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Change That Works: Gaston and LeFou

Gaston, as voiced by Richard White in the 1991 animated film, is one of the all-time great Disney animated villains. He’s an exaggerated version of the Prince Charming type from past Disney films: handsome and rugged, but also forceful and driven to insanity by his inability to get the girl of his dreams, the fiercely disinterested Belle. Though his trusty associate LeFou tries to buck up Gaston’s spirits, only attempting to satisfy his bloodlust by killing the Beast, an unexpected romantic rival, can roust the vain hunter. In many respects, the Gaston of the live-action film is not terribly different: he’s treated as the most handsome man in town, fawned after by many young women; he’s always joined by his sycophantic friend LeFou; and his inability to lure Belle drives him to madness as he tries to destroy her true love.

Though Luke Evans doesn’t have the same booming baritone that White does, his take on Gaston is surprisingly more nuanced. At his core, Gaston is still a self-centered braggart—in an early moment, we see him bestowing an extremely high compliment on his mirror image. But from his first scene, it’s clear that the screenplay, by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, is going to slightly veer from the original film. Where the animated Gaston is introduced by shooting a bird out of the sky, here, we only see Gaston and LeFou returning to the small village they call home, reminiscing about their time in the war. In fact, it takes a much longer time in this Beauty and the Beast for Gaston to embrace his inner bad guy.

The animated version of the song that bears his name, for example, culminates in Belle’s lovable, but kooky, father Maurice begging for help and being thrown out on his ear; in the live-action version, when Maurice warns tavern-dwellers of a hideous beast that’s taken his daughter captive, Gaston willingly goes with the old man to see if his wild tale is true. And when Gaston fears he’s been led on a wild-goose chase, he’s temporarily placated by LeFou to try and put on a presentable face, if only to curry a blessing from Maurice. Evans, much more so than in some past roles, has a lot of fun with an antagonist fighting an internal battle between trying to “woo and marry Belle” and turning into a Neanderthal.

Much, of course, has been made of how LeFou has changed in this new Beauty and the Beast, with director Condon recently saying the character is not only gay, but has an “exclusively gay” moment in the film. That may be true, but said moment—in which LeFou dances with a man—takes up less time than it took for you to read this sentence. If anything, Disney shouldn’t be too proud of the fact that one of their first out gay characters has a name that, in English, translates to “the fool” and harbors a crush on someone who treats him cruelly.

Having said that, Josh Gad, only a couple years removed from voicing the summer-loving snowman Olaf in Frozen, represents a welcome bit of levity as the new LeFou. (His exhortation to get Gaston to calm down: “Think of the war!”) LeFou is, at heart, smarter than Gaston, realizing how dangerous his friend is becoming even if he’s enabled the larger man because of a misbegotten crush. The live-action Gaston and LeFou may not be better than the animated version of the villain and his hapless henchman, but in a film that’s otherwise struggling to come to life, Evans and Gad do so every time they step on screen. They, at least, seem to know what kind of movie they’re in and how best to imbue their scenes with spirit.

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Change That Doesn’t Work: The Servants’ New Faces

The live-action Beauty and the Beast is, of course, heavily laden with CGI effects, specifically in depicting the anthropomorphized household objects that were once the Beast’s servants. Characters like Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, and more have been brought to life through computer technology that wasn’t even possible back in 1991, when the characters were all hand-drawn. What’s genuinely fascinating is that so much of this new movie, from the costume design for Gaston or Belle all the way to some shots being mirrored, is a direct copy of the animated film. Yet one area that is radically different is in the look of Lumiere and friends. It’s not as if computer animation couldn’t replicate how these characters looked in the original film; think of a film like Frozen, which may be computer-animated but attempts to mimic the hand-drawn animated style for its story. But for whatever reason, the household objects in this film are meant to look much more like…actual household objects than they do in the animated film.

That attempt at photo-realism simply doesn’t work. One of the many wonderful aspects of the characters in the 1991 film is that you could see their expressive, vibrant, truly animated faces. What’s more, they were brought to life in a way that somehow sidesteps the fact that the premise of this story is exceedingly horrifying: a group of innocent people have been trapped inside of household objects! They’re possibly doomed to an eternity of functioning as candelabras, clocks, teapots, and more than as humans! In the animated film, this fate isn’t totally ignored; it simply doesn’t seem as creepy because Lumiere, Cogsworth, and the rest have lively faces. They almost feel more human as objects than they do when they turn back into their original form.

In the new movie, it’s hard to argue that the household-object versions of the servants seem remotely human, or even lifelike. Mostly, these characters’ faces and eyes have been transformed so that they’re part and parcel of the objects they inhabit. Thus, the Ian McKellen-voiced Cogsworth has “eyes,” but they’re just two circular parts of his clockwork. The new Lumiere has a mouth, designed as a gaudy flourish in the workings of his candelabra. Mrs. Potts’ eyes and mouth are barely drawn on, meant as additions to the design of her “body.” Some characters, such as Lumiere’s love interest Plumette (a feather duster) or Madame de Garderobe, don’t really have faces or eyes or mouths; when Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays Plumette, utters dialogue, it’s not so much emanating from the CGI feather duster as it is an off-screen line reader. Whatever soul these characters had in the animated film is largely lost because the CGI versions are, ironically enough, lifeless.

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About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.