On a sunny Monday morning last month, you, like me, may have wakened to all of the social medias proclaiming the arrival of the first trailer for the 2017 live-action remake of Disney’s animated 1991 classic Beauty and the Beast. As the camera panned through beautiful sets, the classic Alan Menken theme twinkled in my headphones and I felt goose-pimples shooting up my arms.
Beauty and the Beast has always been — hands down, without a doubt — my favorite movie, and the feeling among many of my college-age peers is mutual. So when I learned they were remaking it (classic tunes and all), I started thinking about why we love this timeless Disney film so much.
As a little girl I identified with Belle. One of the only Disney princesses with brown hair, she had an annoyingly large love of books and an ache for something more. (“I want adventure in the great wide somewhere.”) She was smart, she was strange and she was passionate.
I re-watched the animated film recently and realized that I no longer identified with Belle quite as strongly. I discovered that I identify with the Beast. He is consumed by arrogance and selfishness, demanding his own way and scorning those who care about him. His castle is under a curse, only to be lifted once someone truly comes to love him, and he loves in return. Sounds like all of us under the weight of the Fall, doesn’t it?
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.” When I look at the Beast’s situation at the beginning of the film, I see a moment of vulnerability when he realizes the depravity of his heart. I don’t blame him for his reclusion; it’s a decision made out of brokenness. One of our greatest desires is to love and be loved. One of our greatest fears is that love never being reciprocated. So in response, we lock ourselves away in our towers. We lock ourselves away from grace.
Who could ever love our selfish, ugly hearts?
And we give up hope, don’t we? When the film’s narrator queries “for who could ever learn to love a Beast,” we realize that we could ask ourselves the same question. Who could ever love our selfish, ugly hearts? Who would sacrifice themselves in order to lift the curse that plagues us with guilt? In Romans, Paul tells us that Christ would and did: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What’s more, God didn’t need to learn to love us — he loved us completely, from the very beginning.
I think this is why, deep down in our child-like hearts, we cling to the story of Beauty and the Beast. In it we see ourselves and a story that is bigger than ourselves. We witness the transforming salvation of Christ in the last scene, when the Beast’s features morph and mold to reveal a new identity. It’s a reminder that our curse will be melted away to reveal our sanctified bodies, resurrected with Christ. The movie’s unforgettable love song brings to mind God’s faithfulness, which is “certain as the sun, rising in the east.” All of this resonates with 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
Belle is real to us because she represents Someone who transformed the Beast inside of us. She reminds us of our Savior, who made this promise in Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Next March, I plan on setting aside a couple hours to sit in a theater and praise God that the love story of Beauty and the Beast isn’t just a fairy tale. It’s a true tale that’s older than time itself, written by the One that loves us more than we could ever imagine.