MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Walt Disney Films
Directed by Bill Condon. Starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens.
Disney’s original 1991 animated film Beauty and the Beast is an undisputed classic. Filled with a rich and varied Broadway-worthy collection of songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken (who had also written the songs for The Little Mermaid) and a lively and engaging expansion of a classic fairy tale, the movie won over fans of all ages and became the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award.
In the prologue to both films, we hear the story about how a vain prince is cursed after rejecting an enchantress (Hattie Morahan) in disguise, and fated to live out his life transformed as a beast in his castle. In addition, the household servants are also turned into objects and doomed to remain in their condition until the time when someone can see through the Beast’s terrifying exterior and offer him love. Could there ever be a beauty who could love such a beast?
The good news about this live action remake is that it is a fine movie in its own right. All of the original songs are here, with a few new tunes that help fill out its extended running time. While Emma Watson’s Belle doesn’t have the powerful voice of the earlier film’s Paige O’Hara, her singing is clear and lovely. Dan Stevens has more time on screen as the Beast with a richer character arc to move him from a lonely, cursed prince to someone that perhaps would be worthy of love.
After watching this version, I revisited the animated film. Twenty-five years ago, Belle was rather coy and passive-aggressive in resisting the advances of Gaston (Luke Evans), the self-absorbed bully intent on “wooing” her. In this movie, Belle tells Gaston right away that she is not interested in him in the least. Belle also knows about all of the other men in town and doesn’t see much in them, either! While the cartoon version is upfront about the narrow-mindedness of Belle’s “small provincial town”, in this film the village comes off as downright oppressive, with only a handful of books (in the library of the local priest) that almost no one can read. The town harbors an illiterate and gossipy populace that can be turned into an angry mob with just a little provocation.
Belle’s love for her widowed father (Kevin Kline) is also beautifully shown, with a flashback scene that honors his loss. On balance, the film is entertaining, colorful, and fun with marvelous and clever CG characters, voiced by a topnotch cast of actors including Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Emma Thompson, as Mrs. Potts the teapot, offers a lovely version of the title song made famous by Angela Lansbury.
The great thing about Beauty and the Beast is that it offers up its positive messages through its characters and their decisions rather than by speechifying. Good stories should show us rather than tell us what to think. There is a happy ending to this fairy tale, but it requires people to grow and change in relationship to one another. If the love of God is to be at work in the world, it deserves nothing less.
Four halos: The positive values of self-esteem, family, and love are all present in an entertaining remake of a classic Disney film.
Two pitchforks: Mean spirited and petty villagers, mild but intentional violence, some off-screen deaths.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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