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What the Christian Critics Missed in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

There’s been a significant amount of criticism from some leaders in the Christian community over the gay-friendly aspects of the Walt Disney Studios live action feature “Beauty and the Beast.” By now you’ve heard about or seen the character LeFou who is infatuated with Gaston, and the musketeer who likes being dressed in a woman’s gown, so I don’t need to go into the details. Yes, we’re tired of Disney knocking themselves out to be politically correct in everything – particularly when it comes to historic and beloved stories like this. The pretension is just starting to get overwhelming.

But one thing I noticed in the movie was something the critics seemed to completely miss (or perhaps not care about.) That was the village pastor (or priest.) In the 1991 animated version, Belle gets her books from a book seller in the village. But in the live action version, that character has been changed to Père Robert, the village pastor, played by actor Ray Fearon.

He’s a minor character, but we discover it’s his church library where Belle gets her books. It’s obvious that she’s been there many times before because when she asks if he has any new books, he replies he hasn’t, but nevertheless she’s happy to re-read his old ones. A few scenes later, Père Robert helps Belle pick up her laundry off the ground, which some of the more crude villagers have thrown on the street because of her reading habits.

He’s also at the tavern when Maurice (Belle’s father) accuses Gaston of trying to kill him. Then, when Gaston arranges for Maurice to be taken to an asylum, it was Père Robert that pleads for them to take him to a hospital rather than a mental institution. In other places, the pastor doesn’t speak, but his facial expressions tell us about what needs to be done.

I say all this because granted, here’s a movie with some issues for Christians, however not one review (to my knowledge) has pointed out that the same studio changed the character of the book seller into a Christian pastor, made him the most loving person in the village to Belle, and then provided the moral compass when the villagers lost theirs.

Rather than boycotting, criticizing, or being offended about the gay issues (after all, do we really expect a for-profit secular studio to follow Biblical guidelines when making their movies?) I prefer to celebrate Disney’s decision to put a pastor as the moral center, the friend, and the servant leader to the rest of the characters in the film.

Bravo to the creative team.

I seem to recall something about lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness…

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  1. Thanks Phil. Great perspective on the positive action of Disney. I think the best point was the question of expectations for a secular company to adhere to Biblical standards. Sometimes, the best way to have a voice is to join in the discussion instead of shouting at those who hold a different view.

  2. You are SO RIGHT Phil!!! Thank you for pointing out something to celebrate instead of something to complain about. I LOVED the film and want to say that not only is the pastor a great addition to the story, but also they chose to make Belle’s father a wise, talented smart man, not a crazy inventor caricature. Kevin Kline a solid, loving father and his relationship with Belle is beautiful. Another great choice. As Ken Gire writes, “You can find God is EVERY movie. You just have to look for Him.”

  3. Excellent point! I haven’t seen the movie, but my thoughts/response would be similar to your points above. I wish more Christians had this mindset. Then, maybe we can start to bridge the gap between faith and culture to really make an impact on the entertainment industry.

  4. Phil, once again you are the voice of reason. Kudos for Disney for making such an over the top and engaging film. From the first market scenes in the village you knew Disney had spared no expense and this was going to be a great film. I must admit that I missed the “priest” connection but I wasn’t super familiar with the animated version either. Thanks for pointing out this character.

  5. Your perspective suddenly makes the glass half full, not half empty. Thanks for bringing these details to light, I think it matters. We should all be inspired by your optimism!

  6. By making him gay, they had to make him smart because they couldn’t make the only gay character stupid. But if he’s not a dimwit, like the original character, he must be aware that Gaston is reprehensible, and therefore, Le Fou is just as bad, if not worse.
    Changing the character was ill-considered, unnecessary and ultimately unsuccessful.
    What bothered me was that it was a poorly written gay character.
    Your observation about the village preist is classic you: it was right there in front of all of us, but we didn’t notice.
    Thanks, Phil.

  7. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, but I’m glad to get this perspective. It is interesting that Christians are so often acknowledged for what we are against versus what we are for.

  8. Thank you, Phil – I’ve shared this article on FB, as I didn’t notice the change in vocation, either. But I also see many allegorical – biblical – themes. I had someone share an article in which the author says the beast is modeled after that of Baphomet (yep – had to look it up!). I highly disagree. I see the beast being cursed due to his pride and unkindness as a symbol of what we are all like before Christ (and some of us don’t let go of it AFTER Christ…but that’s another story). It is Belle’s “kindness, that leads him to repentance”…what a reminder of how we should be to those who are “ugly,” be it physical, emotional, or spiritual.
    And Belle sacrificing her freedom for that of her father…what a beautiful reminder of how Jesus sacrificed himself for us.
    There is redemption all through the story!

  9. Wow! I had no idea, Phil! I haven’t seen the movie yet but have seen plenty of discussion about the LeFou. I wish there was more talk of what sounds like a noble, godly, servant-hearted character. Maybe there will be now, after your terrific post!

  10. I have not seen the film yet, but I look forward to seeing this character. Thank you for pointing him out to us and reminding us all that this is the kind of light the world needs from us!

  11. Thanks for that Phil!
    My question is whether it is worth seeing it when the whole film is steeped in non-biblical values with only one sane character!
    May be okay for critics to do so, but for kids or others, is it really necessary?
    Just saying!

      1. Yep, that’s true. But why make it convoluted when the story itself is so powerful! Why detract from the beauty of its simplicity!
        My concern is that it is starting to set a trend to which we may be unconsciously contributing just by accepting it!
        Just saying!

        1. I was fortunate enough to hear a talk from Glen Keane one of the original lead animators at Disney who was responsible for the concept drawing of the original animated beast and he is a devout Christ follower and told of how it was God who inspired his iteration of the beast and next to the finished piece he had scribed 2 Cor. 5:17…if any man is in Christ he is a new creation.
          ( I have Attached an interview with Mr. Keane)
          I think that God has a way of showing off in the midst of the noisy world but he likes to be that still small voice that we have to listen hard for! I would encourage us all to be the person who points out that still small voice rather than a resounding gong without love!

  12. Well done, but even this won’t silence the critics. I’m thinking that Disney’s Mission is not to proclaim the gospel so if you think that a positive gay character in a movie is outside of the gospel narrative or “decency” for a believer then just don’t go and see it. You can’t criticize Disney based on your religious values in the same way you can’t criticize a Sunday morning church service based on Disney Production Values. It would fail miserably. Bottom line…Disney isn’t Christian. I think if you want your children to avoid positive portrayals of gay people then don’t take them to this movie. While you’re at it you should keep them away from school, malls, local police, and the church. Those positive gay role models are everywhere…

  13. You are all missing the POINT. The BIGGEST message of the movie be it the live version or the animated version, is TO NOT JUDGE ON FIRST SIGHT. The old saying don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Just as Jesus didn’t judge, he just loved everyone even those that crucified him. Jesus still loved them. That is the moral and point to this whole movie. Love everyone even those whom you don’t like. Also don’t judge anyone by the colour of their skin, their sexual likes or their disability, or religious views, or even their culture. That is the POINT of the Beauty and the Beast story. The point I think Disney is trying to say.

    1. sorry…but we of the faith are called to ‘consider the cost’ , to ‘judge all things’ and to and to ‘search the Scriptures’. Then speak the truth. When I consider the cost, I wonder who would I rather offend…cultures and people who MAY be offended…or My Savior and my God? oh, and also…Do some research. Jesus certainly did judge…and He told the unvarnished truth. He also offered forgiveness to those “who repented of their sins…and “Did them no more”

  14. Hello Phil, thank you for this! I saw the film the first week it came out and went back to see it again with my 14 year old neice. The first time I saw it, I noticed the positive portrayal of a Pastor…great! I thought to myself. I wondered why they went through the trouble of changing changing the character and where Belle got her books? Then I saw the pronounced crucifix behind the Pastor as Belle tells him his church is the best thing about the village. I really appreciated that. As loud, and rightfully so, as we Christians have been in protesting the aspects of the film that are inappropriate for children, I hope we can be just as vocal in saying what we did like. Maybe, just maybe we would get more of the positive? I’m not sure, but it’s worth a try! 😊

  15. Good points. It would also be helpful to understand that fairy tales are *meant* to change in response to culture. That is their nature. They are templates that translate between cultures (in interesting and insightful ways) and change with cultures. It’s too easy for conservatives to dismiss or condemn cultural change by charging “political correctness.” Political correctness is a real thing, but too much labelled as it is something else.

  16. I also believe that a lot of what people “see” in any work of art what they WANT to see. LeFou was a fawning lackey in the original animated film, and he’s a fawning lackey here as well. Being a fawning lackey doesn’t necessarily mean the character is gay. In fact, the LeFou character even asks Gaston why he (LeFou) doesn’t have a girl. That doesn’t sound particularly gay to me.

    In the final dance scene, LeFou ends up paired with the “musketeer” who likes to dress in women’s clothes. Is that because LeFou has found a partner? Is that a joke on LeFou, who wants a girl but ends up dancing with a cross-dresser? It’s very open to interpretation. And even the cross-dresser – is that really a positive portrayal of a gay man, or a slight? The person I saw it with even mentioned she was surprised that the gay community hadn’t protested the movie, because the cross-dresser was portrayed as a simpering, effeminate cross-dresser. Was this a positive promotion of the gay community or a stereotypical joke at their expense?

    You could similarly take issues with the pastor. Some might think it’s a positive portrayal to have him in there as the village conscience and the most helpful, loving person in the village. Others might see him being portrayed as ineffectual, because he hasn’t helped changed the hearts of the villagers and was powerless to stop what happened to Maurice. Is that a positive portrayal of a loving clergyman or a slam against a clergy member who has had little impact on his flock, who listen to the vain and worldly Gaston rather than the pious and upright pastor? Or is that a slam on the villagers for turning their hearts away from the Christian example and loving the vain and worldly?

    Too many people take offense at anything and everything because they truly SEEK to take offense.

    1. That comment: “too many people take offense at anything and everything because they truly seek to take offense,” sums up our current worlds problems. Thank you for an excellent assessment.

  17. Have not seen this movie. However this reinforces for me the importance of seeing and praising the good rather than being a critic.

  18. I liked the article. 🙂 This is my first time to read something by you, Phil.

    I wanted to make a random suggestion – that you add a word to your personal tagline so that the initial letters would spell “CRITIC”. Maybe “reliable” or “resolute”? 🙂

    1. Ha! Ok – I’m reading this at midnight in a hotel room in Washington, DC and I just laughed out loud! Honestly Jenna, I’ve never noticed that about the tagline before! Stick around and read more – thanks for your comment and keep ’em coming!

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