By now you’ve probably heard that Lefou, in the new live action Beauty and the Beast film, is the first confirmed gay character in a Disney film. If you’re like me, when you first heard this news you were a little worried. The first confirmed LGBT character, and he’s a villain’s henchman? This could be problematic. However, if you’ve seen the film you may have been pleasantly surprised, not only by the new direction the character has taken, but also in Josh Gad’s strong and talented portrayal.
It would have been very easy to make this character campy, to play off the animated character’s personality and amplify it was a twist of homosexuality. Luckily for all of us, that’s not how the director, or actor, wanted to play him. Instead, the character of Lefou is more subdued. A friend of Gaston’s for sure. Someone who cows down to Gaston’s reprehensible behavior, definitely. However, ultimately he is also someone with moral center, which he uses throughout the film to guide Gaston to be a better person.
The film was also careful to not make Lefou’s sexual orientation the most important thing about him. Josh Gad plays the character with humor, grace and a quirky sense of introspection. Throughout the film Lefou is determined to be there for his best friend, who as the audience understands it, he grew up with and went to war with. At the same time Lefou is both drawn in by his looks and charm, simultaneously wanting to be him and be with him.
What is perhaps the most impressive about the character’s development however, is not his sexuality but his sense of self awareness. Near the end of the film Lefou breaks from Gaston, becoming aware that no matter how he tries to guide him, Gaston will never care about anyone more than himself. He sets aside the hero worship and the amorous dreams that have kept him at his best friend’s side, choosing instead to go it alone. And in the end, as many Disney characters do, he seems to get his happy ending, dancing with a handsome young man at Belle and the Beast’s ball.
However, though Lefou is the first Disney character who has been confirmed to be gay. There have been a few others throughout the years, who people have suspected of being LGBTQ as well. The most obvious recent example being Oaken from Disney’s Frozen.
In the Oaken’s Trading Post scene, Oaken introduces Anna to his family, waving at them in the sauna. When the camera pans to them, we get a quick glimpse of a man and four children ranging age. Disney has never confirmed or denied Oaken’s sexuality, but it is safe to say in a film made by such talented artists and writers, the subtle meaning was there.
Another recent character that has been discussed is Riley from Inside Out. Riley is a young girl from Minnesota with a love of hockey and trouble fitting in at her new school. The emotions inside her head try to guide her in the right direction, not always successfully. These emotions are also a mixture of male and female, unlike those in her parent’s heads who are all female (mother) or male (father) leading people to believe Riley is in fact bi-gendered or genderfluid.
There are also some characters that hold meaning to LGBTQ youth and adults, whether that was the original intention or not. For instance, the design of Ursula from The Little Mermaid was based on the illustrious drag queen Divine. For that reason alone, she’s held up as an example of a fierce queen beloved by the community.
Also from the Little Mermaid, the trans community draws inspiration from the character of Ariel. Something which I had never considered, given the questionable moral of the film. However, the trans community often holds up Ariel as in inspiration due to her determination to go against her father’s wishes and become human. Something she had fantasized about, collecting whatever human treasures she could in secret. A journey eerily similar to what many transgender children and adults go through.
Whatever your thoughts on Lefou, the new Beauty and the Beast film or these characters mentioned above, it’s clear to see that Disney has started to think further about LGBTQ representation in their films. We hope that Lefou signifies a push by Disney to continue to progress and write scripts that can fully embrace all different sects of society. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll even get a animated film featuring two princesses or princes who live happily ever after.