Beauty & the Beast 2017, a Christian Reflection
Much had been anticipated about the 2017 Beauty and the Beast by both detractors and fans, when it was released. While many in the secular world applauded the innovations inserted in the tale, many Christians remained perplexed, divided between their love for the old tale, their appreciation of cinematographic art, and their weariness at the more and more ubiquitous intrusion in our modern society of "Political Correctness." Hopefully this will offer a fair assessment, helpful to Christian families.
At least two live-action versions of "Cinderella" have successfully enlarged the traditional scope of the fairy tale: Ever After (1998) directed by Andy Tennant, and the 2015 Cinderella, directed by Kenneth Branagh; so the public was justifiably hoping for another masterpiece.
Furthermore, the Disney animated version of the tale in 1991 improved in many ways the story written in the 18th century by Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont. It made the prince responsible for his punishment, result of his pride and selfishness, which in turn led to his whole household to be condemned along with him, his castle and gardens to be imprisoned in winter and bleakness; and his sole hope of rescue to come from outside, genuine and selfless love. In fact, these elements are very biblical in nature: by the sin of Adam (pride) the whole human race became outcast and could only be saved by the sacrificial love of Christ. As the spell is broken, we witness the transformation of castle and people from winter to spring, from objects to restored human beings; and from despair to joy. Even the sculptures of the castle turn from gargoyles (demonic figures) to angels. This is, above all, a story of repentance and redemption.
The 2017 Beauty and the Beast uses the animated version as its source, which is good. In some respects, it even improves upon it. For instance, it gives Belle a more complete background story, with a close-knit and talented family, with a mother who sacrifices herself for the sake of her husband and daughter. It is clear Maurice devoted himself to his daughter and provided her with a careful education. Maurice himself has more depth than his animated alter-ego: instead of a lovable but goofy inventor, he is a gifted craftsman and artist; though he still mourns his wife, he has never let his loss prevent him from being a loving father who has enabled his daughter to become an independent young woman; he is a man of learning and wisdom, clever and courageous.
The film also develops more the reason why Belle and the Beast grow close: they share long conversations and discover mutual interests and true affinities. In short, they truly and clearly become friends, the best basis for a lasting and happy marriage.
Even Gaston is better fleshed out: he is less a caricature of the "macho guy" than in the cartoon; he is believable as an intelligent, selfish, ruthless leader of gullible masses, who is both cunning and cowardly, a truly evil and scary character.
The three proverbial "dumb blondes" have been replaced by three empty-headed brunettes, but they are just as effectively showing us the pitiful shallowness of girls following the same fashion and values, devoid of individuality and common sense, who readily fall for a man who has all the makings of a wife abuser, and who has no interest and no respect for them.
Unfortunately, these positive elements are sadly weakened by a feminist/homosexual agenda, that even manages to rob the Prince of a true personality. Indeed, we learn that he became selfish because of his father, so, really, it is not his fault at all. Never mind free will! And now, we are back to the earlier versions of the story by Villeneuve and Beaumont, in which the prince is just the victim of a temperamental fairy. What the animated film had successfully accomplished is here irreparably damaged.
There is also the homosexual agenda, with Lefou clearly infatuated with Gaston (who only uses Lefou). Apart from the fact that Christians find this topic distasteful and upsetting, because homosexuality is clearly condemned in the Bible (see Romans 1:27; Jude 1:7; Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13), this deliberate effort to force a politically-correct argument feels really out of place and gauche. It fits the story as well as a pair of ballet shoes would a whale! It so obviously does not belong there, that it is painful to watch.
Infinitely more nefarious, however, is the pervasive idea that, in the past, women's education was generally viewed as a bad idea by men, with the schoolmaster objecting to Belle teaching a little girl how to read. This feminist fallacy is disproved time and again by history: limits on education had little to do with gender and everything to do with social class: well into the 19th century, especially in Catholic countries where individuals were not generally allowed to read the Bible themselves, the poor male farmer, servant, or miner was less likely to know how to read than the middle class woman, like Belle, would. There were circulating libraries, newspapers, and girl schools by the 18th century, time setting for this story. So this remark meant to pound again into the mind of the modern misinformed and undiscerning masses that women were hopelessly oppressed before Betty Friedan arrived to save them is as disingenuous as it is revolting. Paradoxically, the education women received then far outdid much of what many modern students learn in college today, but that is a fact feminists, bent on agenda instead of truth, do not want people to know.
There are also smaller problems, such as the extravagant ball at the beginning of the movie where the prince is the only male dancing amidst a sea of women (all in white, as if color had not been invented for dresses), which is rather overdone. The perennial urinating-dog scene had to make its appearance, and one begins to wonder when film makers are going to realize it is neither clever nor funny, only crass.
Over all the live-action Beauty and the Beast had the potential to make a truly superior film and possesses admirable graphic qualities that characterize true artwork; one can only regret that its creators proved unable to conceive a stunning masterpiece without injecting it with the latest modern controversial issues, thus missing the pivotal point that what makes fairy tales immortal is that they never reflect the ephemeral politics of the day, but instead offer a perennial and universal message of hope, virtue, and perseverance.
Christians should not reject the proverbial baby with the bathwater, but should discuss with their children the underlying agenda woven into the true tale, while appreciating fairly the qualities of the film, and maybe should inspire them to write a new variation of the story.