Walt Disney Pictures continues the live-action adaptations of its animated library with Beauty and the Beast, opening in the US March 17. The beloved fairy tale has long captured the imagination of the LGBTQ community, which identifies with the fable’s underlying themes of alienation, prejudice and following one’s heart at any cost. The latest version, which stars Emma Watson, under the direction of Bill Condon, has more than one passing connection to gay culture.
Here’s a look at some of the reasons, big and small, we love Beauty and the Beast.
1. It’s a musical
To begin with the obvious, part of the reason Beauty and the Beast captured a gay audience on both stage and screen has to do with its music. As penned by the duo of Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, the songs from Beauty and the Beast have since become standards, not just at Disney theme parks, but all over the world. The lyrics scribed by Ashman have a certain honesty to them. Not only do they record the feelings of unexpected love in a song like “Something There,” but they capture the horror of persecution in “Kill the Beast.” That the new film comes from openly-gay director Bill Condon, the Oscar-winning creative force behind Gods and Monsters and musicals Chicago and Dreamgirls should add to audience anticipation.
2. It’s about an outsider
Even though he lives in a palace, the Beast has a rough life. Not only does he have to deal with the curse of an enchantress and trying to find true love, he has to deal with hairballs. Seriously though, a queer audience can understand the isolation and loneliness the Beast suffers. Many of us grew up fearing we’d never be loved for who we really are. Moreover, our transgendered siblings can especially identify with the Beast, and the feeling that the body doesn’t match the soul within. Likewise, Belle grows up as an outsider—an intelligent, educated woman who wants to do more with her life than spend it aging in her village. Which brings us to…
3. It’s a proto feminist story
Belle holds a special place in the Disney Animation canon, in part because she’s not a princess by birth and in part because she’s feminist hero. Belle assumes the role of a leader, and subdues her fear with raw courage. She does not hold selfish motives in going to the Beast’s castle; rather, she sacrifices herself to save her father. Her love of books also deserves mention here. As an educated woman in the 19th century, Belle gets shunned by her villager neighbors. The sick thing—women still suffer for expressing thought and opinion today. Belle provides women (and men) everywhere with a positive example: she never backs down from doing the right thing, or from speaking her mind.
4. It’s about forbidden love
Modern analysts, especially in the wake of the Disney incarnation of Beauty and the Beast, tend to overlook some of the stories veiled elements such as Belle and the Beast falling in a forbidden love—something we know all too well. The attraction that exists between the two characters goes far beyond the physical. Their love grows from an emotional connection, despite their physical forms. Gay people can identify—our identity isn’t just about physical attraction, it’s about falling in love.
5. We all know a Gaston
And now a moment of truth: we all know a Gaston. We see him at the gym, at the club, or jogging down the street—the man who spends all his time absorbed by his own looks, or the woman obsessed with perfecting her body and showing off to passers-by, all without giving a thought to, well, anything. Gaston’s vanity provides a powerful counterpoint to the Beast’s plight, but it also reminds viewers of the dangers of focusing too much on the physical. To land the perfect mate, queer and straight folk alike must focus on bettering their souls rather than their bodies. Belle falls in love with the Beast’s gentle spirit, his thoughts and his character. Gaston, meanwhile, while inflaming the lusts of the women (and frankly, men too), does nothing to actually connect with anyone, other than his own reflection. The Gastons of the world provide a kind of eye candy that rots the heart and mind. Though fun in small doses, as Beauty and the Beast points out, Gaston’s presence ultimately destroys more than it nurtures.
6. It’s fabulous to look at
Gay folk tend to have an eye for the opulent, and Beauty and the Beast, especially in a live-action incarnation, has no shortage of pretty or fabulous eye candy. From the period costumes to the gilded walls of the Beast’s palace, the story offers production designers a chance to run wild with imagination. The music helps augment the opportunity for crazy visuals, courtesy of some wild production numbers like “Be Our Guest” which afford an even greater chance to include outrageous design. Of course, the visuals would have no impact without a great story.
How wonderful then that the film has a moving plot to go with its majestic imagery.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is in theatres March 17 in 3D. Get tickets now!