Should Parents Take Their Kids To See ‘Beauty And The Beast’?

Should Parents Take Their Kids To See ‘Beauty And The Beast’?

Films shouldn’t require parents to spend more time discussing the moral implications of sub-themes than it took to watch the movie.
Margot Cleveland
By

I grew up on Disney. Or rather, “The Wonderful World of Disney,” which aired Sunday nights from the time I was two until I turned 12. I loved the animated movies, such as “Bambi,” “Dumbo,” “Pinocchio,” and “Snow White.” But I adored the “Apple Dumpling Gang,” “Escape to Witch Mountain,” “The Shaggy D.A.,” “The Love Bug,” “The Parent Trap,” “Treasure Island,” “Mary Poppins,” “Bed Knobs & Broomsticks,” and my all-time favorite, “Swiss Family Robinson.”

In many cases, childhood memories cement in the mind an exaggerated sense of goodness (or scariness). But not so with Disney. Over the last several years, I’ve re-watched most of these classics with my son and he enjoys them as much as I did (and still do).

There is just something magical about Disney. And not merely the old-school classics: the new classics from Pixar provide the same wallop as those of yesteryear. “Toy Story,” “Cars,” and the much more introspective “Inside Out” all capture the imagination.

The ‘Beauty And The Beast’ Changes Are No Suprise

But then Disney does it again with it liberal messaging. Of course, I mean “Beauty and the Beast”—which is scheduled to open this Friday—and its “exclusively gay moment.” While I’m not really surprised, I am disappointed. But you know what? I still love Disney. Not Disney the business. Not Disney the virtue-signaling social-justice warrior. But Disney the pure unadulterated imagination-filled entertainment. I just cannot abandon Chip-n-Dale over Gaston and LeFou.

Others, though, are calling for a boycott of Disney. Frankly, I find that silly. Not because of my fondness for the films—or because my husband and I spent our honeymoon at the Magic Kingdom—but because Disney’s position on homosexuality has long been clear.

However, whether to take a child to see “Beauty and the Beast” presents an entirely different question. While people are calling that a “boycott,” it really isn’t: it is a question of parenting,  not of boycotting. After all, the film was rated PG for “Parental Guidance.”

Unfortunately, parents are in a difficult spot. It is hard to know from the Attitude interview with the film’s director, Bill Condon, what children will see. As has already been widely reported, Condon said:

LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston. He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.

That explanation alone might dissuade some parents from patronizing the movie—making an issue of sexual morality something “delicious.” But the quote itself doesn’t really tell parents much about the film’s content.

The Content Parents Should Know About

Luckily, another mom, Amy Blevins, who runs the site “Encouraging Moms At Home,” provided a detailed review of the movie—from a Christian perspective—after seeing a screening. For those debating whether to take a child to the movie, I encourage you to read her review in its entirety.

A few highlights:

LeFou (Gaston’s sidekick) is clearly gay and clearly infatuated with Gaston much more obviously than any gay character has appeared in any other Disney movie.

LeFou starts giving Gaston a hand / shoulder / ear massage during the Gaston song that is definitely sensual from LeFou’s perspective. This song also includes a moment where LeFou briefly sits on Gaston’s lap, leans in, puts Gaston’s arms around him and then says ‘Too much?’ Gaston is perturbed.

In the final dance scene, LeFou is dancing with a woman but at the very end he cuts in on another couple and dances with a man. It was made to appear as a fortuitous accident…[T]his is the same man who earlier ‘enjoys’ wearing the woman’s dress.

Bivens’ review would lead me to nix the film for a child. There is just too much that is too subtle, and too celebrated, to allow the (likely) positive elements of the film to outweigh the negative. A lot of parents seem to agree with my assessment.

That may be why Disney is downplaying the whole affair. For instance, in a USA Today piece, the actor playing LeFou, Josh Gad, is quoted as saying, “there was nothing in the script that said ‘LeFou is gay.’” He also added that: “I think (LeFou’s sexuality) has been a little overstated.”

The director followed the same script, telling ScreenCrush that his “exclusively gay scene” comments have been overblown: “Oh God. Can I just tell you? It’s all been overblown. Because it’s just this, it’s part of just what we had fun with.” And the clip Disney released that includes the song and dance number involving Gaston and LeFou doesn’t include any of the problematic aspects of the film.

Are Parents Overreacting, Or Being Hypocritical?

Jonathan Merritt, writing for USA Today, also sees parents as overreacting, noting:

There are no explicit discussions in the film about gay rights, gay marriage or the morality of gay relationships. The character in question, Gaston’s manservant LeFou, doesn’t have a husband or a boyfriend or even an explicit same-gender love interest in the film. In a single scene, LeFou experiences a ‘subtle’ moment when it seems he might (or might not) be attracted to Gaston. The character is not explicitly gay but rather, according to director Bill Condon, seems ‘confused about what he wants’ and is ‘somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings.’

But as Merritt himself admitted—he hasn’t seen the film. And Bivens, who has seen the movie, highlights several other issues of concern. Merritt, nonetheless, has the audacity to brand parents who decide not to take their children to see “Beauty And The Beast” as “hypocrites.” Why? Because “conservative Christian leaders just helped elect President Trump, and a whopping 81% of white evangelicals voted for . . . a thrice-married serial liar who has bragged about bedding married women and has admitted to grabbing women’s genitals without permission.”

Of course, Merritt’s comparison is ridiculous, since both voting and not voting for Trump had moral implications. Whereas it isn’t a choice between either viewing “Beauty And The Beast” or spending the next four years watching something more offensive. But Merritt was not alone in his charge. Patheos author Josh Daffern also argued that boycotting the film reeks of hypocrisy:

If you plan on vocally boycotting the Beauty and the Beast for its portrayal of human sexuality, then you need to vocally protest every movie that strays from the biblical standards of sexuality. Every movie that portrays women as objects to be lusted after needs to be heartily boycotted because that strays from God’s standard of sexuality. Every single movie that has implicit or explicit scenes of heterosexual relations between two non-married partners needs to be boycotted as well.

Daffern’s more serious charge merits a response: Exercising parental control over viewing habits is a prudential judgment—not an all-or-nothing routine. And prudential judgment requires a balancing of many factors, including the positive and negative aspects of the film, the child’s age and circumstances, and the ability to discuss moral implications fruitfully.

There’s A Way To Watch Controversial Films With Our Kids

For instance, as a pre-teen I saw “The Other Side of the Mountain” with my mother. Afterward I noted my surprise that she had allowed me to see the movie because there was a scene involving premarital sex. But that point is easily tackled because it clearly occurred and is easily addressed: premarital sex is not God’s plan. And the movie offered many other positive aspects, including a portrayal of suffering and perseverance, loyalty and love, and the inherent dignity of all human beings.

Similarly, a young child can easily understand a conversation about the disgraceful mistreatment of American Indians after a viewing of the classic 1973 Tom Sawyer musical. It’s a beautiful production, but problematic in its portrayal of “Injun’ Joe.”

But the subtlety of “Beauty and the Beast”’s portrayal of homosexuality does not easily lend itself to a discussion with a pre-teen child. Nor would a young child be able to fully grasp the distinction between being homosexual (not sinful) and engaging in homosexual conduct (sinful), especially with the movie’s celebratory ending. “Beauty and the Beast” also does not provide a good format for teaching children to love everyone and “coexist in a pluralistic society.” Those lessons are best taught with real people—friends and family—and by example. Not by watching “delicious” moments where actors are “having fun.”

Kids Have Plenty Of Time To Grow Up

Even if these points could be taught, as Joseph Murray II—who is homosexual—put it: “[W]hy do we have to expose our kids to such mature themes? Do they not have plenty of time to grow up? Or maybe the point is to make them grow up too soon and that is where I part ways with my community.” To Murray’s point, I would add: I just want to enjoy a couple of hours of entertainment which doesn’t necessitate a follow-up three-hour lesson on sexual morality and human dignity.

Entertainment—especially when geared toward children (which “Beauty and the Beast” is, notwithstanding the PG rating)—shouldn’t require parents to spend more time discussing the moral implications of sub-themes than it took to watch the movie.

Exercising my prudential judgment in these regards doesn’t make me a hypocrite—it makes me a parent.

Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School as well as a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct professor for the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.
Photo Josh Gad and Luke Evans in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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