Laurie Sparham/Disney
Anthony Breznican
March 03, 2017 AT 06:29 PM EST

I’m the father of two little kids, and I couldn’t be happier that the new Beauty and Beast film features a gay character.

There’s an uproar brewing among some who are troubled that the new live-action Disney remake features a male supporting character who has a crush on another man. It’s disheartening that this is still an issue in 2017, but not especially surprising.

My guess is most people won’t mind, but it’s the isolated objectors who so often define the narrative on things like this. No news stories will be written about the thousands of movie theaters that will show the movie when it opens on March 10, but right now an Alabama drive-in has snagged headlines by boycotting the film.

So be it.

But I hope parents see past that and embrace the message of this movie — which is about knowing when someone needs help, and knowing when to stand up against someone who no longer deserves it.

I’ve seen the movie twice, the second time with my wife and two young children — a girl, 7, and a son, 4 — and I can assure parents there’s nothing here that should worry them. The relationship in question is not overtly sexual. If anything, the gay character is even more chaste than Emma Watson’s Belle and Dan Stevens’ fiendishly cursed prince.

We can all agree that adult sexuality has no place in a family-friendly fairy tale. But unrequited love? Secret crushes? Romance? Those things definitely belong. Love, “twue love” (as the minister in The Princess Bride would say) takes many forms — none of them harmful.

THE FOOL WHO FOLLOWS

The character in question is LeFou, the sycophantic sidekick played by Josh Gad, who dotes on the villain Gaston like the dweebiest kid in school, mooning over the prettiest girl in class. Luke Evans’ heartless heartthrob never notices LeFou’s subtle swooning — not that he notices anyone, unless they are joining the chorus of narcissistic flattery that plays on a loop inside his own head.

In the animated original, LeFou was a mean-spirited, comic-relief toadie who follows Gaston like a toxic little shadow. The live-action movie gives him added dimension by revealing that he knows Gaston is a bad guy, but somewhere deep down within that broad chest, LeFou senses the semblance of a heart.

Watch the full interview with Emma Watson here, on the new PEOPLE/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN), or download the free app on your Smart TV, mobile and web devices.

As LeFou rallies the townsfolk to sing in adoration of Gaston, you can sense the one-sided friendship between the two men. LeFou sees in Gaston what Belle sees in the Beast: a damaged soul who could be good and is worth fighting for. Worth redeeming.

The difference is the Beast yearns to change, to be someone other than a volatile, angry creature. But Gaston is delighted to be indifferent, aloof, and uncaring. At one point, he tells LeFou he is drawn to Belle because she’s the only one in town who doesn’t “make a fool of herself” trying to impress him.

If LeFou, whose name literally means “the fool,” is wounded by this, he doesn’t show it. We get the sense he’s absorbed worse from his friend.

That moment is also revealing of Gaston, who shows he is only interested in dominating a strong woman, not actually winning over her affection. As his confidante, LeFou is the only person who sees this unvarnished ugly side of Gaston clearly, and there would be no reason for him to continue supporting this unabashed creep unless he also saw something beautiful beneath.

“As Josh said to me, LeFou wakes up everyday trying to figure out, ‘Do I want to be Gaston today, or do I want to kiss him?’” director Bill Condon told EW in an interview.

EXCLUSIVE: Watch Beauty and the Beast come to life in new behind-the-scenes video

So where does this relationship go? LeFou is constantly urging Gaston to be less selfish and unkind, to maybe go back and rescue the old man they stranded, to do the right thing for once. But his advice is rejected at every turn.

Finally, in the movie’s final confrontation, LeFou finds himself getting beaten up by a harpsichord (we’ve all been there, right?) and he begs for Gaston’s help, but the strapping villain sneers at his embattled cohort. He has no time to waste on pitiful LeFou.

In that moment, LeFou’s heart breaks. But it’s also the moment his backbone forms. He has looked the other way from Gaston’s cruelty again and again, but now that he has felt the full force of it, LeFou finally sees Gaston not through his star-crossed eyes, but as he truly is: a beast. Someone undeserving of the care LeFou has lavished on him over the years.

THE SCENES IN QUESTION

There are only two brief shots in the movie that explicitly fall under the LGBTQ banner. (Fair warning, light spoilers ahead:)

The three henchmen (known as “Tom, Dick, or Stanley” from Gaston’s self-aggrandizing pub song) charge into the castle with the rest of the rioting townsfolk and are confronted by the living wardrobe (voiced by Audra McDonald). She attacks with a blast of ribbons and silk that leaves the three gnarly men dressed in ball gowns.

Two of the men recoil in disgust, while one of them, Stanley (Alexis Loizon), pauses for a moment, then flashes an Ooh la la grin.

The second moment, involving LeFou, happens during the epilogue, when the castle’s anthropomorphic objects have returned to human form and are reunited with their loved ones from the village. A giant dance scene unfolds as McDonald’s Madame Garderobe sings the “Beauty and the Beast” theme song.

Belle and her prince are in the center of this swirling Baroque dance, with its courtly participants rotating in lines between different partners. At the edge of the group, we see LeFou, now redeemed, end up accidentally in the embrace of Stanley.

Both men are shocked for a moment, but when neither pulls away… they smile at each other and keep dancing.

It lasts for about three seconds.

That’s it. There’s the gay plot in the new Beauty and the Beast movie.

WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

For most little kids, this will fly right over their heads. LeFou will seem like the same loud, rambunctious goofball he was in the animated version. My son won’t notice the subtle depth in Gad’s LeFou for a few years, but my daughter will.

As they watch the movie again and again (and again and again and again, as kids do with Disney movies), more sophisticated young viewers will see that LeFou is infatuated, filled with foolhardy affection — something tweens and teens know about all too well. LeFou’s someone who devotes himself to the wrong person, is treated badly, then stands up for himself and meets a new friend, who makes him smile.

That leaves the question: Does this subplot in a big-budget family movie normalize same-sex relationships?

YES. Yes, that’s exactly what it does. And that’s why I’m so grateful to Condon and the screenwriters, Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos, for weaving this subtext into the story. And I’m delighted that Disney studio chief Alan Horn allowed them to do it.

They were opening themselves up to criticism by taking this chance, but as a parent, I believe it was worth it, and those who feel the same should celebrate the choice to drown out the haters. Some people will say, “But what am I supposed to say when my 5-year-old asks why LeFou is dancing with a man?”

Well, buck up, Mom and Dad. You’ll be asked far harder questions as the years go by. This is an easy one. You say, “Yes, some boys like boys. Some girls like girls. When you’re older, you can love whoever makes you happy. I’ll love you no matter what.”

In what possible way is this a controversial message?

We all, every single one of us, know LGBTQ people. Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers. They are a part of our lives, and they should be a part of our stories. This doesn’t harm children. It harms them when we exclude people who are a part of our everyday existence, when we act as though their romance is wrong in some way.

And the kids out there who have two mommies or two daddies, who come from homes just as loving and caring as mine? They deserve to see their families represented in fairy tales, too. This is a step in that direction.

There are certainly plenty of kids’ books that cover this ground. But I see tremendous value in the act of weaving same-sex couples into the fabric of broader stories.

It’s nice to see LeFou and Stanley exist just as a part of the narrative, a part of the adventure, as our real-life friends are part of ours.

For more Beauty and the Beast news, follow @Breznican.

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