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Cinema in Focus: ‘Beauty and the Beast’

4 Stars — Wholesome

When Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont wrote Beauty and the Beast in the 18th century, I am sure she had little idea it would become a global hit in the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Even The Walt Disney Co., which is the master of storytelling, probably never thought that the iconic tale would become one of its most prized films — and stage productions — for decades after its 1991 release.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the lyrics and melodies from this film have become instant classics in the world of musicals.

Probably no city was happier with its success than New York, where Beauty holds reign over hundreds of thousands of ticket purchasers each year at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway.

Disney does have a global reach, taking its movie magic to every theater in the world, sailing on its cruise ship, retelling the story over and over again on its television shows, and wowing children in its magical lands stretching from China, through the United States to France.

This newest release of Beauty and the Beast ramps up the technical quality to a new dimension of excellence. It also takes us from animation to live action, giving the romance of the story a note of realism that causes young girls’ hearts to flutter and many in the theater to shed a few tears of joy.

Emma Watson who is Belle, “the Beauty,” and Dan Stevens as “the Beast” both rose to fame in British films and television, a far cry from this French tale. Watson was one of the three lead characters in the Harry Potter series of movies, and Stevens was the charming and handsome heir on Downton Abbey, marrying Lady Mary and dying on the day of the birth of their new son.

Joining them are a host of luminaries, including Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice; Ewan McGregor as Lumiere; Ian McKellen as Cogsworth; Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts; Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe; Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza; and Luke Evans as Gaston.

The only notable voice missing from the 1991 animated classic was Angela Lansbury singing the part of Mrs. Potts.

This morality play shows us the consequences of self-centered behavior, when a handsome prince who is consumed with his own pleasure is condemned to a life of hideous and beastly existence until he can transform himself into a person worthy of love from others. In his self-pity, he descends into a world of anger and scorn.

The story of redemption is no secret, giving the viewer time to absorb the pain the prince, now the beast, endures to regain his sense of worth and inner beauty. What thousands of children experience is the realization that having physical beauty doesn’t translate easily into being lovable.

Beauty and the Beast is rated PG due to both some scary sequences that young children might not enjoy and a few adult themes. With those few exceptions, this is a highly enjoyable film, and worthy of discussion in every healthy family.


» The fact that a self-centered life creates an unlovable beast is indisputable. The fact that only love can transform us is also without dispute. But if this is true, why do so many of us live in beastly and unloving ways?

» This well-known tale is centuries old. Why do you think it remains so fresh to each new generation?

» Leprince de Beaumont often wrote stories with overt Christian messages. The truth that love transforms our beastly self-centeredness is true of Christian teaching as well. Have you experienced such love?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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