Beauty and the Beast – A Tale of Unselfish Love

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It’s a tale (nearly) as old as time: Through selfishness and pride, a man is twisted, deformed and condemned to everlasting suffering. But if he can learn the true nature of love through the love of another, he will be restored and live happily ever after.

Am I talking about Beauty and the Beast, or something else? Well, both actually. While Beauty and the Beast as a story was written almost three-hundred years ago, its central theme is as old as the Garden of Eden.

Disney has released the remake of its classic, a live action version that nevertheless includes enough CG to keep it fantastic. While it seems to have hit pay dirt with the general public, it’s not without its fair share of controversy. Not all the changes were appreciated by everyone, and one change, in particular, has had Christians shaking their heads.

Nevertheless, fans of the original should find themselves enjoying the remake. My wife, who is one of the biggest Beauty and the Beast fans I know, commented as we left, “It was like I’ve grown up, and the movie I loved as a child grew up with me.” The visuals were richer, the music was grander, the characters were more developed and the story was deeper. It was the animated film, only more.

This embellishing on the classic enhanced the theme of the story. The theme of the original is to look beyond outward appearances and love someone for the beauty within them. While never-changing the essential story, the remake resculpts the message to this: True love is selfless.

The movie delves into the back story of Belle’s family. We learn that Belle’s father, while still known for his eccentricity, is motivated entirely by his love for Belle. Every decision he makes seeks her good, and as the story progresses, we learn how much he has sacrificed to keep her safe and happy.

Belle, in turn, has learned from the modeling of her father, and self-giving love is instinctive for her. Subtle changes in dialogue and acting at key moments emphasize that for Belle, to put someone else before herself is as natural as breathing. The only exceptions are with Gaston and the Beast, both of whom make themselves difficult to love. Gaston is consumed with the love of self and with a selfish desire for Belle. The Beast is consumed with bitterness and rage and can’t see past his own suffering.

Yet, where Gaston’s selfishness drives him deeper into wickedness and eventually destroys him, the Beast’s fades as he is confronted with Belle’s selflessness. Once again, the small changes in dialogue, the acting, the additional scenes all reveal a much more gradual – and believable – softening of the Beast’s heart than the original animated film did. He grows in friendship with her. He finds compassion for her. When finally he is faced with the choice to either selfishly hold on to Belle or truly love her by setting her free, there is no hesitation. He would rather suffer forever without her, knowing he had loved her well, than keep her a prisoner to appease his own heart.

This theme of self-sacrificing love is desperately needed in a world that so often encourages us to be self-seeking, self-motivated, and self-interested. Daily we are bombarded by messages of what we deserve, what we need to have, and how to take care of ourselves. It was refreshing to see a love story that was about learning to love selflessly.

For me, it stirred an even deeper well, because I know a truer and better selfless love than anything shown in Beauty and the Beast. I know a love that looked at my selfishness and did not cast me away or run away from me or lock me in a tower or curse me for eternity. I know a love that sought only my eternal good, a love that put my needs and my future ahead of all self-interest. That love was shown by Jesus, who would rather suffer all of God’s eternal wrath against sin than see me suffer even a moment in hell. He preferred to take my punishment for my sin to set me free than to watch me suffer to satisfy justice. This is the truest love of all – the love of Jesus for sinners like you and me. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” – John 15:13.

The unselfish love of Jesus inspires my love. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It changes my heart and my perspective on the world and leads me to show unselfish love, to God and to my fellow-man. This is the power of true love.

It would be wrong, to leave this review without a word of caution. Parents should understand the controversy surrounding the movie, and consider what is best for their children. The controversy surrounds the character Le Fou, Gaston’s silly sidekick. If you’ve seen the original Beauty and the Beast, you’ll know Le Fou to be largely a source of bumbling comic relief. He’s a little less foolish and a little more “fruity cornball” in the remake (though I think “fruity cornball” might be actor Josh Gad’s default setting). A couple of weeks before the release of the movie, the director revealed that Le Fou is gay, but doesn’t yet completely realize it.

In practice, the movie doesn’t make much of this. There are a few silly moments that hint at things but would fly over the heads of most children. There’s a moment in the song “Gaston” where Le Fou pulls Gaston’s arms around himself and snuggles into him, then asks, “Too much?” to which Gaston replies, “Definitely,” Le Fou says, “Yeah,” and they quickly separate. At the end, Le Fou is dancing with a woman, spins away and ends up face to face with a man, and they start dancing with each other and disappear. In addition to Le Fou, there’s a moment when one of Gaston’s goons gets wrapped in a woman’s gown by the wardrobe, and he smiles as though very pleased.

Moments like these were frequent and normal in the Loony Tunes we watched as children, but neither we nor our parents cried foul about them. Bugs Bunny put on women’s clothing, danced with and even smooched Elmer Fudd, and generally behaved, well, as a fruity cornball. We didn’t bat an eye. But had Mel Blanc come out and said that all of this was designed to support the idea that Bugs was gay, maybe we would have. Bugs Bunny also wasn’t popular in a time period where the culture is fighting to normalize homosexuality and transgenderism. It’s all about interpretation and context.

Before taking your children to see it, please make sure that you are settled on whether or not they are ready to understand and discuss the issue. However, if they’re ready, don’t be afraid to talk with your child about what same-sex attraction is, how our culture presents it, and what God’s Word says about it. At the same time, you can talk about the central theme of the movie, the selfless nature of true love, how God has shown us true love in Christ, and how we can show it to each other. This is a place to use your sanctified judgment to decide what is right for your children.

(Note: Some Christian leaders have advocated boycotting the movie, and others have warned parents not to take their kids to it. I discussed my views on this in a separate blog post, and would invite you to read and consider it.)

Beauty and the Beast shows us something that is true and beautiful about love. It does so using a classic story embellished with fantastic detail and compelling music. More than just an enjoyable experience, it artfully conveys a message that resonates with the Gospel, offering a perfect starting place for a conversation about grace.

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