It was just as I imagined it would be. Being such a huge fan of the original version of the film, my expectations were high, but the film met them and exceeded them in many ways. It was very special going to see this film during the special Opening Night Fan Event with my friend Angela to celebrate her birthday. We had waited for this movie for so long, and now it was finally here! It was not only in 3D, but it featured exclusive bonus content, including the “Beauty and the Beast” music video in 3D. I enjoyed every minute of it. I laughed, I cried. It was everything a good movie should be. However, with every good film, there should also come discussion about what you agree and disagree with in the film. In light of controversy among conservative Christian circles about the “exclusive gay moment” that director Bill Condon discussed prior to the film’s release, I wanted to take the opportunity to take a deeper look at the content of the film. [If you want to skip straight to my comments on the gay moment, go to the section titled “The Sub-Plot of Same-Sex Attraction Was Mostly Subtle But Completely Unnecessary”] I know I am a loyal fan of Beauty and the Beast, but I have done my best to approach this review in a critical fashion, so I can offer a balanced view.
Greater Detail and Realism Draws You Deeper Into the Well-Loved Story
This live action adaptation did an incredible job of taking the elements of the 1991 animated film and making it their own. The production team understood that they couldn’t just take the animated film script and just film it. It wouldn’t work the same way. They also didn’t just take the script from the popular Broadway musical version. They took careful consideration of what elements needed to stay, what elements needed to change, and what elements needed to be added to make a live action adaptation work. They even worked in a few elements from the original fairy tale that didn’t work in the animated film. They also brought in historical research to make elements more accurate to the period, which you can see in the design of buildings, costumes, and even the enchanted objects. Probably their bigger challenge was missing in the gaps of missing information from the animated film and filling in the details in a way that kept the integrity of the original story. For example, this film version mentions that the enchantress’ spell erased all memories of the prince, the castle, and all who lived there from the minds of their loved ones. These and other details also make the story more sense from a logistical standpoint.
This version also make the story more human. Not to say the original film doesn’t connect on a human level, but the realism they brought into this version makes it feel like it could have actually happened in a time and age we have long forgotten. This was especially true of the character of the Beast. Dan Stevens did such an incredible job really giving this character a soul. Because of the digital work they were able to do with his face and body, I believed in him as a living breathing creature that had a real human soul trapped inside. Plus the story development that helps the audience understand his selfishness and anger makes his character all the more believable. It was captivating from start to finish.
Transformative Redemption Found in Sacrificial Love is “A Tale as Old as Time”
Even with all the changes made to the original version, the essence of the message at the heart of the story remained intact. From the beginning, the Beast has lost all hope of ever finding redemption for his cursed soul, "for who could learn to love a Beast?” Then, in an act of sacrificial love, a young girl named Belle (played by Emma Watson) comes to rescue her father Maurice (played by Kevin Kline) from the Beast’s dungeon and offers to take his place as the Beast’s prisoner. At first, the Beast is too caught up in his anger and selfishness to open up his heart to her. But when he scared her and she runs away into a pack of wolves, he risks his life to save her. She is also ready to keep running, but she makes the choice to save the Beast and return to the castle to tend to his wounds. Then they gradually get to know each other and realize they have a lot in common. Through this process, both of their hearts begin to soften toward each other and their perspectives on life begin to change.
After some time, when Belle discovers her father is in danger, the Beast releases Belle as his prisoner and tells her to go save her father, and he realizes that he loves her. When Belle tries to save her father by telling the villagers about the Beast, Gaston (played by Luke Evans) incites them to go and kill the Beast after Belle’s public rejection of him. Belle risks everything to go and save the Beast, but not before Gaston shoots him. When the Beast dies from his wounds, Belle realizes that she loves him too and mourns his death greatly. Moved by Belle’s affection for the Beast, the enchantress resurrects him as a prince. Belle looks the prince in the eyes and sees that he and the Beast were one and the same. They marry and live happily ever after.
Belle’s kindness and patience changed the Beast’s heart. On the other hand, befriending and eventually falling in love with the Beast also changed Belle’s heart. They both learned that the essence of love is sacrifice, and they both sacrificed so much for each other. That willingness to give up himself for the woman he loved and her willingness to do the same ultimately redeemed his soul. It’s such a powerful metaphor of what can happen to someone’s heart when they choose to die to self and become a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, when working on the animation of the transformation scene for the original film, animator Glen Keane had 2 Corinthians 5:17 written on his exposure sheet:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (ESV)
Ever since I learned this fact, this story, especially the transformation scene, have taken on a whole new meaning for me. It emotionally moves me unlike nearly any other movie I’ve ever seen on film (with the exception of the crucifixion scene in nearly any Jesus film, or the ending scene of The Lord of the Rings, lol). It moves me to tears nearly every time I watch it, no matter if it’s animated, the live action film, or even high schoolers putting on an amateur production of the stage play. That moment will have my heart and my imagination forever, no matter how it is portrayed. That is the moment that is the tale as old as time. It was the consummation of his redemption, his physical transformation that reflected the inner transformation of his heart. From the perspective of a Christian who knows that the Lord did that to my own heart, it will never cease to amaze me. The portrayal of this moment in the live action version only confirmed this to be true.
Some Innocence Is Lost With Realism
Unfortunately, we live in a different world that we did 25 years ago when Beauty and the Beast first came out as an animated film. Although the animated version of the film was primarily intended for children, this live action adaptation in some respects seems to be aiming to appeal to adults, most specifically to my generation that grew up watch the animated film, but desired to see part of the story portrayed in a more realistic manner. The standard of what is acceptable for children to see in a film has been significantly lowered since 1991. As a result, a remake of a G-rated film is rated PG, and some of the reasons for the rating aren’t totally to my taste.
In the end, the nature of this version of the story is a little darker and slightly more frightening, especially for children. Some of the scenes that were appropriately mild in the animated film are a little more intense, like the wolf attacks on Maurice and Belle, and the villagers’ attack on the castle. The Beast makes two references to damnation. You see a glimpse of the prince’s mother dead and also Belle’s mother dying from the plague. The climactic battle between the Beast and Gaston happens atop parts of the castle that are crumbling away. The Beast is shoot in the back three times by Gaston. The last rose petal falls and the curse doesn’t break until the enchantress observes Belle saying “I love you.” Until then, you see the objects cease to live. Although I personally don’t think any of these moments are inappropriate, it does make it a slight bit less family-friendly than the original version.
The Sub-Plot Of Same-Sex Attraction Was Mostly Subtle But Completely Unnecessary
The moment of greatest concern has been the “exclusively gay moment” that has been causing a buzz. LeFou (played by Josh Gad) is Gaston’s sidekick who seems to have some unresolved feelings for Gaston. The nature of these feelings is subtle and is mostly disguised as innuendo, which is not uncommon in most films today. It’s played in a comedic way, but to Christians, it really shouldn’t be that amusing. Right at the beginning LeFou asks why Gaston wanted Belle “when you’ve got us.” One moment, when Gaston looks at himself in the mirror, he says, “I’m not done with you yet,” LeFou in return looks at himself in the mirror and says “Me neither.” LeFou lifts his shirt to reveal a bite mark that was apparently made by Gaston in some sort of wrestling match. As far as physical contact, you see LeFou rub Gaston’s shoulders, try to force an awkward dance moment with Gaston’s arms wrapped around him, and at one point, Gaston a little close to Lefou’s face in an awkward moment. Even in all of this, Gaston is way too full of himself and determined to win Belle as his prize to realize that LeFou feels this way about him.
The two moments of greatest concern are toward the end, and the worst doesn’t even involve LeFou at all. When the villagers are battling the enchanted objects in the climate of the film, the Wardrobe faces off with three men. She attacks them with fabric, wigs, and makeup. Two of three men look at themselves and run away in terror, but the third turns toward the wardrobe, smiles, preens himself, and walks away proudly as the wardrobe sings, “Be free!”
Then, in the final scene of the film, at the celebration ball, the men and women surrounding the Belle and the Prince are doing a traditional dance of the period which includes the switching of dance partners. As it turns out, when LeFou tries to switch partners, he winds up dancing with the man who liked himself in the dress. They both look at each other confused as they twirl for a moment. And that’s it. It’s on the screen for two second, and if you blinked you missed it. Plus, it was quite obvious that it was an accident on the part of the characters. You don’t have the opportunity to see if they react any further than their initial confusion. That was the “exclusively gay moment” everyone has been going on and on about. And it looked like an accident.
It was completely and totally unnecessary. Even many secular reviews are agreeing that it was unnecessary to the plot and not that well played out. It added nothing to the overall story. It just added fuel to the fire of the agenda that the world has been trying to get us to accept as normal. In that respect, we shouldn’t be surprised. We should have seen this coming from ten miles away. Even the implication that this man dressed as a woman could find freedom in doing so shouldn’t be shocking. I think it wasn’t that big of a deal to the importance of the plot, but they wanted to make sure that it would be noticed by causing a stir about it right before the film’s release. And it worked.
My conclusion is that, although I am disappointed that this content is in the film, it did not ruin the movie, and I don’t think it should prevent Christians from seeing it. I have actually seen some Christians take the stance that it would be a sin from someone to go see the film because it supports homosexuality. Although it’s true that the filmmakers do apparently support those choices, the references and innuendo is just as bad as any heterosexual innuendo we endure today in PG-rated movies and TV shows. The references are not blatant and should not be treated like they are. Just be careful to not be amused by these moments and notice them for what they are – a vain attempt to normalize same sex attraction.
In light of all this, I have been debating ever since I saw the film if I would recommend this film to families with children. And in the end, I decided to conclude that it should be left to the discretion of the parents. If you are a parent, I would encourage you to educate yourself about these moments in the film by reading a few solid Christian reviews of the film to determine if you think it’s safe for your children to see. I personally think that almost all of these moments described above (except for the man dressed as a woman) would go right over most of their heads. And the moments that they do notice can offer opportunity to discuss about what God thinks about these behaviors if they are old enough to understand. This film presents this behaviors in a mild way, but I think there will come a time when the presentation will not be so mild, and it will become a moral dilemma if we choose to view them ourselves as adults. Therefore, some of you might want to take the opportunity to view this with your kids as the opportunity for discussion. For example, if you do discuss the moment of the man dressed as a woman, I would encourage you to tell them that freedom can only be found in the Christ, not in anything we do to ourselves and for ourselves. Just remember to look at all of it in light of what God says, not what the world says.
Other Things I Noticed in Beauty and the Beast
A few other elements stood out positively:
Casting – The casting of this picture was absolutely perfect! All accomplished actors in their own right, but together, they were an amazing ensemble.
Music – The music was also wonderful, just like the original film. All the songs from the original film are included (with the exception of the reprise of "Gaston" that didn't fit with some of the plot changes), but some were reworked to fit better in a live action content. Some songs had new lyrics, or lyrics that were discarded from the animated film, but worked well in live action. There were also a few new songs written by Alan Menken and Tim Rice. At first I didn’t know if I would like them as much, but I found that I did enjoy them, especially the Beast’s new song “Evermore.” They all fit into the content of this live action adaptation very well.
A few other elements stood out negatively:
Gaston’s Deception – Gaston is a man that is insistent on his own way. It’s pretty clear that he would do anything to get it. When Maurice tries to get help when Belle is taken prisoner, Gaston offers to help trying to win Maurice’s favor. But when they are unable to find it and Maurice tells Gaston he would never marry his daughter, Gaston knocks him out and ties him up to be eaten by wolves. When Maurice survives and returns to the village, Gaston lies and convinces LeFou to lie as well to cover up his attempt to murder Maurice. They he tries to have Maurice committed to an asylum to silence him. It’s pretty sad that Gaston is so self-serving that he would do all this to protect his image and get what he wants.
LeFou’s Double-Mindedness – LeFou faces a few moral dilemmas as he watches Gaston’s deception, but ends up going along with most of it to keep Gaston’s favor. When Gaston ties up Maurice, LeFou asks if they could find a “less gruesome alternative,” but Gaston insists. When Maurice returns and claims that LeFou saw what happened, LeFou caves until the pressure Gaston puts on him to lie. LeFou is especially conflicted when they want to send Maurice to the asylum. It’s not until the battle with the enchanted objects that LeFou switches sides when he realizes that Gaston and those siding with him were losing. He choose what was convenient for him, not what was morally right.
Although this adaptation had some short-comings, I enjoyed it very much. It preserves the essence of the original film while still being uniquely its own. All the elements within it came together so perfectly. This version, along with the original, has become one of my favorite films of all time. I will cherish the event of seeing it on opening night for years to come. It was a special memory made from a special film. Despite the parts I disagreed with, I still find this to be a wonderful film that I recommend to adults that like Disney without hesitation. That’s because, even with the deception that rest of the world tries to interject into this story, the powerful truths at its core cannot be changed – true beauty is found within, and redemption is a tale as old as time. I hope that if you choose to go see this film, those themes will be what stands out to you, no matter what the rest of the world says.
[If you would like to read my blog post on the reasons I love Belle and want to be like her as a person, click here]