- OnStage Editor-in-Chief
So far in this series we've looked at musicals such as Oklahoma!, Grease, and Carousel through different characters' eyes and have been surprised to see how much the story line and themes can change. While the series has certainly been enlightening, I can't help but notice how dark it is.
So today, I wanted to have a little fun with this and take a look at villains in musical history that tend to get a bad rap, who might not even be that bad when compared to some other dastardly characters.
And when thinking about it that way, one of the first characters I thought of was Gaston from Beauty & the Beast.
Keep in mind that this character was basically created for the Disney movie because they felt there needed to be some sort of villain.
As I mentioned, I wanted to have some fun with this but it actually turned out to be much more interesting and dare I say, tragic, than I thought.
So let's walk through the Disney classic and break it down.
When we're introduced to Gaston, he's hunting birds in the middle of town. Probably not the smartest idea to be shooting a gun in the streets but no one else seems to mind so we'll give him a pass on that.
Of course our first impression of Gaston is that he is a complete narcissist. That may make him a jerk but hardly a villain by any stretch. And if anything, most of what he says about Belle is actually some of the nicer things said about her in the entire movie.
Remember that this town is full of little people, who are waking up to not only say Bonjour! but to also torch Belle behind her back. They call her things like "strange no question", "peculiar" and "dazed". Not to mention that jerky jerk of a wig maker who says, "But behind that fair facade, I'm afraid she's rather odd..." Whatever man, you're a jerk.
But while the entire town is making fun of her, Gaston actually says how he fell in love with her at first sight.
"Right from the moment when I met her, saw her, I said she's gorgeous and I fell..."
Not for nothing but if it wasn't for the narcissistic comments mixed in, the first impression of Gaston is that he doesn't care what the entire town thinks, he's in love with the pretty, weird, girl from a lower-class, single-parent household and has no problem telling everyone that.
Even more, he completely ignores the set of head over heels, blonde, busty triplets that basically imply they would do ANYTHING to be with him.
Also, it's a small but important to note, that Gaston, while totally in love with himself, still has manners. While trying to catch up to Belle, he still politely sings "Please let me through!" to try to maneuver through the crowd. I don't know about you, but most Disney villains don't say please. Manners are important people.
Once he catches up to Belle, he asks her how she can read her books without pictures. Just going to throw this out there but does anyone else see that Gaston just implied that he's illiterate? No wonder he's built himself into a hulking mass with narcissistic tendencies. It might have been to conceal the fact that he can't read!
Geez Disney....that's dark.
Later on, Gaston tries to woo Belle by surprising her with a very nice outdoor wedding. While a bit misguided and over the top, it's not totally odd given the time period. Remember, with the presence of rifles and steam power machinery, it's likely this story takes place in the mid-1700's where engagements were either short or arranged. The fact that Gaston is even going through the process of asking, rather than forcing marriage against Belle's will, shows some level of humanity and affection for Belle.
With most Disney villains, their dark mission is revealed pretty quickly. We know early on that the Queen in Snow White wants to kill Snow White. We know in Aladdin that Jafar wants to take over Agraba. But with Gaston, there is no serious villainous plot or mission, he just wants to marry the girl of his dreams and can't take a hint that he's not her type.
It also doesn't help that he's followed by a perpetual Yes-Man and enabler, Lefou who might be the real villain in this movie.
After Belle rejects his marriage proposal, Gaston retreats to a tavern where he drowns his heartbroken sorrows in beer. He's about to give up and maybe face the reality that he needs some sort of self-improvement, when his hobbit sized companion becomes the devil on his shoulder by getting the entire bar to sing the Enabler Anthem, "Gaston".
Now when Belle's father, Maurice, comes running into the tavern to try to find help to save Belle from the Beast, Gaston ignores him because it's popular thought in town that Maurice is clinically insane. But once again, out of desperation to marry Belle, Gaston hatches a plan.
The plan is to basically commit Maurice to an asylum unless Belle agrees to marry him. Terrible idea I know, but when Gaston tells Lefou his desperate plan, Lefou excitedly tells Gaston what a great idea it is, once again enabling Gaston and encouraging him to do something awful.
This is the point where if Gaston had a real friend in the world, they might say, "Yeah...this might not be the best course of action to win over the girl of your dreams." But Gaston has no such friend. That makes me sad.
Later on, once Belle comes back, in order to save her father from the asylum, she shows the image of the Beast to the crowd.
Now keep in mind, this story does not take place in some fantasy world where creatures like the beast or talking tea kettles are a normal sight to see. So seeing a monstrous looking beast, who is roaring by the way in the image that Belle shows, could be quite alarming for a town not knowing that these things exist.
Sensing the danger of the situation and the fact that the woman he loves is showing signs of Stockholm Syndrome, he decides to lead a party of townspeople to the castle to kill this monster.
And when Belle tries to stop him, rather than throw her and her father in the asylum wagon, which is still parked there. He locks them in their own basement. When compared to the loony bin, that's a better option right?
Now some of you were probably thinking that his plot of killing the sweet, innocent, waltz loving Beast is terrible and makes Gaston a true villain. But keep in mind that when it comes to who the Beast actually is, Gaston DOESN'T KNOW ANY OF THIS.
He doesn't know that the creature he's about to kill is a well dressed Prince who has a love of ballroom dance. All he knows is that it's a beast that has so far, held the love of his life and her father as prisoners. His plan isn't sparked out of evil or power grabbing, it's based on jealousy, narcissism and....yes, in some way...love.
When he reaches the castle, he fights the Beast but the Beast eventually gets the upper hand and hangs Gaston over the side of the castle by his throat. It's here we see one more example of the non-jerky jerk version of Gaston where his sincerely begs for his life. The Beast spares Gaston's life but upon seeing the Beast(from his vantage point), climbing to Belle, he tries once more to kill the Beast by stabbing him in the side but falling to his death in the process.
So in essence, Gaston dies accidentally while trying to save the woman he loves.
I know this one was pretty far fetched and done with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, but one can certainly admit that Gaston is one of the least evil Disney villains in their animated library. For instance:
- Cruella De Vil wants to kill all the puppies.
- Captain Hook wants to kill Peter Pan.
- Scar kills Mufasa.
But Gaston? No real evil plot in sight.
So the next time to sit down and watch Beauty & the Beast, really look at it from Gaston's perspective. You might actually feel sorry for the poor guy....or maybe not.
At least you can feel sorry for the guy who was trying to defend his family only to be crushed to death by a singing wardrobe....what a way to go.