There are stories worth re-telling, songs appealing enough to stay on repeat, and movies meaningful enough to charm their way into our hearts forever. Disney’s live-action remake of the 1991 animated film Beauty And The Beast is an enchanted take on a classic love story that will likely fill theater seats with parents thrilled to share it with their children.
First, let’s dive into the beauty, pun intended, of this film! Director Bill Condon cast Emma Watson and Dan Stevens into the lead roles and they bring a fresh perspective to the characters we’ve long associated with animated images. Watson stuns as the lovely Belle, the daughter of a simple man named, Maurice. Together they live in a poor provincial town. Belle’s connection to her father is deep and they share a sadness in the loss of her mother. In this film, Disney sheds more light on exactly what happened to her. So not to give anything away – suffice it to say that there are a few blanks that Condon decides to fill in for fans of the classic story. The fate of Belle’s mother is one of those along with other details that won’t disappoint.
The story …
Belle is known in the small village as a funny girl who doesn’t quite fit into the mold of who she should be with her head always in a book and not at all drawn to the handsome, egotistical Gaston.
And as the story goes, when her father’s horse returns without him after he’s left for a quick trip to the market, Belle knows that something is wrong. She finds he has been taken prisoner in a castle he stumbled upon. His wrongdoing? He picked a rose from grounds because his most precious daughter had requested he bring her one back from his trip. (Note to self – a pack of gum seems like a more innocuous choice!) The ghastly beast allows her one last embrace with her father and Belle takes his place and whispers in his ear that she will find a way to escape. Her father is dragged from the castle and runs to find help. Belle settles in and begins to notice that she’s surrounded by what used to be a beautiful, impeccably decorated palace that has become a desolate, lonely space.
There is no shortage of sing-along moments and from the first note, we are drawn into the familiarity of the songs and lost enough in our reality that a singing teapot doesn’t feel odd. Speaking of which, Emma Thompson brilliantly delivers in her role as Mrs. Potts joined by other household items that emanate pure joy into a dark and dreary castle that has long been under a spell. One might not imagine the stellar cast of inanimate objects includes Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as well as a young Nathan Mack as Chip, Mrs. Potts’s son. They deliver an all-star performance of the definitive song from this movie, “Be Our Guest.” Warning: you may find yourself smiling and even clapping at this point.
Maurice, like his daughter, is known for being a bit peculiar and returns to tell the townspeople that his daughter has been taken by a beast. Enter haughty Gaston who seizes an opportunity to rescue the one woman who has not yet fallen for his fetching, good looks, and strapping physique. However, a quick trip to liberate and win the heart of Belle bores Gaston. He along with his sidekick, LeFou opt to tie Maurice up to a tree and leave him to the wolves as they venture off to rescue Belle. When Gaston and LeFou return from their fruitless quest to save Belle, they find Maurice alive and well – that’s not awkward at all. Much to their surprise, he was aided by the enigmatic beggar woman Agatha. When Maurice confidently shares with the village that he was left for dead by his traveling partners, neither the mysterious Agatha or the ever faithful LeFou take his side. In a quick turn of the tables, Gaston convinces the town that Maurice is only safe locked up in the modern-day equivalent of an insane asylum.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, aka castle, with the help of their enchanting friends, Belle and the Beast have bonded over Shakespeare and the loss of their mothers. Stevens, depicting the Beast, manages to be both frightening in his outer appearance and serene – exhibiting a gentle spirit that is visible just past his exterior, in his distinguishable blue eyes.
If there is a flaw, it is in the precision of the storyline. The script is ever-faithful to its animated predecessor. For in what we know to be the turning point of the script, the Beast realizes Belle, although congenial and affable at this point is being held captive and love does not hold prisoner the object of its affection. The Beast allows her to look in on her father via a magic mirror and when she sees he is in distress he emancipates her knowing that it was likely his one chance at breaking this terrible spell. He gifts her this magic mirror in which to remember him. Releasing Belle is an act of altruism that differentiates him from Gaston.
Belle arrives to help her father just before they send him away. She uses the mirror to substantiate Maurice’s recount of what he’s seen. She isn’t aware that informing the town of the Beast’s existence will target him. Gaston’s pomposity goes into full effect and he decides to once and for all claim his warrior status by setting out to kill the Beast. Belle is thrown into the carriage with her father and Gaston leads the town off to fight. Belle and her father solidify their scripted father-daughter connection by working together to free themselves. A courageous Belle is off to save the Beast, who will be amazed that she returns to save him of her own free will.
Cue the fight scene where the townspeople + heroic Gaston go toe to toe with animated clocks and wardrobes in this once-forgotten fortress. This story ends as every magical fairytale should – just before the last petal falls on the cursed rose, Belle confesses her love for the Beast and Gaston meets the fate of nearly every Disney villain.
The takeaway …
This movie is thrilling and magical! Even adults are caught up in the hopeful plot of love that sees beyond the exterior and to the true heart of its affection. Visually, it’s stunning to the point that you forget how far we’ve come with CGI (computer generated imagery) in the area of film since 1991. The music combined with the incredible costuming and cast of characters make this an easy choice for date night. You’ll leave the theater almost floating to the magical songs that are the backbone of this film.
But is it for kids?
Much has been made of this movie, even by those who have not viewed it and it has become quite a controversy on social media. The truth is, the live-action version of the film is a bit more intense than the animated version that is 26 years its senior – and that’s to be expected. While the film is visually impressive, the realness of the characters may make this a bit scarier for young children. Belle’s yellow gown shines so brightly every little girl can imagine herself dancing in it, while the fierceness of the wolves just outside the castle and the veracity of the Beast is extremely apparent.
We chose to view the movie without our boys who are 5 and 8, and I am glad we did. That’s not to say that we won’t end up taking them to the theater to see it, but we wanted to make our own decisions based on what is right for our family and for our kids as individuals rather than being influenced by the social media debate around the film. Our youngest would likely enjoy the adventure and imagery, while our oldest is very sensitive to emotions and extremely empathetic. Should we decide to see the movie with him we would need talk about how the movie affected his heart – and what layers of lessons we can pull from the dichotomy of good and evil depicted in the film.
And so, let’s just talk about the social media debate a bit … We are a family that makes careful choices with what our children watch. We also know that this world is not a place that we can protect them from. It is not our home and when it begins to feel like that, there is something unsettling that should cause us to pause. Still, I would argue that the “exclusively gay moment” that the media has made much of is overstated and is not what our family would leave discussing – if it were, we would be missing a great moment to pour into our kids’ hearts. I would also argue that as parents and even Christians we need to leave room for the idea that we might disagree – and that’s ok.
Discussion Ideas for Families:
If you do choose to see the movie with your kids – here a few points from the film you could spend some time navigating together …
1. On Making Choices
There are several moments in the film where characters are forced to choose between what is right or wrong. Sometimes you can visibly see their internal struggle. This is a great opportunity to talk with your kids about choices that aren’t easy to make and how what their hope is anchored in is the foundation to those choices. You can also talk to them about what they can do in those moments when they aren’t sure what to do – create a blueprint for moments of indecision that will make it easier to make a good choice in a quick moment.
2. True Beauty Lies Within
This film stands up to the old adage that you cannot judge a book by its’ cover. Which is another reason why the play on Belle’s love of books is meaningful! Who could love a beast? Only Belle, the girl who reads each line, flips each page, and sometimes even re-reads the story would not miss the beauty inside. The world will throw our kids lots of opportunities to place judgment on others based on one look, choice, or action. Teaching them to look harder, deeper, and seek to understand people is a lesson that will benefit them their whole life.
3. People Can Change
It might sound silly, but I think we miss out on some really good things in life when we don’t allow for the idea that people are flawed. It’s easy to make quick judgments about a person’s character and thus think we know the whole story. The harder, more rewarding thing to do is forgive and allow space for them to show us a different side.
4. Words Matter
My favorite line from Mrs. Potts in this film is when she says to Chip, “People say hurtful things when they’re angry.” It’s a simple, true statement that reminds us the weight of words in the heat of a moment. This is a great chance to re-iterate this to your kids.
The lessons here are deep and rich. The music is captivating. The tale is as old as time and absolutely worth re-telling.