There has never been a more dastardly collection than the pantheon of Disney villains. At their worst, they’re terrifyingly powerful, using dark magic against the forces of good. At their best, they are indiscriminate agents of chaos that delight in wreaking havoc. Without a second thought, they’ll murder your puppies, poison your apples, curse your babies, and lead an uprising of hyenas against the Pride Lands.
Prominently featured on the all-time villain list is Gaston, the braggadocios Lothario of Beauty and the Beast. But does he really belong there? 25 years later, the debate deepens every day. In a polarized nation, this is the most polarizing. In a divided world, this is the most divisive. Friendships are broken and families are divided. Holidays are ruined. Passions grow deeper.
To wade through this controversy, Joseph Williams and Seth Wiedemann face off, placing their friendship on the line in hopes that the truth may be revealed.
Seth’s Opening Arguments: Gaston is a courageous and inspiring hero of the people
Most of us have deep, cherished memories connected to the greatest film made during the Disney Renaissance. The breathtaking animation, award-winning score, and brilliant Disney storytelling leave such an indelible mark on the viewer that we tend to only think of events exactly as they were presented. From Belle’s perspective, it’s a story so masterfully told that we forget that an alternate, unbiased viewpoint could even exist.
And yet, if we were to experience the film from a different perspective, we may uncover insights that surprise us. We might find, for instance, that the decisions made by Gaston in the film weren’t so cut and dry; that he could only operate with the information available to him, and that perhaps many of us are too quick to condemn and pass down judgement. From Gaston’s point of view, the events in Beauty and the Beast tell a very different story.
For Gaston, the film largely follows the impossible choices he faces when disaster strikes. For instance, when he first learns that a monstrous beast is terrorizing the town and two people have already been abducted, including the girl he loves, how else should he feel? No one knows when or where the Beast will strike again, and the townspeople are terrified. What choice is he left with?
We already know that he leads an expedition of 50 men to protect the town. Although hopelessly outmatched and facing a paranormal monstrosity beyond the scope of human understanding, he’s able to rally the people by pledging to handle the Beast himself. Remember, they aren’t trained soldiers; these people are farmers, tradesmen, and husbands. When Gaston gives them the courage to face down insurmountable odds, their song tells us why: “Save your children and your wives / We’ll save our village and our lives.”
So why are we so quick to judge Gaston for going after the Beast? When it came to protecting the town, would any of us do anything different? Should they just sit by and let the Beast abduct people at will?
Joseph’s Rebuttal: Gaston is an arrogant, misogynistic bully
Let’s look past Gaston’s objectifying of women (not to mention his narcissistic objectifying of himself), his obsessive possessive posture towards Belle, and his manipulation of poor little LeFou, a man who offers him loyalty and devotion only to be repeatedly and violently rebuffed.
And I can even look past some of Gaston’s mistakes. Sure, he was the strongest man who had to protect the town. BUT, when does he begin to become morally culpable for his actions beyond just being a small town frat star who never grew up, became more chauvinistic in time, and eventually was he himself imprisoned in the most loathsome West Wing of all: delusions of grandeur?
I argue it’s when he begins to lead by fear mongering and appealing to the worst in humanity. It’s 2016 and we all should have read J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy by now. We’ve all seen what Donald Trump does. He preys upon the worst of people, causing them to jump to conclusions, violence and worse.
Is Gaston doing anything different when he has Belle’s father committed and then proceeds to lead a mob against the Beast? Even if you concede that Gaston is merely trying to protect the town, you can’t defend the indefensible when he has his final showdown with the Beast. As a society of fallen creatures searching for redemption, we must give credit to the journey of change each character is on. And no place does this convict Gaston more as a true villain than at the end of the film in the final fight scene.
At this point, regardless of past sins, the Beast redeems himself. He has mercy on Gaston. It’s clear to Gaston, at this point, that he won’t have Belle. But he’s delusional. Driven by his own narcissism and need for controlling the world to be exactly as he wants it to be, he attacks the very being that only moments before had showed mercy to him. Like the wicked servant in Jesus Christ’s parable who was given grace by his master only to turn and condemn someone who owed him, Gaston went after the Beast. There is no greater example of pure human blindness to his own sad, selfish condition. And like that, in a moment, he falls to his death …certainly not due to the mercy shown him by the Beast, but by his own choices and actions.
You seem to hinge your argument on the final moments in the movie, and that’s fair. This is a tough one, as these are difficult decisions that Gaston himself no doubt wrestled with. But if you take a step back and examine the film holistically, you cannot fault Gaston’s actions at Beast’s castle.
In the final moments of the film some say the Beast allowed Gaston to live, but if we think about it, what kind of life has he given him? He gives Gaston a life where he and his townspeople would forever be under the Beast’s dominion. We’ve already seen what horrors the Beast put Belle and her father through, and Gaston understood that surrender here meant a lifetime of terror for every man, woman and child in his town.
This puts Gaston in an impossible position. Although his life was spared, he realizes that failure is not an option for the townspeople. He did what he had to do, and in the end the fatal blow to the monster cost him his life.
Deeper Analysis: Gaston’s Song
One of the most iconic moments in Beauty and the Beast is the tribute to Gaston, sung by the townsfolk in the tavern.
Joseph: Let me break down this video that clearly shows that Gaston is not just a villain, but an evil one.
Seth: I could not have chosen a better example of Gaston clearly demonstrating both his civic pride and gifted leadership abilities.
Joseph: Gaston resorts to violence towards a friend, much smaller than he.
Seth: Self defense. Without provocation his face was grabbed and twisted.
Sulking in the Corner
Joseph: Turning his back on his supporters.
Seth: Turning the other cheek. He doesn’t want to further engage the man who just assaulted him.
Joseph: Could this guy be any more self-absorbed or arrogant?!?!?
Seth: Let’s take a moment to realize that he has just been showered with outrageous accolades, and each one is demonstrably true. He’s conceding a point here, not making a declaration.
Punching LeFou (again)
Joseph: Feeling the need to show off his strength to the extent that, once again, he punches his greatest friend and supporter, who is one quarter his size, at most.
Seth: Up to this point, LeFou has terrorized everyone at the bar, including Gaston, multiple times. Gaston’s violence is a regrettable but necessary course of action to prevent further harassment.
Joseph: Beating up more of his supporters, just to show he can. Your self-styled “silent guardian” displays no restraint, lashing out at the slightest provocation.
Seth: It is a massive brawl, incited by LeFou. It’s hard to determine the innocence or guilt of any the individuals involved. Indeed, the chaos quickly subsides due to Gaston’s quick thinking and stern leadership.
Losing at Chess
Joseph: Bad sportsmanship. Gaston is a childishly sore loser.
Seth: The old man was clearly cheating. He moved his Bishop from e3 to g4. In the Old West, he would’ve been shot. Gaston lets him off easy.
Joseph: Does this guy have an inch of humility in him?
Seth: Once again, he concedes a point to his zealous supporters.
Five Dozen Eggs
Joseph: More grandstanding and showing off.
Seth: He is clearly teaching about the benefits of protein for his plainly malnourished supporters.
Joseph: Can we be positive Gaston didn’t kill Bambi’s family?
Seth: Bambi’s mother was killed at least two centuries after Gaston’s time.
“Crazy old Maurice”
Joseph: “Wacky old coot”? Belle’s father? A joyful inventor, self-made entrepreneur and innovator who embodies capitalism’s fruits at its best?
Seth: I think it’s important that we all acknowledge that Belle’s father is no paragon of sanity. He was unhinged and paranoid, and Gaston cannot be blamed for his skepticism regarding Maurice’s farfetched-sounding tale. And have you seen Maurice’s murderous chopper invention?
“Loony Old Man.”
Joseph: Yeah, this is a guy truly in love with Belle. Definitely not an arrogant pig who demeans others, his heart inflamed by superficial lust of a woman who he objectifies to subconsciously evade the fact that she is his vast intellectual superior.
Seth: Are we just going to ignore the fact that Belle’s father built a siege weapon?
Plotting with LeFou
Joseph: He is putting his own personal achievement ahead of Belle’s best interests.
Seth: He is attempting a grand gesture to win her heart.
Joseph: If you are blind or deaf to this evil, I submit my above analysis and breakdown of this evidence.
Seth: If Gaston is guilty of anything in this song, it is of having a good night drinking with his close friends.
Joseph: It appears that, after debating this for over half a decade, our division only intensifies as the film celebrates its 25th anniversary.
[A version of this article originally appeared on The Wise Guise]