From the moment Gaston saw the Beast in the magic mirror, it became clear that a conflict between the two was inevitable. And Gaston couldn’t ask for a more complacent target: ever since he let Belle go rescue her father, the Beast has been sunk in a deep depression, he doesn’t think Belle is ever coming back and so he doesn’t care if he lives or dies. Thus, when Gaston appears in the West Wing with an arrow cocked at him, the Beast doesn’t even twitch (that alone should’ve told Gaston that this was no ordinary “Beast” but we already know that he’s not one to think anything through), that is until he gets an arrow in the back.
Gaston is being deliberately cruel: clearly an an expert hunter, he’s deliberately taunting the Beast (as opposed to a swift kill) because (in his mind) “how dare this ugly thing claim Belle as his own in any way?” He’s so blinded by hate that he can’t see that the Beast is clearly heartbroken. But Gaston’s taken way too long; Belle comes riding up and when Beast sees that Belle has come back, the entire game changes (and not in Gaston’s favor).
While Belle races to the West Wing, Gaston and Beast play cat and mouse on the roof tops of the castle. I mentioned in the post for “Tale as Old as Time” that this scene very nearly became the CGI scene (in which case the roof of the castle would’ve been computer generated), but the test images weren’t nearly realistic enough, so the idea was scrapped and animated traditionally.
Musically, this scene is a blending of several themes, most noticeably there are several lines from “Something there” but in an entirely different key (you can hear “for he’s no prince Charming” when Belle is seen running up the stairs, and “something there I didn’t see” when Gaston smashes the head of a statue by mistake).
Gaston is delusional at this point, going so far as to say “Were you in love with her Beast? Did you honestly think she would want you? When she had someone like me??” It’s a total lie and the Beast knows it (if Belle had been attached to anyone in the village in that way, she would’ve surely said something to him), and he sneaks up for the attack. But Gaston believes he has him cornered until he goes one step to far and shouts “Belle is mine!!” This is too much for the Beast who, in two swift movements, knocks Gaston’s club away and leaves him dangling off the rooftop with one hand around his neck. What happens next is very, very important. Gaston (true to his character) is now a sniveling coward, pleading for his life. He’ll do anything, ANYTHING, just don’t kill/hurt him. I always knew that when the Beast did NOT kill Gaston, that he had learned mercy, embracing his inner humanity, but it only struck me last week that there was something more as well.
Remember in the prologue when, just before his initial transformation, the Beast tried to apologize to the Enchantress? It occurred to me, just then, that the Prince must have begged for mercy in the exact same way that Gaston begged for his life. And the Beast paused (with a magical theme echoing in his ears no less), not just because he was choosing mercy, but because he can see the person he was (a spoiled young man) in Gaston. And so, he’s granting Gaston the mercy that the Enchantress did not show him (the Prince) in the hopes that he will learn something from it, merely telling him to “Get out!”
Just at that moment, Belle appears on the balcony, and the Beast only has eyes for her. Gaston watched him climb towards Belle, but neither of them care; the Beast is awestruck that Belle really did come back and there’s a beautiful moment as the two grab hands, and you can tell they’re both happy to be together again. But just as the moment is building to a romantic climax…Gaston intrudes for the last time. Not content to run away with his life, Gaston has fully embraced the “if I can’t have her, no one can” mindset, snuck up from behind and STABBED the Beast in the back! Anyone who’s seen the movie knows what comes next, but would you believe me if I said the ending used to be a whole lot darker?
Don’t get me wrong, Gaston was always going to die, but it was the how of his death that was changed. In the original script, after stabbing the Beast, Gaston was going to shout something cruel to Belle and then throw himself laughing off the balcony down to his own death. And I can hear people saying Disney wanted to do this?? While it is incredibly shocking and dark, bear in mind that this is the same studio that originally planned for Bambi to come back and find his death mother in a pool of blood (Disney himself vetoed that idea once he got wind of it). Thankfully for all concerned, the animators and writers felt that this really was too dark and Gaston’s death was re-animated to the version we know today: the Beast thrusts Gaston aside and he falls screaming to his death. But you can actually see a few frames of the original ending (because the animators were running out of time and money): look at Gaston’s face and body posture just before he gets knocked off and begins to flail. See that insane grin? You can tell he’s positioned to jump, but in the very next shot, he’s in a slightly different spot.
No one dies like Gaston (I couldn’t resist)
And there we have the end of Gaston, and also the end of the Beast as Belle knows him. Next time, the final entry for Beauty and the Beast: “The Transformation”
*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios
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