Redeeming love - most famously shown on a dusty hill called Calvary - really is a “tale as old as time.” Redeeming love shines once again in Disney’s live-action remake of the 1991 classic animated film, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Belle (Emma Watson) longs for a world beyond her little village. She’s the town oddball, much more interested in feeding her own mind than in preening for a husband. That doesn’t stop Gaston (Luke Evans) from trying to impress Belle. His self-love and arrogance seems to work with the village’s other girls but the fact that Belle isn’t interested in Gaston makes him want her even more.
When Belle’s father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), fails to return home from a trip to the market, Belle sets off, finding him in a cursed castle, prisoner of the Beast (Dan Stevens). When she chooses to replace her father as the Beast’s prisoner, the household staff thinks she might be the one to break the curse. The Beast was once a prince, hard-hearted, selfish, and unloving, refusing a beggar woman shelter from a storm. She curses him and the household. He is to remain a beast until he learns to love and someone loves him in return.
The film, directed by Bill Condon, remains faithful to the animated classic in most ways. Emma Watson’s Belle is no pushover. She invents a washing machine that gives her more time to read. She never allows the Beast to walk all over her. When he’s arrogant, she pushes back, demanding respect.
This version of the story also gives us more backstory. We see the prince before he became a beast and discover how his attitudes developed. We also learn what happened to Belle’s mother. These episodes serve to show just how much of a conversion the Beast goes through. In this story, Belle is the constant. It is the Beast who responds to the redeeming love Belle shows him.
The things we love about the original are still here. Lumiere (Ewan McGregor), Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson) and Chip (Nathan Mack) all help Belle to see the good man buried deep within the Beast. The old songs and dances, and some new ones, delight with stunning visuals and new voices. The yellow gown sparkles and the love story at the center of it all inspires.
There has been some controversy around the director’s March 1st announcement that “Beauty and the Beast” features Disney’s first gay character. The “gay moment” Condon promised is there but it’s very insignificant (two men dancing in a room full of dancers) and is on-screen for about three seconds. I understand how making this lifestyle appear acceptable to children is a concern. If children ask questions about this moment in the film or about LeFou (Josh Gad) as a character, speak truth to them in an age-appropriate manner remembering that Jesus calls us to love and accept everyone while not condoning the sin. I would also invite you to talk to kids about the central love story of Belle and the Beast. It features virtues that we hope to imbue in our children: self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and redeeming love.
Recently, I re-read the parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke’s gospel, chapter 15. The Beast is a bit like the younger son, arrogant and self-serving. Belle embodies the attitudes and love of the father. She freely gives up her own freedom so her father can be free. Is that not what Jesus did for us? He chose to die so we could be free of our sins, he loves us that much. Belle also never gives up on encouraging Beast to conversion. When he’s selfish, she calls him out. When he’s demanding and disrespectful, she doesn’t let him get away with it. When she saves him from the wolves, he begins to see the power of a heart full of love and his own love, locked away for so long, slowly emerges.
I think we all probably have some of both Belle and the Beast inside us. We are sinners, not perfect, making mistakes and having attitudes that need adjusting at times, like Beast. Yet, I think we are also Belle, having good hearts, wanting to help those in need even when it’s not easy, and striving to live as people who have experienced love.
The other thing about Belle that I think is really important is that she was open to the possibility that Beast could change. She forgave him and did not withhold her love. When people hurt us, it’s only natural that we would want to hurt them back. If they repent and seek reconciliation, we often resist, holding onto the hurt. Belle’s love was such that she could let go the fact that Beast held her prisoner. She can be an inspiration for how to forgive, move on, and love.