back turned, waiting to die, he’s disgusted and triumphant, shooting the Beast in the back. Gloating in his perceived and easy victory, rubbing salt in the wound. Belle is his, how could she want you when she had someone like me? But Belle comes back and chooses the Beast again. Again. And without any effort at all, Gaston is overpowered and emasculated, made to beg for his life. Everything he holds valuable has been stripped of him. And Belle and the Beast don’t even care. Belle doesn’t so much as look at him. The Beast turns his back on him. Gaston is nothing if he leaves now. So he stabs the beast in the back, killing him. He has his revenge, for a moment, and then he dies. Killed, in Disney tradition, by his own lust for power.
It’s a personal trajectory I can get behind, because I can see the motivation in each of his decisions. The only beat in Gaston’s story that makes me cringe from a storytelling perspective is the whole arranging a wedding without asking the bride first, which I was very okay with losing in the live action. But there was no replacement beat, and it threw off his whole character journey.
Of all the new scenes, Gaston and LeFou’s felt the most rejigged, in that they didn’t correlate to the feel or tone of the original. You could argue that my dislike of them comes down to ‘Ceinwen Langley Hates New Things,’ but you would be wrong, because Ceinwen Langley very much likes new Star Wars and new shoes. The news scenes felt jarring, and they didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
Now, I’ve only seen Beauty and the Beast 2017 once, so my memory is a little fuzzy, but here is what I can glean of Gaston 2017’s journey. Whose wardrobe they got confused with Captain Hook’s.Yo ho.
After deciding to woo and marry Belle, Gaston points out that spinsters in the village are gross and nobody likes them (no offense, Agatha), gets rejected on her doorstep with nobody watching, and then is a bit sad. His creepy best friend(?) shoulder massages him into a rollicking tribute to his greatness and everyone joins in, reminding Gaston that everyone loves him because He Is A Handsome Man Who Is Good At Man Things. They don’t know why they’re cheering up Gaston, but they’re up for it because every last inch of him’s allegedly covered in hair, which is a claim I question in live action, but okay. Belle’s father enters, raving about a monster, and Gaston goes off with him to… it’s a bit of a cliffhanger. (End of Act One, sort of?)
Gaston and LeFou help Belle’s father look for her, because this is a good way to grease him up to get him onside in the whole Belle marrying him thing. But then Gaston gets cold and bored, and after a bit of an argument it comes out that there’s no way American Kevin Kline will support this bid for his imprisoned English daughter’s hand. So Gaston ties him up and leaves him to be eaten by wolves and goes home because a dead father is better than an interfering one. But also Belle is confirmed missing and that’s… fine? Did he think she’d gone home? How did this factor into the grand plan? Anyway. (End of Act Two maybe.)
Gaston is accused of trying to murder Belle’s father by wolf and the village considers this because Gaston seems to be less respected in this version despite them all singing about how great he was the day before. He seduces his small, guilty friend into attesting to his innocence, and they worm their way out of it by calling Belle’s father crazy, and by happy accident they’re taking him to the asylum when Belle comes back! Yay! Did everyone just… not care that the hottest girl in the village disappear? No? I mean, they didn’t in the other version either, but they’ve made such a point of explaining the backstory that it seems weirder here. Anyway, Belle rejects Gaston in public for the first time! And she does it for a Beast! And Gaston looks stroppy about it, and we lurch into the same general ending as the animated version except Gaston has a gun instead of a bow or hunting knife and he dies because he’s on a bridge what falls down.
This is a biased and forgetful retelling, I know. But Gaston 2017 wasn’t frightening. He wasn’t a villain I recognised from the real world, he was a villain I recognised from formulaic movies: a character built around strong set pieces from an earlier draft, existing only because he’s expected to.
Which is disappointing in a film adaptation of Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast, but more disappointing in an opportunity lost. Gaston recognises that not all villains look like villains, that they can be your hero or other people’s heroes, and that someone trying to own you is not someone who loves you. These are important lessons for all of us, as important as beauty being skin deep (unless you’re a woman, in which case your name is literally Beauty and it’s all anyone will really say about you).
Gaston 2017 teaches us to keep dodging that annoying old guy in the market. A valid lesson, but sort of… less interesting. And also that beauty is only skin deep, unless you’re a woman, in which case your name is lit
Side note, why was Gaston so much OLDER than Belle? He could have been old and manipulative for a WHOLE NEW level of scary, but no. Old and dumb as a brick but making hot headed, bizarre, disastrous decisions that…
I guess he is a relevant villain after all.
Did You Actually Like The New Movie At All?
Yes. I enjoyed it a lot when I was watching it. But also the more I think about it, and the more I hear the full soundtrack at work (every two and a half hours), no. Emma Watson can’t sing well (she can sing adequately, which is not good enough for a musical film) and all of the joyous hustle and bustle of every chorus number is gone. All the animate objects lost 90% of their physical personality and despite having amazing actors the voice acting couldn’t make up for it, and EVERYTHING ABOUT LEFOU HOLY MOTHER OF AWFUL NONSENICAL SCRIPTING. Also I somehow hate English accents after this movie.
Pretty dresses, though. I liked that you could always see Belle’s bloomers. I liked that they leaned into the musical thing with even MORE songs. I liked what they did with the Beast’s character and that they gave him and Belle more in common than proximity. I like that they addressed why they were having a ball in an abandoned imprisonment castle, and I like that the Beast was such a dork about it. I like that they tried to make Beauty and the Beast more of a story about Belle, which it never really was in the 1991 version, even though I think they mostly failed. I liked the new library scene better than the old one. I liked that they read books at the dinner table. I like the prince was someone I would definitely make out with. I really liked his new song even through it didn’t fit his emotional journey and even though I completely replotted the third act in my head to make it fit better. I like Luke Evans, even though I wish Gaston had been played by Chris Hemsworth.
I mean, right?
Why Do You Care So Much About This?
I don’t, really! I just have feelings! And now I’ve purged them. And now I feel clean. And like I can maybe never talk about this again.
Until tomorrow, when a customer tells me they thought Josh Gad was funny.