As its title suggests, Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale takes its inspiration from the classic story of the same name and gives it a modern — and LDS — twist.
Like the LDS version of Pride & Prejudice released in 2003, Beauty & The Beast successfully meshes the already strong (albeit familiar) source material with its own sense of style and spirituality to create a low-key, but surprisingly effective film. Not that any plot developments will surprise you, of course, but you won’t be constantly thinking of the classic 1991 Disney adaptation either.
Summer Naomi Smart — here staking her claim along with Erin Chambers and Heather Beers to be the reigning Queen of Mormon Cinema — is Belle, who through unfortunate circumstances involving her father, becomes obligated to offer service at the home of “The Beast” — a local man named Eric who, while rich, is bitter and mean-spirited towards all he comes into contact.
This version of B&B takes a ‘reality-based’ angle to the story by not having “The Beast” be a man in animal-like makeup (perhaps under a magical curse or something) nor horribly scarred and disfigured even, but rather someone who’s just not very nice. (We have to suspend our disbelief a little bit, as in real life such a man would probably not get a nickname like “The Beast” as the story requires, but that’s okay — it’s part of the movie and we just go with it.)
Unlike Pride & Prejudice, which deemphasized the religious aspect almost to the point of being invisible, Beauty & the Beast is a little more direct in introducing some religious discussion into the flow of the story in terms of love, death, and God’s plan of happiness for us. Even so, the spiritual elements are kept simple (arguably too simple, perhaps) — and, other than avoiding alcohol, are also somewhat general and religiously vague in doctrine. Nonetheless, it is effective, as good writing, acting and general pacing allow Beauty & The Beast to involve us into its basic story about forgiveness, charity, and passing judgment on others.
I’m especially glad that B&B is free of many of the ‘amateur hour’ problems that plague other LDS releases — both Belle and Eric approach their parts professionally and play well against each other. The part of “The Beast” is especially tricky because you have to be credible in the ‘mean’ section of the movie, and then credible afterward as you transform to a somewhat softer personality. Not an easy task — especially without ‘beastly’ makeup to add to the effect — but it’s done well here.
I’d love to nitpick Beauty & The Beast to death as I often do with low budget LDS films (not that I’m trying to be mean…it’s just so easy sometimes), but the fact is this is one of the better Church films I’ve seen recently — simple yet effective from start to finish. If you can find it on DVD, give it a chance.
Final Grade: A-
Additional Comments and Analysis (possible spoilers):
(1) Not having “The Beast” actually look anything like a ‘beast’ arguably cheapens the story a little bit since Belle does not have to learn to look beyond the outward appearance to find someone worth loving inside. (As it is, “The Beast” is generally quite handsome already, which undoubtedly makes it much easier for Belle once he starts to soften) Of course, the Disney version undercuts this element of the premise as well, as just as Belle learns to love a beastly looking creature, he gets magically transformed into someone handsome anyway. (I had female friends tell me, though, they were ‘underwhelmed’ by the transformed prince and would have preferred Gaston anyway. Uh, okay…) Shrek, to its credit, at least came up with a somewhat original and non-cop-out way of addressing this issue at its conclusion.
(2) The basic premise which puts Belle and “The Beast” together deserves some discussion: Belle’s dad is fixing the fireplace at Eric’s mansion and breaks an expensive vase. Eric threatens to call his boss and have him fired, and then agrees not to once Belle commits to be his unpaid personal assistant to work off the debt.
Now, Eric is not actually Belle’s dad’s boss. If Belle’s dad were to get fired because he broke a vase in Eric’s house, that would be his boss’s ‘fault’, not Eric’s, wouldn’t it? After all, it’s not like Eric is lying about the vase — Belle’s dad really did break it, and if that’s the sort of thing that’s a fireable offense according to his boss then isn’t that just how it is? (Maybe he’d be better off looking for work elsewhere, anyway…) It’s not clear that Belle’s dad has a real ethical case to stand on against Eric reporting the incident should he choose to do so…
(3) Why Casting Matters–Reason #368: I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought, from the moment he appeared on the screen that Craig (this movie’s “Gaston” character) looked kind of creepy, even before he started acting creepy. Sometimes getting the right person cast into a role is half the battle.
(4) This movie was repackaged as Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance — with a different distributor and with all LDS references removed in an attempt (presumably) to find a larger audience. Strangely, even the actors are listed under different names — “Stephanie Wood” and “Matthew Davis” — even though they are clearly the same two people. See the trailer for the “altered” version here.