Favorite Fictional Characters, #270: Gaston
I've always considered Beauty and the Beast to be the weakest of the Disney Renaissance films, behind Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King. In part, it's probably the "girliest" of the quartet (not a damning critique, but simply why it doesn't appeal as much to me), but it also suffers from significant pacing and plotting issues. My biggest beef is the basic premise. An eleven year old spoiled royal kid is rude to a wandering enchantress, so she curses him AND EVERYBODY WHO LIVES IN THE CASTLE for ten years with an option on forever. This seems to reside in the neighborhood of massively disproportionate responses. Beast himself is vaguely interesting (at least until he turns into Fabio at the end), but Belle is both two-dimensional and the worst decision-maker ever. She's apparently read every fairy tale ever written, and yet when she's warned not to go into a certain part of the castle, she takes her first opportunity to defy those warnings. Self-absorbed, stuck-up, and brazen, Belle's most heroic quality is her willingness to sacrifice herself for her father, and yet even this comes with whining petulance and inconstancy.
There's a saving grace in all of this - Gaston. The most uncomplicated, least sympathetic "villain" Disney has produced, Gaston is that frat guy we all knew in college, who spends more time in the gym than in class, who drinks and bullies and copulates his way through a besotted, self-satisfied, 2.3 GPA life. Gaston is a physical masterpiece, the masculine id tromping around wearing boots, burly and brawny, roughly the size of a barge, and every last inch of him covered with hair. He's the best hunter, the best wrestler (watch out, he bites), the best drinker and spitter (he's especially good at expectorating) in the provincial village.
It's established that Gaston could have any woman he wants. Why would he pass up the oh-so-willing blond triplets to go haring after the pretentious Belle? Because, as the man himself so accurately observes, she's the only one as beautiful as he is. And since she's the most beautiful, she must be the best (a skewed, if consistent, value system). Belle rebuffs Gaston's advances, only fanning the flames of his competitive nature. No one says no to Gaston! Her rejections and later dalliance with the Beast derange the poor simple creature, and he goes on a murderous revenge rampage. Of course he proves to be a coward in the end, so we don't feel bad about him plummeting to his death. These things happen.
I felt bad. Poor Gaston. He had the right idea about Belle - she's a flaky, arrogant narcissist, and they would have been perfect together. If she could teach the Beast to love books, why couldn't she at least have tried for Gaston?