During the culminating castle battle in the original “Beauty and the Beast,” Gaston shoots the Beast with an arrow and stabs him before tumbling to his own death. It’s the sort of violent display often unchallenged in animated movies, where weapon-wielding standoffs play as cartoon camp. As quickly as the moment passes, Belle and the Beast embrace, professing their true love. We’re meant to swoon in response, having already forgotten the bloodshed that came before.
With the exception of a few dull new songs, added backstory and some unfortunate CGI, 2017’s PG-rated “Beauty and the Beast” retreads its 1991 forerunner with painstaking fidelity. But instead of a bow and arrow, Gaston’s weapon of choice is a rifle. This isn’t animated violence anymore ― he shoots the Beast in live action, raucous gunshots piercing the scene.
This happens in the same movie that features magic spells, whimsical talking appliances and a rainbow-colored rendition of “Be Our Guest” that couldn’t be gaudier if Trump Tower upchucked all over it.
On this matter, there has been no discernible controversy. As for the underwhelming “exclusively gay” subplot, though? An Alabama theater is boycotting the movie, Russia has banned kids younger than 16 from seeing it, Disney refused Malaysian censors’ requests to remove the corresponding scene, and comment boards are littered with conservative outrage.
It’s another example of an age-old cinematic double standard: Violence is OK, but sex and romance become the litmus test for what our culture sees as normal.
Of course, there is no sex in “Beauty and the Beast.” There isn’t even a kiss. The manservant LeFou flirts with Gaston and later waltzes with another man for all of 3 seconds. That is the extent of the so-called gay subplot. (Spoiler alert?)
And yet, The Hollywood Reporter on Friday published an article titled Why ‘PG Has Become The New Go-To’ Rating For Studio Movies. Its sources are box-office analysts, not studio executives, so the contents are not as definitive as the headline implies. Still, its thesis raises a valid question when applied to “Beauty and the Beast”: With the sort of original, adult-oriented stories that once drove the box office being eroded by franchises and reboots, how much can family-driven films get away with simply because they are set in fantastical worlds removed from reality? (This includes PG-13 superhero spectacles.)
Granted, the MPAA’s ratings system has always been oddly secretive and somewhat arbitrary, as explored in the 2006 documentary “This Film Is Not Yet Rated.” In keeping, a study released in January indicated today’s PG-13 movies are just as likely ― sometimes more so ― to feature gun violence as R-rated releases.
With Disney’s live-action reboot trend proving wildly lucrative, others are hoping to ape the studio’s PG output, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “From a business perspective, the rating is perfect because you can grab everyone from little kids to Grandma,” one box-office expert reportedly said.
In no way am I arguing that violence doesn’t have a place on the big screen. The R-rated “Logan,” for example, justifies its hyper-violence by padding it with thoughtful characterization and a tranquility that most superhero flicks lack. But the “Beauty and the Beast” controversy personifies a conversation still worth having: There’s a complicated hypocrisy at play when it comes to our society’s, and our entertainment industry’s, treatment of so-called adult topics.
The world around us is significantly informed by the popular culture we consumed as children, and sometimes by the popular culture we consume as adults, too. There will be no LGBTQ rights ― not in full, at least ― until new generations are born into a world where acceptance is a birthright. Even if the LeFou controversy will not hurt the movie’s profits, it still smacks of an alarming trend that pervades Hollywood. Sure, shoot him up! Be our guest! But don’t you dare kiss him.