In another world, Gaston would be the hero of a Disney picture.
He's handsome, he's charming, he's a mighty hunter (we're betting the whole village stays pretty well fed thanks to him) and he's even ready to take on a monster in a haunted castle. Everyone loves him. The animators even gave him all kinds of hero-type physical traits just so we wouldn't forget—the mountains of muscles, the cleft chin, the piercing blue eyes…he's basically the animated version of Henry Cavill.
Has to be the good guy, right?
And that's by design. Disney's graphics team borrowed heavily from their own playbook of designing heroes (along with a little bit from the local vanity types wandering around L.A.) to create the most heroic villain ever seen. On the surface, everything fits. It's when you go poking beneath it that a much different character emerges…in keeping with the film's "surface impressions don't mean doodly-squat" theme.
It's the exact kind of ugliness we'd expect from a guy this good-looking.
Who's the Fairest of Them All?
For starters, OMG, is he vain.
There isn't a mirror alive he wouldn't make sweet, sweet love to, and that's about the only thing he saves his love for. We see that from the get-go when he responds with a simple "I know" to LeFou gushing that he's "the greatest hunter in the whole world!" And then, he pretty much slaps his followers (i.e., LeFou) silly: beating them up, pushing them around, and generally doing everything but marking his territory on their heads to show them who's the alpha dog.
Oh, and you can add cruelty to the mix, too. His bloodlust for shooting animals is unsurpassed, and the ease with which he uses the Beast to further his own ends makes him a grade-A psychopath.
And yet, everything the community does reinforces all those awful qualities. The worse he behaves, the more they love him. Like him, they only see what's on the surface and don't bother questioning why such a handsome man would treat everybody like something he dug out of his ear. So all of those awful qualities (ooh, and cowardice—we totally forgot how gutless he is at the end!) get wrapped into an exquisite jewel of perfect narcissism.
It makes those handsome features a whole lot scarier than they should be.
Seriously, everything about this guy screams jerk, and with the backing of the whole town, he can basically keep being King Jerk of Weasel Mountain for the rest of his life. The fact that the Beast started out life just as detestable as Gaston gives Gaston another important villain quality: he's a dark reflection of the hero he ultimately faces. (Well, okay, stabs in the back.)
Through Gaston, we also see just how awful the townsfolk can be. He's the distillation of all their worst tendencies: their raging id brought to life, cheerfully excusing their behavior by embodying it in every horrible little thing he does. By delivering the smackdown to Gaston, the Beast symbolically puts all the bad behind him: renouncing the cruel parts of himself and giving over to the good vibes Belle brought to his world. That's something else a good bad guy does: expunges the wickedness in our own souls and reminds us to be mindful of those times when we're the narcissistic jerks.
We don't want to give Gaston too much credit because he's not too bright and, wow, do we want to punch him in the face a lot. But as a villain, he does all the things the story needs him to do…and he does it while remaining utterly convinced to the very end that he's actually the hero.
It's surprisingly complex for a fairly straightforward character, and one of the reasons why Disney saved a spot among their world-class black hats to fit him in.