We’d been waiting for the new live-action version of Beauty and Beast to finally premiere since way back in the fall. And once my girl discovered Emma Watson plays Belle, the wait got even harder, because, well…Hermione! (And if her mama had known it was the oh-so-good Dan Stevens as the Beast…!!!)
Anyhoo, finally, the big weekend came. And, honestly, I was cautious. I’d read a couple bad reviews, and I figured it maybe would not be that big of a deal and so I kind of downplayed it. So much so that I did not order tickets ahead of time. A decision I regretted immediately on Saturday morning as I sat scanning Fandango for two empty seats together in any theater within a 15-mile radius. Apparently all of Jefferson County had the same plans as Curly Girl and me.
The big Disney animated Beauty and the Beast came out when I was in high school. My girlfriends and I loved it, and I sang, “…tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme,” in my car and in the shower and all the live long day for a year after. “There’s something sweet, and almost kind,” too. So, reviews aside, and downplay in effect, I was still looking forward to reliving the memories with my girl in tow.
But let me just say—I was in no way, shape, or form prepared for how much I loved this new version. I mean y’all…seriously…it had my attention from the get, and the only thing that broke me from the spell of my own tears during the last 20 minutes was the sound of CG sniffling, gasping, eyes wide, on the edge of her seat, emotion pouring out of her sweet face. We held hands the last of the way through the movie and man-oh-man did we clap along with everybody else at the closing credits.
Here’s why we gasped. Why we cried. Why we laughed aloud. Why we stood and clapped….
- In bringing this movie from animation to real-life (even if CGI-assisted), the story went from a happysingsong fairy tale to a deep and redemptive exploration of what it means to be human—and what it can look like to find joy in the midst of sorrow and despair. In this version, we learn more about the Beast, and why he is as he is; and we learn more about Belle, and why her relationship with her father is so important, so life-giving, so central for them both. In essence, we learn the story of two people whose entire lives have been shaped by the too-early and tragic deaths of their mothers. For Belle, the result was constant nurture from her father to compensate for what had been lost. For the Beast, the result was the kind of twisted heartache that leads a person down dark and dangerous paths of existence. This is the stuff of life, y’all—how we deal with what gets handed to us, even if through no fault of our own.
- Mrs. Potts, and her Chip, Lumiere and Cogsworth—oh they just killed me! Their love for their prince was evident from the very beginning, even as they faced the seemingly inevitable truth that they were doomed. Their care for one another, their hilarity, their attention to Belle, their willingness to sacrifice their futures as the Beast let Belle go… They knew they could not control this part of the story. They simply had to live into what would be with as much grace and guts as they could muster.
- And then there was Gaston—who went from somewhat comical over-testeroned brute in the first one to a truly evil, manipulative predator in this live-action version. I wanted to throat-punch him. The depth of his need to get, to control, to conquer was so much more evident, and it was terrifying to watch how easily he preyed on the fears of the villagers to get what he wanted. How easily he preyed on their fears to get what he wanted….
- And above all—it was a glorious reminder of the very real truth that love wins. Love. Wins. Always. Albeit not as obviously and in as timely a fashion as it did in this movie…but still…Love. Wins. Always.
I think, in the end, my great love for this new version of such an already-lovely tale, is that it is, just as the song sings it to be—a tale as old as time. It’s stories like this one that grab our attention, because they cut to the heart of all that’s both beautiful and painful in this life. Just when we think all is lost…just when we cannot stand what we’ve become…just when it seems we are, in fact, doomed by both our own heartache and pain and the evil dealings of others…just when….
And then…hope. Joy. Something new. And unlike anything we ever knew before or thought possible.
Gah. I get it. I know. I know what you more critical readers are saying: People are hungry, Julie. People are dying. Whole nations are succumbing to poverty and disease and war. And our nation..well…we’re not exactly on our best behavior these days.
I know. And no Disney movie is going to change that. I get it. And my heart breaks every damn day over it all.
But you know what else I know? That the human spirit, is, at its best and most valiant, indefatigable. Entirely. And that when we rise to the occasion of what it means to be fully human and fully alive, we find ourselves capable of such tremendous love. And that in that love is more redemptive grace, the sort that works on our hearts and changes us for the good, than we ever thought possible.
During a particularly dark time in my life, a friend and colleague said to me, “Julie, I pray you whole.” Not, “I pray for this thing or that thing,” or even for a specific outcome, but, “I pray you whole.”
What Belle and the Beast and their story reminded me is that we are all so very broken, all so very vulnerable what with the baggage, and life experience, and sore spots in our souls that we lug around. And this just is. It cannot be stopped. Because life happens.
But beauty happens, too. Love happens, too. And when those things are made real in our lives, or when we sacrifice so that they can be real in the lives of others, wholeness is made possible.
Wholeness is made possible.
And sometimes, it just takes a really good story to remind us that this true.