Movie review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

Dan Stevens plays the Beast and Emma Watson is Belle in Disney’s new live-action film, which “is about as good as a live-action adaptation/remake can be,” writes reviewer Rev. Ted Giese. Still, some blatant homosexual references may compel parents to make “discerning judgments concerning what their family watches and how they talk about the content with their children.”

(Rated PG [Canada] and PG [MPAA] for some action violence, peril and frightening images; directed by Bill Condon; stars Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Kevin Kline, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Nathan Mack, Stanley Tucci and Hattie Morahan; run time: 129 min.)

The beauty of tackling the beast of discernment

By Ted Giese

Bill Condon’s adaptation/remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” starring Emma Watson, is a live-action version of the 1991 Disney musical-animated fairy tale of the same name.

It’s the story of a spoiled, vain prince (Dan Stevens) who is cursed by an enchantress (Hattie Morahan) to live his life as a beast in an enchanted castle as a lesson about making value judgments based on appearance alone.

The curse can only be lifted if someone loves him despite his beastly appearance before all the petals fall off the gift of a single red rose the enchantress, disguised as a poor old woman in need, had attempted to give him in payment for lodging in his castle during a storm.

This sets the stage for the Beast’s interaction with a merchant named Maurice (Kevin Kline) who wanders into the enchanted castle years later after being set upon by wolves in the forest. As Maurice is about to leave, he remembers his promise to bring back a single rose for his daughter, Belle (Emma Watson).

For stealing the rose, he is imprisoned in the castle. Who will rescue him from the Beast? Will it be the obvious hero?

Keeping with the fairy tale theme, the obvious hero does not rescue Maurice; rather, it is his daughter, Belle, who, on the one hand is beautiful, while on the other hand is considered odd by the people of their town because of her bookish independence.

Belle desires more than her town provides and spurns the advances of the local “heroic” heartthrob Gaston (Luke Evans), who wants to make her his trophy wife.

Eventually, Belle finds herself in the enchanted castle and trades places with her father to set him free. What follows is a problematic romance in which she falls in love with the Beast and, after a climactic crisis, the curse is broken and everyone (almost everyone) lives happily ever after. It is a fairy tale, after all!

Visualizing fairy tales on film is nothing new to Disney. Founder Walt Disney built an empire on fairy tales and was instrumental in fashioning the modern film genre.

His first feature-length film was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and in the years that followed, Disney dipped into the enchanted-fairy-tale well over and over again with offerings like “Pinocchio” (1940), “Cinderella” (1950) and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959).

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was a giant commercial success and even garnered a 1938 Academy Award nomination for best score and an honorary Oscar in 1939 for innovation in film.

“Beauty and the Beast” (1991) also was a critical and financial success for Walt Disney Pictures and, in an unprecedented move, in 1992 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences included the animated film in its Best Picture category. It didn’t win. The Oscar went to the psychological crime thriller “Silence of the Lambs” (1991).

However, the inclusion of “Beauty and the Beast” in that category marked a major shift in thinking for the Academy and audiences when it came to family entertainment and animated films. The unique nomination was instrumental in introducing an Oscar award for Animated Feature Film which in 2017 went to the Disney film “Zootopia” (2016).

“Beauty and the Beast” (1991) marked a renaissance for Disney in animation and a resurgence in the widespread popularity the studio had gradually lost in the 1970s and ’80s. The cartoon came on the heels of another popular Disney fairy-tale film, “The Little Mermaid” (1989), and huge films like “The Lion King” (1994) and the innovative computer-animated film “Toy Story” (1995) were soon to follow.

Why is any of this important?

The empire Walt Disney built, with its iconic Disneyland fairy-tale castle at the center, is one of the most lucrative film studios in the world. Currently under its umbrella are the new “Star Wars” films and all the films produced by MARVEL Studios, which together generate billions of dollars annually.

While always innovating, Disney’s bread and butter has always been centered in family entertainment — from amusement parks, to merchandizing, to publishing, to film and television.

Cultural consumers, then, need to remember that massive corporations like Disney, while interested in entertainment, are very interested in making money. Disney, like many corporations, will want to reflect what society embraces and avoid being “out of step” with the world for fear of losing revenue.

Christian audiences will simply have to keep this in mind when it comes to everything produced under the Disney umbrella. This desire to compromise with the world is not biblical. In fact, St. Paul writes in his letter to the Christians in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

The current “Beauty and the Beast” has received a fair amount of criticism regarding its reshaping of the story to conform to current societal attitudes concerning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. While the 1991 “Beauty and the Beast” may have had some deeply subtextual homosexual elements, the 2017 edition sets aside subtext and more blatantly incorporates gay and transgendered elements.

This should not be a surprise. A minimal amount of investigation will reveal that the film’s director, Bill Condon, is openly gay and, like every other filmmaker, may want to express his views and opinions through his films.

One of his first critically acclaimed films was “Gods and Monsters” (1998), a biopic of James Whale (Ian McKellen), the homosexual director famous for horror-film classics like “Frankenstein” (1931) and “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935). Condon won the 1999 Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his work as writer on that film, so this is not new territory for him as a director.

Disney would have been aware of Condon’s resume and lifestyle before engaging him as a director. Please keep this in mind: If Disney provides Condon with the freedom to incorporate what he refers to as “a nice, exclusively gay moment” in “Beauty and the Beast,” then audiences must likewise have the freedom to express their opinions about such content in the film.

“Beauty and the Beast” (2017) is one film in a parade of live-action adaptations/remakes of classic Disney films. Recently Disney has produced films like “Alice in Wonderland” (2010), “Maleficent” (2014) — a new take on “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) — as well as “Cinderella” (2015), “The Jungle Book” (2016) and the upcoming “Mulan” (2018).

Parents and grandparents will have a new live-action Disney film to take the kids to every year for as long as the market will bear it.

Because this juggernaut is pressing forward, families will want to think about how they engage with films like “Beauty and the Beast” and future films. It can’t be stressed enough that viewing films is voluntary and people are free to see or skip whatever films they like for whatever reasons they have.

Parents also are encouraged to think about the films, TV shows and other media their children consume.

Just because something is made by Disney doesn’t give it “a pass” when it comes to family entertainment. Likewise, families don’t need to canonize earlier versions of films that might be deemed more wholesome in comparison to current offerings.

For instance, some see the nature of the love story in “Beauty and the Beast” (1991) as problematic since it resembles “Stockholm syndrome,” a condition where a captive falls in love with the captor.

This theme shows up in a variety of genres and can be found in many films — from the light-hearted Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell comedy “Overboard” (1987), to the classic fantasy film “King Kong” (1933), to Steven Soderbergh’s drama, “Out of Sight” (1998), starring Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney, and many more. Movies like “Fifty Shades of Grey” (2015) and “Fifty Shades Darker” (2017) also reflect this theme.

Apart from any LGBT content in “Beauty and the Beast,” viewers also may want to consider the age-appropriateness of the film’s central heterosexual themes, which some will recognize as broken and abusive.

Such criticisms of films like “Beauty and the Beast” (1991 and/or 2017) must be made with an understanding that society is disinclined toward discernment when it comes to films which, on the surface, come across as wholesome in spite of many obviously problematic elements.

Parents and guardians are charged in their vocations with making discerning judgments concerning what their family watches and how they talk about the content with their children.

Some parents will justify taking a 3-year-old to see an R-rated film like “Logan” (2017) — which is clearly not for children — by saying “it’s just a movie.” This reasoning does a disservice to the filmmakers whose vocational life’s work is creating films.

For this reason, it is fair to consider the worth of a film, whether it is serious or silly in nature. Christians are, therefore, encouraged to apply their Christian faith, their scriptural knowledge and, likewise, their confession of faith to everything and anything they view.

But be encouraged — there is nothing wrong in doing so. It is more than reasonable to point out if something is sound or unsound morally or doctrinally. It is one of the responsibilities in being head of a household or a pastor.

Is this new rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” any good?

It is about as good as a live-action adaptation/remake can be. For the most part, it sticks much closer to its source material than other Disney live-action films.

And while Condon and the prerelease publicity have downplayed the LGBT themes, it’s safe to say that every scene featuring Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou (Josh Gad), is obviously filled with LGBT content. As the Toronto Star notes: for some, this character will be too gay; for others, he will not be gay enough.

In the end, most people don’t seem to care either way about the LGBT question or about any other aspects concerning the film’s appropriateness for family viewing. After all, LGBT characters are all over network TV.

The numbers tell the story. In its opening weekend, “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) made approximately $170 million domestically on an estimated $160 million budget.

Impressive numbers, to be sure, but are box-office results the only measure of a film’s worth? No. 

The singing and pacing of the 1991 film is better than Condon’s film. This is especially obvious in the iconic moment when Belle walks, book in hand, through her “little town” singing.

The chorus sung by the townsfolk sounds muddy and jumbled in comparison to the 1991 film. It’s simply not as crisp or easy to follow what they are singing. To some, the CGI (computer-generated imagery) could look more natural, especially when it comes to the Beast.

That being said, there are some show-stopping musical scenes.

A good example is when the Beast’s enchanted servants sing “Be Our Guest” to Belle. The CGI and the voice work of Ewan McGregor as the candelabra, Lumière; Ian McKellen as the mantel clock, Cogsworth; and Emma Thompson as the teapot, Mrs. Potts, works exceptionally well together. The CGI porcelain rendered for Mrs. Potts and her son, the teacup, Chip (Nathan Mack), is very well done.

For those who have seen the film, or will see the film — and want to think about it beyond their viewing experience — the film’s most positive element is the breaking of the curse at the end.

Christian viewers will want to think of it in connection to the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, where the sinner’s “beastly” nature is transformed — washed away forever — and Christ makes “all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

There is even a brief moment to watch for: when a statue of a Pegasus on the Beast’s castle is transformed into a statue of St. George and the dragon — just one more image pointing to the defeat of evil and the setting right of all things.

It is a fairy tale, after all.

Watch the trailer

The Rev. Ted Giese (pastorted@sasktel.net) is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; a contributor to the Canadian LutheranReporter Online and KFUO.org; and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese

Posted March 23, 2017

Reporter Online is the Web version of Reporter, the official newspaper of
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Content is prepared by LCMS Communications.

9 Responses to Movie review: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

  1. Andrea Hinrichs March 24, 2017 at 10:34 am #

    I took my grand children to the play and to the cartoon movie version. I bought them the book.
    Now I will be taking my great grand children to the new movie. This is a delightful fairy tale.
    Some ADULTS are making way to much of this.

    • Patti March 27, 2017 at 9:34 am #

      Not at all, Andrea. The adults are responding to a timely issue that is worthy of discussion. They, like you, are entitled to their opinion and to explain the basis of that opinion.

  2. Donna Zuehlk March 24, 2017 at 11:32 am #

    I don’t know. A part of me says that if we don’t take a stand on the LBG issue when it is tiny, or subdued, won’t it just grow into a monster itself. Remember a little leaven leavens the whole batch.

  3. Nannette Wandrey March 25, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    I guess I’m not understanding this post? LCMS shared an enormous amount of negativity in their review towards the Christian Movie production of the movie “Shack” in the last couple of weeks. But more or less a genuine satisfactory towards this “money moguls” Disney movie?! I must have missed all the gay, dark and missled obsticales in The movie ” Shack “that the Christian Movie producers must have mixed in some where??!! Guess I will just have to see “Shack” again to see if I can find them!! Can’t understand why LCMS gave this Christian production, which is a much better quality family movie, such harsh reviews, and yet, I feel, LCMS just gave a very light mundane review to this Disney children’s movie that clearly has no Christian Value in it at all! Disney has been making movies for some time now with the sole purpose of trying to disconnect are children’s Christian Faith Values, they do this for a hefty profit off of all of us! As for myself and my family, we will continue to only patronize Christian Faith Based and Produced Movies only. We greatly enjoy them with the assurance that all contents are “family based material suitable for our faith based attendence!

    • Christian April 6, 2017 at 9:08 pm #

      The main reason the Shack had a more negative review was because there were some aspects where there were elements that were passed off as Bible based, when in reality they were not. For example, sin was called it’s own punishment, when that is not what the bible says. There is also another part where it says Jesus was not abandoned on the cross, when Jesus himself asked “Why have you forsaken me?” as he hung dying. I’m sure with a bit more research, you could find many more theological missteps from the Shack. Meanwhile, Beauty and the Beast also has a few controversial parts to it, but they are not made prominent. I saw the movie with another adult who was not aware of the negative media surrounding the movie and she noticed nothing wrong with it, despite her strong christian values.

  4. Becky Oliver March 25, 2017 at 4:22 pm #

    I agree with Andrea. My husband and I took our 8yr old son to see it last night. I am a life long Lutheran and we are an active Lutheran family. We send our son to a Lutheran school.If at all this movie had any innuendo it was not even enough to mention. I doubt most adults would notice anything. It was a great movie and at the very end you see a flash of a close up of a face smile and then another flash of a close up of a face smile. Read into that what you will. Sure they could have done without the last 2 smiles but the more we talk about it we are feeding into what they were trying to accomplish when it isn’t even worth mentioning.

  5. Gordon Morris March 26, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

    Having been a member of the LCMS for many years, I was appalled to see this glowing review of the live-action “Beauty and the Beast”. Pastor Giese is obviously familiar with Disney, and the way the film empire has degenerated to the point of accommodating “cultural consumers”. He rightly states that Disney’s “bread and butter has been family entertainment”. “Has been” is the appropriate description, because the “bread and butter” that “makes money” for Disney’s empire today is anything but “family” entertainment.

    What concerns me most is that the analysis of the film–and the guidance about whether to see it–is almost entirely based on “cultural” standards, not biblical standards. This is shocking coming from an LCMS pastor. After the token acknowledgment that parents and guardians are charged with “making discerning judgments concerning what their family watches”, he then says the film is “about as good as a live-action adaptation/remake can be”. Really? Pastor Giese’s statement that “society is disinclined toward discernment when it comes to films which, on the surface, come across as wholesome in spite of many obviously problematic elements.” is accurate. But it seems that “society” is not alone in lacking discernment in this area.

    He did include one quotation from the Apostle Paul that is very appropriate: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).” But Paul’s admonition is not applied to this situation–if fact Pastor Giese addresses “those who have seen the film, or will see the film”, and then gives guidance to pick out a few fleeting images that he then tries to apply to last days eschatology. But the implication is clear: that Christians can immerse themselves in the “world”, allowing Disney to work his magic to help them “conform” to a compelling tale, but certainly not leading them to “renew their mind” with God’s Word. And film is a very effective medium of persuasion, using everything from engaging characters, to humor, to music, to tear-jerking emotions, so as to ensure that those leaving the presentation have nothing but warm, positive feelings about the whole thing–including the increasing conformity with the desires of our fallen world–which Pastor Giese admits is not Scriptural!

    Perhaps a more appropriate instruction from the Apostle speaks more clearly to this, and to anything else that the “world” wants to embrace and promote. Philippians 4:8 (ESV) states: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” From the detailed description with which this review began, I do not see how any of those words can apply to “Beauty and the Beast”.

    This week we attended an LCMS church with a sign posted to be seen be anyone leaving the parking lot: “You are now entering the Mission Field”! That is absolutely true. However, missionaries do not attract people to Christ by becoming like them, but instead by presenting “Jesus Christ and him crucified”. And parents do not train up their children in the way they should go by filling their minds with immoral, unscriptural ideas, but rather–as the Bible commands–by using every opportunity to teach them God’s Word, explaining the Gospel, and demonstrating that God changes lives and empowers His people to “be holy as He is Holy” (another command that is rarely remembered)!

    Rather that telling “Christian viewers” what to think about when they see the film, Pastor Giese should be telling Christians to NOT be viewers, but to be “imitators of Christ”, and “doers of the Word”. Or better yet, not even writing and publishing a review that will help Disney make even more millions, because of the recommendations of a “Lutheran Pastor”!

  6. Ron March 27, 2017 at 5:21 pm #

    “For the most part, it sticks much closer to its source material than other Disney live-action films.”

    Is Rev. Giese totally unaware that the “source material” is Disney’s own ludicrous re-write of the original tale, the re-write which Disney used for its animated version? Disney made up many of the scenes and sub-plots in its cartoon version. It is far removed from the original.

    The secular world deems it “cool” to be “bi” or include “gay” or “transgender”. Narcissistic millenials, who were poorly taught by the ‘all religions are equal’ coddling parents have no real moral guidance. This live version is simply another re-write to advance an agenda. It is even farther removed from the original tale and the tweaks are totally unnecessary butchering for the sake of the agenda.

    While I like Emma Watson, I hated her being cast in this. First, she is British and the story is decidedly French. Second, her vocals are weak, at best. Third, she is not a good enough actress to pull this off —- it’s Hermione Granger in a dress and sans a wand, nothing more.

  7. John Joseph Flanagan April 6, 2017 at 8:24 pm #

    The current Disney is not the Disney of Walt. I read enough about the LGBT encounters inserted into the script by the homosexual director of this film to reason that it is more diversity rubbish from the degenerates who run Hollywood. So I refuse to see it. I do not need more of the culture’s display of indoctrinated values and sexual preferences. But many Christians are oh so tolerant and will see the movie anyway. How can they support such trash? Do you wonder why more people are falling away from the faith every day?

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