Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Gospel According to Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast'

The Gospel According to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"
Beauty and the Beast celebrates 25 years. (Disney)
It’s hard to believe that Disney’s animated masterpiece, Beauty and the Beast, is 25 years old. Originally released in 1991, the film won the Academy Award for Best Music Original Score and Best Song and was nominated for Best Picture. This week the studio has released a new Signature Edition of the film with lots of extras on Blu-Ray and DVD. To celebrate, I thought it might be fun to compare some spiritual insights that can be pulled from the movie.
 

Like many of the other Disney films, Beauty and the Beast is more than a story that both children and adults can relate to. It is a film that shares truth. Though probably not intentional, some of the movie’s secondary messages go hand-in-hand with scripture. Three major themes can seen throughout Beauty and the Beast: The problem with judging of one’s appearance, selfishness and sacrificing oneself for another.

Judging of Others
“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” – John 7:24 ESV
 

“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – I Samuel 16:7b
 

At least four different people are judged by their appearance and behavior in the Beauty and the Beast story including the old woman, Belle, her father Maurice and of course, the Beast.

The Gospel According to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"
The Old Woman: In the beginning narration of the movie, we learn that young a selfish prince ruled an out of the way castle was visited one night by a haggard old woman who offered the prince a single red rose in exchange for food and/or shelter. The prince was disgusted with the old woman and told her to go away. Then the old woman revealed herself to be a beautiful enchantress. Getting a grip of his folly, the prince bowed down and asked the enchantress for forgiveness for his rude behavior. Instead, the enchantress put a curse upon the prince, his castle and all who lived there because there was no love in his heart. He was turned into a hideous beast. He would be able to turn back into a prince again if he would be able to find another person to love him before his 21st birthday. As a reminder, she gave him the enchanted rose that would continue to bloom until then.
 

It is interesting to note the curse was not put on the prince alone, but also unto his entire staff who lived in the castle. His action affected others in his care. These were many innocent victims that had to pay the price for something they did not do.
 

The Gospel According to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"
Belle: Immediately following this narration, we meet Belle as she is walking through her town with book in hand. The song, “Belle,” tells of all the thoughts and opinions that the different townspeople think of the girl without really knowing her. She later asks her father if he thinks that she’s odd.
“Look, there she goes, the girl is strange, no question. Dazed and distracted, can't you tell? Never part of any crowd. Cause her head's up on some cloud. No denying she's a funny girl, that Belle.”
 “Look, there she goes, that girl is so peculiar. I wonder if she's feeling well. With a dreamy, far-off look. And her nose stuck in a book. What a puzzle to the rest of us is Belle.”
“Now it's no wonder that her name means "beauty" her looks have got no parallel. “But behind that fair fa├žade. I'm afraid she's rather odd. Very different from the rest of us that Belle.”
 “Look there she goes, a girl who's strange but special. A most peculiar mademoiselle. It's a pity and a sin. She doesn't quite fit in. Cause she really is a funny girl. A beauty but a funny girl. She really is a funny girl.....that Belle!”
 While it is easy to understand that some would be afraid and would judge the Beast by his looks, here the people in town acknowledge that Belle is pretty, but they are taken back for her love of stories and knowledge. Though she is surrounded by people, Belle is alone, just like the Beast holed up in his castle.
 

The Gospel According to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"
Maurice: When Belle’s father Maurice attempts to take his invention to the fair, he gets lost in the woods and ends up at the gates of the castle. Though no one answers his call, Maurice finds that the door to the castle in unlocked and he wanders in. He is greeted kindly by some of the enchanted objects thrilled to see a human, but when the Beast finds out, he is not amused and immediately judges the old man’s motives. “So, you’ve come to stare at the Beast have you?”
 

Maurice tries to explain himself, but the Beast refuses to listen and tells Maurice that he is not welcome and throws the man in the dungeon threatening to never let the man go. It isn’t really explained why but we can fathom that if Maurice was allowed to leave the castle, he would surely tell others and they would want to hunt him down.

The Gospel According to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"The Beast: Near the end of the picture, Gaston accuses Belle of falling in love with the Beast. He stirs up the crowd with tales of violence and woe on the people if they choose to allow the Beast to live. At this point, no one in town had even heard of the Beast let alone know what he looked like. Still, with very little information (and most of it incorrect) a mob mentality forms and they rally behind Gaston to kill the Beast!

In Luke 19:5, Jesus spotted Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and hated man, up in a tree. Jesus said,“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." When the crowd saw this, they immediately judged Jesus saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” The crowd in the biblical story isn't much different from this one. In both cases, both Zacchaeus and the Beast had done terrible things in the past, but neither were a lost cause. Just as Jesus saw something different in Zacchaeus, Belle also saw something more to the Beast. They both knew the outcasts whereas the crowds didn't.
 

Lover of Himself
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” – Romans 12:3 ESV
 

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:18
 

The Gospel According to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"
Gaston is a different kind of Disney villain. Sure he’s mean and a bully, he is also pretty impressed with himself and thinks others should be as well. Gaston is stunned when his proposal to marry Belle is rebuffed by the girl. Lefou tries to comfort him telling Gaston that he could get any girl he wanted to marry him, but Gaston says that Belle is the best and “don’t I deserve the best?”
 

In the tavern scene, both Lefou and Gaston sing of his virtues including his brawn, looks and skills (“As a specimen, yes, I’m intimidating.  I’m especially good at expectorating. I’ve got biceps to space and every inch of me is covered with hair.”)
 

The takeaway here is that Gaston is so full of himself, that there isn’t any room for anyone else. The very idea that someone in town isn’t either afraid of him or impressed by him throws him into a rage that eventually ends with his death.
 

Sacrificing One’s Life For Another
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John15:13 ESV
 

The Gospel According to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"
The sacrifice is often used in many Disney animated tales and Beauty and the Beast is no different. At the beginning of the story, Belle finds that her father has been captured by the Beast. Seeing him sick and knowing that Maurice would have to stay in the dungeon forever, Belle offers up herself to take her father’s place.
 

Maurice of course refuses the offer, but the Beast ushers him out the door and sends him home via enchanted carriage. Then the Beast’s servants convince him to allow Belle to be more of a guest instead of a prisoner in hopes of getting her to love him and therefore break the spell. The Beast relents and tells Belle that she is allowed to wander around the castle as much as she’d like except for the west wing as it is forbidden.
 

Being the curious (and imperfect) person that Belle is, she goes exploring in the west wing only to be discovered by the Beast. He is so rude and angry with her that she says, “Promise or no promise, I can’t stay her another minute.” She jumps on her horse and leaves the castle but doesn’t get very far before she and her horse are attacked by wolves. The Beast comes to the rescue saving Belle’s life but almost loses his in the process. Moved by care for her safety, Belle and her horse carry the Beast back to the castle and nurses him back to health.
 

Meanwhile, Maurice is still distraught that his daughter is stuck in the castle with a horrendous Beast and even though he is terribly sick, he goes from place to place asking for help to save her. After being made fun of and being thrown out of the tavern, Maurice collapses in the middle of the square. After discovering that her father is still sick and looking for her, the Beast encourages Belle to go find her father knowing that she will probably never return and he hopes of becoming human again would be dashed. He sacrifices his happiness for hers.