Right out of the gate, I have to say I loved this movie. Jody and I went to see it earlier this week, but because of the controversy surrounding it (more about that later), we were tentative about even accepting the invitation to review it. So glad we decided to take the risk!
First, it was stunning to watch. The sets, the costumes, the visual effects were all exquisite. And I just have to say, Belle’s dress in the last scene took my breath away!
In many ways, this live action film sticks closely to its animated predecessor, unlike say Maleficent, which offered a entirely new twist on the Sleeping Beauty story. It does however add some back story for both Belle and the Beast and a few new songs to the soundtrack, and I thought the additions enhanced the story.
But it was the characters that really stole my heart in this movie. Dan Stevens, the guy who won me over and then tore my heart out as Matthew in Downton Abbey, did an outstanding job as the Beast. Jody was crushing on him pretty hard (as the Beast, but not the prince) because she said he reminded her of Tony.
And I really appreciated the updated version of Belle’s dad. In this version of the story, he’s a heartsore but devoted father, and in place of the clumsy inventor of the cartoon version, this Maurice, played by Kevin Kline, is a more pensive artisan.
But I think my favorite characters of all were the household items in the enchanted castle. The CGI worked well to bring the most endearing personalities through a candelabra, a clock, a teapot, a cup, a feather duster and others. I didn’t expect them to steal the show, but the threat of the last petal falling and these precious “souls” being reduced to inanimate objects actually made me tear up at one point in the movie.
The one character that did not wow me (and perhaps my main critique of the film) was Belle. Maybe I don’t get Emma Watson’s allure because I wasn’t a Harry Potter fan, but I just didn’t quite understand this casting choice. For one, Belle’s very name means beauty, but Emma Watson seems sort of plain to me. And then there was the singing. These songs are intimately familiar to me. I was a big Disney fan even as high school senior when the first movie came out. I had the soundtrack on cassette, and I listened to it over and over in my little Mitsubishi Mirage. And then when I had kids, I got to sing them all over again as they watched the movie on VHS (and then DVD and now on the Apple TV) over and over. So when I heard the familiar tune in the new live action film, I couldn’t help but notice something lacking. Emma Watson is not much of a vocalist. It almost felt like a high school musical production when she sang.
And in spite of early commentary that I had read about the new Belle getting a feminist makeover, I thought Emma Watson’s portrayal sometimes bordered on wimpy. By the way…I’m not sure what those reviewers meant by a feminist makeover. Had they seen the original film? Belle was already quite the feminist. Maybe they were referring to Belle’s new interest in science. In this version, she is the inventor, not her father. I liked the addition of Belle’s tinkering tendencies. I thought it added to the character, even if the actress didn’t quite sell the role as I’d hoped she would.
The Elephant in the Theatre
So now, about the controversy surrounding this movie. It was said that the character of LaFou, Gaston’s sidekick, has an “exclusively gay moment” in the live action remake. Jody and I nearly held our breathe whenever he was on screen, but what we saw was subtle.
So here’s our two cents (okay, maybe it’s three cents). First, we should never be surprised when the world acts like the world and fails to act like the church. It’s no secret that Jody and I are Bible-believing Christians. We know what the word says about homosexuality, and won’t debate it here or even in our own hearts. But the world does not have the same convictions that the church has, and so we have to figure out how we plan to navigate all sorts of situations from TV and movies to the park and the playground.
We certainly don’t want to send the message to our kids that we endorse something that God does not endorse – that includes homosexuality, but it is not limited to it. The Bible says God hates divorce; he hates lying; he says lust is equal to adultery and hatred in any form is akin to murder. And yet all of these things and much more are regularly portrayed in many of the world’s offering.
So every parent has some choices to make, and I believe that each family will choose what is best for their own children. Some will choose to use the innuendo and situations in film and TV as a springboard for conversation (that’s our plan with this particular movie, in case you were wondering). Others will feel a particular conviction to stay away.
We have decided to let the Holy Spirit speak to His people (His sheep know His voice), and let the people follow God’s leading and their own conscience. What we can tell you is that the questionable scenes in this film are pretty subtle, and most younger kids are likely to miss them all together or chalk them up to cartoon-like silliness.
But ultimately, our advice is to pray. Ask God what is right for your family, and do what He says. Remember, His sheep know His voice.
“Who are you that judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Yea, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.” –Romans 14:4