This film, starring Emma Watson as Belle and slated for release at mid-month, is being criticized for its feminism and an “explicitly homosexual moment” involving Gaston and LeFou. There is much unfavorable comparison to the 1991 animated version, which many of its critics on these grounds regard as innocuous.

My impression of the 1991 film (on the screens when my children were young) was that it was highly feminist and that the effete sycophant LeFou was intended to be easily interpretable as Gaston’s homosexual hanger-on.   The new edition appears as evidence its producers thought the former was just not explicit enough, and that several of original points needed to be made clearer.

The opening segments of the earlier film show Belle’s utter disdain for traditional village life, with all its goofy, homely yokels, its provinciality, suppression of superior girls, and anti-intellectualism (she was regarded as odd because she read books and wanted to expand her horizons), combined with her kind and inventive, but confused and ineffectual father, and her longing to be free instead of captivated by her inferiors and their inferiority.  It is the soul of feminist elitism.

At the end, she tames the hyper-male beast into someone who appreciates the wonder that she is, and they waltz happily away into their egalitarian kingdom (where somehow one expects Belle to be calling the shots).  The Christian theme of the original story, redemption through love of the sinful and unlovely thing, has become almost unrecognizable in the hands of the Disney Corporation—the defect of ideology in the twisted product being, however, demonstration of the unfortunate fact that despite her feminism, Belle still wants a man, and finds herself, against every feminist ideal, embracing a “beast.”

I can’t really take much more umbrage at the new Disney version than I did the old.  The main difference is apparently that LeFou is now someone who will need to be explained to children as a homosexual rather than just a funny, boot-licking sidekick.  I would view this as a possible opportunity to explain homosexuality to my children, somewhat relieved that the particular homosexual in view is not an attractive character.  If I kept them away it would be because of the ugliness not of LeFou but Belle, and my own sorrow at seeing the pert and charming Hermione’s metamorphosis to cockroach.