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To See or Not To See: The RR Team Reflects on the New Beauty and the Beast

This discussion is part of our Beauty and the Beast Adventure this month. The text below reflects several ongoing discussions the Redeemed Reader team has had via email this month. We are trying to model how Christians might go about deciding whether to see this movie as well to model some of the discussions you might have if you do see the movie. Additionally, we are offering some suggestions for alternate activities below the post for those who choose not to see it. We are not making a blanket recommendation one way or the other. RR staff are identified so you can “follow” our discussion. **there are spoilers in this post**

To See or not to See? The heart of the issue

Megan: Perhaps you still intend to see Disney’s upcoming live action Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps you have determined not to see it. Perhaps you are undecided.

The staff at Redeemed Reader had anticipated this movie with delight. We had planned lovely readings and meditations on the themes of Appearance, Love, Beast, Beauty and Redemption. Now we have to decide whether to see the movie for the sake of cultural engagement or to defy Disney’s attempt to compromise our pursuit of holiness. And we’ve been musing over what the movie might include given all the recent press. [at this posting, three of us have now seen the movie; the bulk of the discussion below reflects this]

LeFou: the Fool

JanieI’ve been thinking about Alysha’s speculation [that Gaston and LeFou end up together].  If she’s right, the story will be totally wrong.  They can’t pull off quick redemption of Gaston (by true love) without doing serious damage to the theme.  Gaston is the necessary counterweight to both Belle and Beast—his face is beautiful, but his heart is twisted and ugly.  And LeFou is a fool. It seems more likely that LaFou recognizes what a creep his crush was, and finds happiness with someone else.

Betsy: Janie, you hit the nail on the head with this one: LeFou definitely realizes what a “creep” his crush was.

Megan: I haven’t seen it, but my sister did and observed something I haven’t seen pointed out yet in the media. Apparently Le Fou joins the Beast’s household in fighting the villagers, and when Mrs. Potts questions him, he expresses his disappointment with Gaston. She replies that he can do better anyway. At the end, Le Fou ends up dancing with the man who was happy to be redressed as a woman. So there seems to be implication that Le Fou is rewarded and also lives happily ever after. Would you come to that conclusion?

Hayley: Mrs. Potts’ advice was troubling -that “do better” part seems pretty heavy with the gay agenda expressed beforehand. I honestly wouldn’t take it as far as thinking he ends up with that cross-dressing guy. There’s a moment where they “dance” which is weird but honestly, I didn’t come away thinking they were going to live happily ever after.
It seemed much more that LeFou was going to have a chance to explore his other side.  No hard commitments.  (Which in a way could be more troubling: just be yourself and celebrate who you are . . . No ramifications.)

Alysha: Honestly, if I hadn’t been made aware of the agenda, I might not have noticed it until near the end. LeFou is enamored with Gaston, but in a way that showed the dysfunctionality of their relationship. Gaston mistreats and manipulates LeFou, and I was glad that the character was given a chance to grow. I thought that the moment when the wardrobe dresses the three men and then tells one to “be free” was unnecessary. It felt like the moment was supposed to be comedic, and to me, that makes things even more dangerous. I agree that LeFou seems to be rewarded for his change of heart, but don’t believe it is implied that the two men will live happily ever after. If not for the article that came out a couple weeks ago, I could have taken Mrs. Potts’ line of “you can do better” to imply that LeFou can do better than constantly living in Gaston’s shadow. He could be brave and stand up for the right thing instead of letting Gaston bully him.

Betsy: Yes, Alysha! If I hadn’t been watching this movie with “agenda” in mind, I’m not sure LeFou would have come across as gay so much as just a fool with some hero worship of the friend he idolizes (we see this all the time in books and movies when the bad guy’s henchmen unquestionably follow his lead even though he is definitely using them). Without the scenes in the chaotic ending that insinuate it’s more than hero worship, we’re left with a very funny, relatable character who is a fool–but a fool who begins to realize his foolishness by the of the movie. And that is a wee bit more dangerous: now we might even like LeFou and feel sorry for him (more than the Beast?).

Hayley: Betsy, I agree with you that LeFou is interesting and more relatable.  It makes a lot more sense to see him as a sidekick who is being manipulated by a selfish friend.  The scene in the tavern where Gaston forces him to lie is particularly well done.  I think it’s a legitimate concern that children could end up liking LeFou more than the Beast.

Megan: True, the moments in the film are subtle, and may go over young children’s heads. But another of my sisters pointed out that children will see the content of the movie. Their parents will see it. The movie may become part of family culture, and the long-term effects are harder to overlook. Thus, the decision to see this movie should be a conscientious decision; those who choose to see it should do so intending to follow up with their children and families.

Is subtle sin any more acceptable in the sight of God? Four times in Leviticus and once in the New Testament He calls His people to “Be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7; I Peter 1:16). How much will God allow your conscience to compromise with subtlety and not be desensitized?

If Disney had not boasted in revealing the “gay moment,” Christians would be faced with a different issue. In God’s perfect Providence, instead of allowing us to be caught unaware, He is testing our consciences.

Hayley: We’re so keen to point out the wrongness of homosexuality, but we can seek to understand, as thoughtful teens and adults, this real sin struggle for some of our brothers and sisters. I think reading a book like Rosaria Butterfield’s Secret Thoughts, or maybe Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay, could be helpful.

Another thing I do find troubling in a way is that we are rightfully disturbed about LeFou and the homosexual undertone, yet we laugh when Cogsworth is unhappily united with his horse-faced wife. And we accept (in both versions!) the romantic philandering of Lumiere.

It’s been a good reminder for me to recognize that sin can slide in other ways and be easier and more palatable to accept in some forms.  Yet, at the end of the day, it’s sin.

Betsy: Great points, Hayley. We are quick to notice the “obvious” sins, but all sin is a problem and a barrier to our fellowship with God without Christ’s intervention on our behalf.

How Does the Movie Portray the Rest of the Story?

Betsy: I thought it was one of the most beautiful movies Disney has produced (save, perhaps, for Cinderella two years ago). Cinematography, animation, aesthetics, music—all were top notch. I was also delighted to see many of the most striking themes from the traditional fairy tale to be present (but more on that in a minute). Alysha, what was your first impression?

Alysha:  I went to see the movie on Saturday evening with some of my friends, and I thought it was a stunning revival of the 1991 film, and a beautiful take on the original fairy tale. Like you, Betsy, I thought it ranked (visually) up there with the live action Cinderella Disney produced a couple of years ago. The acting, music, visual effects, and costuming were all top notch. I actually cried during the movie, which I wasn’t expecting. The story inspired me creatively, and allowed me to relive the nostalgia of my childhood. (Belle was my favorite Disney princess).

Hayley: I did like it. I liked it a lot. I went into it with both excitement and reservations. I thought the visualizations and the setting were beautiful.  The characters, the plot development, the extra songs (the song the Beast sings when Belle leaves!)–all of this added up to a movie that I enjoyed, would recommend carefully, and look forward to seeing again.

The Beast

Betsy: Let’s talk about the central themes in this story that we’ve been discussing all month, beginning with “Beast.” Gaston was every bit as despicable as you’d hope: a braggadocios jerk. The Beast was just as bad (inwardly) at the beginning of the movie, but his inner transformation was quite well done. Gaston meets his just deserts and did you notice that it was by his own hand this time? (instead of the Beast pushing him off the ledge like the animated film) Thoughts on the beast theme as portrayed in this version? What did the movie get right and what did it miss?

Hayley: Speaking of the the Beast, am I the only one who had a “Oh, look!  It’s Matthew from Downton Abbey!” moment, when he turns human?  I really, really love how they fleshed out his character and developed him more.  The slightly cynical humor is so well done.

Alysha: I thought that the theme of inner vs. outer beauty was well done for the most part. One of my favorite portrayals of the “beast” theme was when LeFou sings about the villagers hunting down the wrong beast (meaning Gaston was acting in a beastly way). Gaston was portrayed so well. The movie dove deeper into his malicious side, and showed the audience that looks are not everything if someone’s heart is unkind.  I enjoyed how the movie gave us a taste of the Beast’s cruel and superficial attitude at the beginning of the film. It made his transformation all the more profound. I thought the movie missed the mark when the Beast’s cruelty was explained as having been the fault of his father. We are not responsible for how we are treated, only how we respond. I think the filmmakers were trying to humanize the Beast and help the audience sympathize, but the Beast not taking responsibility for his own actions did not sit well with me.

Betsy: Alysha, that’s a great point about the Beast’s father (and the blame laid on him). Our society loves to find “reasons” for our “mistakes” and behavior. In reality, according to Scripture, we are all responsible for our own sin (even though we can admit that circumstances certainly affect us!).  Hayley, I still haven’t seen Downton Abbey!

Hayley: Was it just me, or did anyone else wish Gaston, in all his awfulness, could have a wrathful fairy make him a beast?  I actually thought that was going to happen, as Agatha paced up the stairs behind him!  Well, I thought she was just going to finish him off.  It was a good reminder of the contrast between the Beast and Gaston.  The Beast is handsome and selfish initially, yet changes. Gaston solidifies in his own beastliness.  -But why doesn’t he get a chance?

As much as Hollywood likes to excuse behavior, throwing in the Beast’s father, at the same time it’s a little picture of God’s sovereign choice.  The Beast is rescued from his beastliness in the story. Gaston is left to his just desserts.  “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” definitely comes to mind.

Beauty, Love, and Redemption

Betsy: Turning to Beauty, Belle, and the idea of redeeming love, all in one fell swoop. Belle is a lovely heroine, and her spunk was fun to see. Did she meet your expectations of a truly beautiful person, inside and out? How about her love-as-redeeming-agent for the beast? Was that a satisfying depiction?

Alysha: Belle did meet my expectations as a truly beautiful person, inside and out. I enjoyed that she was allowed to be angry, hurt, frightened, feisty, happy, beautiful, kind, intelligent, and even funny. She was not a damsel in distress, but a young woman looking for answers. She carried herself with dignity, even when she was under criticism. I loved that she was given a story arc in which to grow. She was not perfect (no one is), and I loved that we got to see her inner beauty and her imperfections.

Hayley:  Disclaimer, I read World’s review ahead of time and I struggled with Emma Watson as Belle. I really love Emma Watson, so I wanted to love her, but she seemed a bit understated.  She has this wry half smile that is very Emma Watson, but it did work as Belle!  I want to love her.  She is way more developed then the cartoon Belle, and I like that about her character.  I love the scene in the library; she’s genuinely excited about the books.  I think it will just take some time for me to warm up. Perhaps there will be something there that wasn’t there before . . . (Okay, I’m cracking myself up.  I’m sorry; don’t mind me . . .)

Betsy: Hayley, you are cracking me up, too! It’s worth noting, though, that one of the things Disney got right with this movie was the music!! It was hard not to sing along in the theater. But I digress. I had to warm up to Emma Watson as Belle, too, but I think I have in mind some of her other famous performances, and it’s sometimes hard to shift those perceptions. In general, I liked her character a lot, and I thought the “inventor” aspect was just right–not too much, but a fun angle not explored in the animated film.

What about the redemption angle in this movie?

Alysha: I’ve never liked the idea that one person can be the redeeming aspect of another. The story unfolded naturally, and Belle’s love for the Beast was a beautiful element to watch unfold as the movie went on and I did enjoy the fact that BOTH characters had to act in a sacrificial way towards one another, that both of them were lonely and searching for someone to understand them, but no person can redeem the ugliness in someone’s heart. Only Christ can do that. The message of human love as a redeeming element lacked the depth and Truth of the greatest love story of all time.

Betsy: Let’s take that a bit further. [spoiler alert] This version lets the last rose petal fall, the household characters turn fully into inanimate objects, and the beast (presumably) to die. Agatha, the witch/sorceress from the beginning, is on hand to hear Belle’s desperate confession of love, and it is Agatha who reverses the curse and, really, bringing everyone back to life. If we view Agatha as the “divine” figure (the one who has control over the ultimate outcome), does that change your concern over one person redeeming another? Or do we extrapolate out the general idea of “redemptive love”? (This is getting abstract and English teacher/nerdy 🙂 )

Hayley: The rose theme was wonderful -and speaking of themes, to delve into the English nerd question, Betsy, doesn’t Agatha count as magic which counts as something higher/intangible/beyond reach -which could point toward sovereign intervention?  I don’t know, but that’s where my mind takes it.

Alysha: I hadn’t thought about that angle. Yes, picturing Agatha as the agent of redemption and a being outside of mortal comprehension does change my concern. I appreciate the views you and Hayley put forth here, and it makes me like the redemption aspect even more!

Concluding Thoughts

Betsy: Those of us who saw this movie really appreciated the way it portrayed the key themes of beast, beauty, love, and redemption. All the right elements were there. Unfortunately, most of the humor was agenda driven, which makes those parts even more appealing than they might have been otherwise, particularly to impressionable young minds.

Megan: I still haven’t seen it, and don’t know if I will. Part of me wants to, and part of me feels “blegh” about it. How much spiritual beast am I willing to incorporate with beauty? How much sin am I willing to tolerate?

Our readers may wonder, “what about the books reviewed on Redeemed Reader that contain cautions? How can you recommend those?”

We do live in a cursed world. Books may remind us of the reality of evil in the world in the context of a redemptive story without glorifying sin. A story may contain evidence of our fallenness without encouraging it. This version of Beauty and the Beast seeks to create sympathy for LeFou’s unrequited longing, promoting his affection as natural and acceptable–and funny. Contrasted with Beauty’s redemptive, self-sacrificing love for the Beast, the unhappily-ever-after ending for LeFou and the glorification of a man dressed as a woman cannot ultimately satisfy the viewer whose pleasure is in that which pleases God.

We know, it’s disappointing. What do you do when you have really been looking forward to a night out with your crestfallen daughter who may or may not be ready to understand the reasons for not going? We came up with a few suggestions to redeem the evening:

Be the Beauty:

  • read lovely books aloud together, eat chocolate and drink tea (after all, Belle was a bibliophile!)
  • watch another literary movie version of a Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell novel
  • host a beauty party for your tween and teen girls: do makeovers, get your nails done, etc.
  • if you have teens who will be attending something like prom this spring, go fancy dress shopping! they’re fun to try on even if you don’t buy one yet

Love the Beast:

serve and love the “unlovables” or outcasts in our society (or those that society often views as unlovable or “other”) by

  • watching a movie like Queen of Katwe and discussing together
  • hosting an immigrant or refugee family for dinner
  • writing letters to those in prison, in nursing homes, or who are shut-in
  • visiting those who are in nursing homes, or who are shut-in (sing some hymns! bring some treats!)
  • bringing treats to the local NICU staff or volunteer to read children’s books in a local children’s hospital ward
  • serving a meal at your local homeless shelter
  • volunteering at your local crisis pregnancy center (ask to sort clothes for their thrift store, fold pamphlets, clean the office, etc.)
  • volunteering with your local shelter network (in addition to the Salvation Army, lots of cities have Christian-based networks that run shelters AND thrift stores or other fund-raising locations; call and see what the options might be!)

What other alternate activity ideas do you have? Have you seen the movie? Do you want to add to our discussion?

Movie image from imdb.com

 

8 Comments

  1. Meredith says

    This was such a thorough and thought-provoking review. I have not seen the movie yet but will admit to having purchased the soundtrack. It’s excellent!
    I also think it worth noting, from the reviews I’ve seen, that the minister character is the one who furnishes Belle with books and that the church is her place of comfort and learning. That sounds like a positive message that was incorporated.
    Also, I have heard that Belle’s father is portrayed with dignity, so parental love is positively shown to have an influence on children. Perhaps the inclusion of the Beast’s father’s cruelty is meant to be a foil for Maurice’s character. Thus two different aspects of parenthood are shown.

    Please note that I’m not trying to defend the movie but am just pointing out that there are positive messages, too. Thanks as well for the alternative activities. Those are some phenomenal ideas!

    And, I don’t know why this is, but Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of my favorites of there movies, and it is so underappreciated. I think it addresses many of the same themes but explores them even more deeply. God bless you.

    • Those are terrific points, Meredith! How did I miss that Belle finds comfort with the minister? And yes, Maurice is such a wonderful father–far more developed in this version than the previous animated version. That’s a great point about Maurice being a foil for the Beast’s father. I didn’t make that connection. There is much to appreciate/enjoy with this movie, for sure, and so many details/characters/events to keep up with–it’s a rich cinematic experience. It’s such a shame we have to discuss the cultural agenda alongside the more redemptive themes.

      I still haven’t seen Disney’s Hunchback–might have to remedy that at our next family movie night! Thanks for the tip.

  2. Meredith says

    Thank you, Mrs. Betsy.

    Oh, I think you should see Hunchback, although it might be best to preview it before showing it to children. If you’re familiar with Victor Hugo’s novel, there’s some pretty dark themes, and Disney explores that a bit. It’s considerably tamer, but the villain’s pretty frightening. They do change the ending, though.

    I do agree about the sadness of having to discuss topical issues. I think the director shouldn’t have tried to push that agenda, because now everyone is going into the movie looking for these themes. It makes me concerned about what Disney will pursue in the future.
    I appreciated the point yesterday that we’re quick to criticize this particular sin but laugh off Lumiere’s philandering and other things. The homosexual issue is one that is close to my family, so it’s a very difficult subject. There needs to be more honest discussion. People need to show those dealing with this very real temptation that they care about them. We all need help. All sin is abhorrent to God, and He does not rank one as more despicable than the other.
    God bless you.

    • Hayley says

      Meredith,

      Thank you so much for your comments and for joining the discussion. It’s always lovely to hear your thoughts. (Now I want to go watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame!)

      I really appreciate your point about the priest. He does seem a friend for Belle though I wish we could see him influencing the villagers more. And you’re right, Maurice’s character is wonderfully well done.

      I think we do need more honest discussion about homosexuality. Have you had a chance to read anything by Sam Allberry? This discussion made me pick up his book, Is God Anti-Gay? And I’ve really appreciated reading it. If you haven’t had a chance yet, I highly recommend it. It has some wonderful ways of encouraging an honest discussion, while pointing to the Gospel and the hope we can have in Christ.

  3. Meredith says

    Thank you, Mrs. Haley, for the recommendation. No, I have ot read that author, but the book sounds very intriguing. I will look for it. It’s wonderful to know that people are willing to provide resources for such a difficult subject.

    I actually saw Beauty and the Beast last night, (and my local theater has audio descriptive, so that made it even better). I did pick up on some of Lefou’s lines which could be interpreted as pushing that agenda, and I thought the wardrobe dressing the men in women’s clothing was unnecessary.
    But, I loved how this version contained some excellent conversations between Belle and the Beast. It made their romance much more believable. Gaston was truly frightening in this version and was a perfect contrast to the Beast. I also love how Mrs. Potts emphasized that “we did nothing” when she talked about the Prince. That was a great commentary on how children can be left to their own devices if they have no guidance.

    Have a wonderful weekend, and God bless you.

  4. Tiffany Mansfield says

    Fabulous write up, Ladies! Thank you so very much! This was just what I was looking for!

  5. Andrea says

    I agree with you that we are responsible for our choices and that our sin is our sin, but our families – particularly are parents – have a great impact on our lives. If our parents model sin and credulity, then we are likely to model that in our lives as well. It’s generational sin. Often abused people abuse people. And Mrs. Pots is right that the servants (e.g. the other adults) in the Beast’s life, could have reached out to him and given him the love that he needed when his mother died.

    I think as Christians we do a disservice to parents and children if we say that parents do not have an impact on how their children behave as adults. Children need to be loved by their parents and if they are not then there will be consequences as they grow up.

    The only way for us to be truly free from our sin is knowing the true love of Christ and his forgiveness of sins. It is in him that we can be healed of all our wounds. The movie showed how true love (although not in the Christian sense of Christ taking on our sins) can change us and heal our deepest wounds. In the Beast’s case his deepest wounds were those inflicted upon him by his father.

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