Talking about Jesus, Beauty, and the Beast

Talking about Jesus, Beauty, and the Beast

After we watch Beauty and the Beast, how might we talk to our kids about Jesus? And what should we do about that “gay moment” in the movie?

Last week, just before Disney’s live action Beauty and Beast hit movie theaters, I happened to be at a public high school and was approached by a ninth grader holding a video camera. He asked if he could interview me for a class project. He was collecting short-sentence answers to a single question.

He pointed the camera at me and asked his question. “What makes people happy?”

My brain spun, trying to come up with the best answer for that situation. I could say something about Jesus, but I guessed the young man would take it as if I found Jesus to be fun. The classmates and teachers he’d interviewed before me had probably mentioned skateboards and travel and helping others, or maybe love, and my “Jesus” answer would just be added to a list of options for happiness. That wouldn’t be right.

I finally answered, “I think… we’re happy when we’re able to be who we were made to be.”

“That’s deep,” the kid said. He seemed to appreciate my answer, for a moment, before moving on to ask the next person.

I was left wondering if I’d responded well. The answer I gave really requires a follow-up question: Who are we made to be, and who (or what) has made us? If that ninth grader believes he’s been fashioned by society or by nature, or if he believes he must somehow create himself, he will draw a very different conclusion about what brings happiness than if he believes he’s been made by God.

Back to that thought in a moment. First, the movie.

Disney and the Christian parent

I decided months ago that I wanted to see Beauty and the Beast and then share ideas for talking about the gospel with kids who’ve watched the movie. The story reminds me of our salvation in Christ, and I’d heard the new movie would have even more depth than the old, animated one.

Then the director announced Beauty and the Beast would include Disney’s first “gay moment,” and many Christians took notice. Parents are rethinking whether or not to take their kids to see it, and I can’t really write about the movie without addressing the matter.

The gay moment is a brief shot near the end of the movie where the character LeFou ends up dancing with another man and realizes he likes it. Up to this point, LeFou has been a conflicted man, unsure why he’s devoted to the villain Gaston. The gay moment resolves that for him and gives LeFou’s story a happy ending. There’s also an earlier moment where a minor character is happily surprised to be put in a cross-dressing situation. This makes two scenes suggesting gender identity or sexual attraction ought to be fluid, not limited by one’s biological sex.

God always challenges how we think. In this case, the Bible’s message that God created us with gender and sexual limits is at odds with the movie’s ideas.

As always with movies, Christian parents are wise to pause before blindly taking their kids to see Beauty and the Beast. There’s also a large amount of sexual harassment and intimidation by Gaston toward the heroine Belle, though the movie has the good sense to condemn it as evil. And this live-action film is considerably more violent than the animated version was. Parents should consider all of this.

But I wonder why some act surprised at the gay moment, as if Disney has suddenly betrayed us. The studio’s idea of what is moral behavior may have shifted, but let me assure you: Disney has never taught the gospel.

If we think we’ve ever been able to trust Disney to teach our kids how to honor Jesus, we’ve been sorely mistaken. The Lion King’s salute to the circle of life, or Pocahontas’ song to the spirits of the rocks and trees and the colors of the wind, are clearly not Christian. And even where false religions are not celebrated, and heroes are good, generic morality and self-made pluckiness are hardly the same as faith in Jesus.

When have you seen a Disney princess go to church, or pray, or turn to God in any way for anything? When have you seen her draw hope or courage or joy from the cross of Christ, or his resurrection, or his promise to return? Me neither.

If we take our kids to these movies, we need to think in gospel terms and be ready to talk about what we’ve watched. The movies won’t have Jesus in them; we need to supply that. Some movies, like Frozen, will be surprisingly rich in gospel-drawn themes to get us started. Others, even if made for kids and free of scandalous content, will have an anti-gospel message we’ll need to address if we decide to see the movie.

Regardless, it’s our job to show kids Jesus. So how might we do that if we choose to watch Beauty and the Beast?

A tale as old as time

When the theme song speaks of a “tale as old as time,” it is correct. Beauty and the Beast is a story about a curse that must be broken. Whether or not the filmmakers intended it, it draws on the grand story of the world—the Bible’s story about our sinful, cursed condition and our rescue in Jesus.

The Beast and the characters in his castle are under a spell. The Beast himself is hideous and unkind, his princely glory long gone. The others are ridiculous shadows of what they once were. They live as teacups and napkins and furnishings, resembling their true selves in some ways but unable to be what humans were made to be. And they will be stuck this way forever, eternally dead to true humanness, if love doesn’t break the spell soon.

It rings all too true. Due to sin, we too are dying and are not the God-honoring creatures we were made to be. We aren’t full, glorious, pride-of-the-universe humans—as fits our true purpose.

Then Belle enters the castle, light streaming in as she opens the door. The candlestick Lumiére asks, “What if she is the one, the one who will break the spell?” It reminds me of when the whole world was waiting for the Savior to be revealed. It echoes the One who came “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79).

Beauty and the Beast

The rest of the movie largely follows Belle and the Beast as they learn to appreciate and care for each other. This is where the new movie has more depth than the old one. Belle’s strength lies first of all in her compassion, which is a nice touch. The Beast learns to hope, develops a healthy sorrow for his misbehaviors, and comes to love Belle. He learns—dare I say it—a form of repentance.

The movie ends when the Beast and other castle residents are saved and become human again, and then celebrate their restored humanity with a grand dance. It’s a delightful moment. I enjoy heaven-like endings.

Missing the gospel

But the ending is also why LeFou’s story arc can’t simply be ignored. I went into Beauty and the Beast expecting the gay moment would matter little in how the filmmakers told the movie’s larger story; I thought it would be a side point about morality rather than a central point about how we’re saved. But having seen it, I don’t believe it’s a side point. It’s a brief moment, but coming in that final dance scene it’s an important element in the movie’s message about becoming human again—and an anti-gospel one.

Don’t get alarmed; it’s common for movies to present non-Jesus solutions to our cursed condition. We just need to be sure we notice it. And let’s not assume our kids are too young to pick up on it.

I suspect the filmmakers have the same ideas the ninth grader I met probably has about who made us and why. They think we can be happy if we sort out the pressures of society and the quirks of nature, and discover we are gay or straight, or masculine or feminine, or skateboard enthusiasts, or soup kitchen volunteers, or whatever. Maybe there’s an agenda behind picking the gay example. But it’s also likely, given our culture’s current fixation on gender and sex, that they just thought it was the best way to illustrate the “become who you were meant to be” theme.

So LeFou serves as an example of someone outside the castle who, like those inside, also becomes the person he was meant to be. But any answer other than God transforming us to fit the pattern of Jesus our Creator (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18) has a woefully small view of the promise of human happiness. We are made to be like Jesus, to bring him glory in all we do and enjoy him forever.

Many people feel the unhappiness of our condition. They sense they are not fully the humans they were made to be. This is correct; none of us are, yet. But we must not think we might break the spell by any solution less than faith in the true One.

How to talk to kids

  • Talk about how we, like the Beast and those in his castle, are under a curse due to sin. We are not the sort of humans we were created to be. We are without hope unless a rescuer comes.
  • Talk about Jesus. He is the One who breaks the spell. He is our Creator, and he has come to save us from death and give us the kind of life humans were made to have.
  • If you think your kids can understand it, talk about LeFou. Help them see how we were made by Jesus to be like him, fitting his pattern rather than any other pattern for happiness. Nothing short of Jesus will satisfy, no matter what a movie may tell you.
  • You might like to study Isaiah 52 and 53. It’s a passage about happiness and the beautiful One who brings it. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns'” (Isaiah 52:7).

###

Thoughts? Please share or comment below. I love feedback and discussion—it’s how we learn from each other! (Pick any name you like. Your email address will not be displayed.)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Jack Klumpenhower
If this was helpful, please share. Thanks!
There are 13 comments for this article
  1. Arlene at 5:18 pm

    Thanks – I know some of my little SS kids were going to see the movie and I’m sure they will tell me about it. This is VERY helpful in making the most of the opportunity!

  2. Jean Puckett at 11:41 am

    I would like for everyone in the whole world to buy and read the January 2017 issue of National Geography. The entire issue is dedicated to Gender Identy. I can promise you will be educated in a subject most of us have never been.

    • Jack Klumpenhower at 12:03 pm

      That National Geographic issue, if I’m not mistaken, explored gender issues that are far more complex than the brief treatment I gave them in this article. I acknowledge there are complexities that make some cases far more difficult than we might wish them to be. My main interest, though, is not in discussing gender difficulties (which I’ve barely studied) or even morality. Rather, I want to remind us what faith is and what Jesus gives, lest we mistakenly think lasting happiness comes from sorting out those other matters.

  3. Rachel at 6:07 pm

    Oh dear. Your concentration on the so called ‘gay moment’ in analysis of this film in a Christian context is a good example of how Christians allow themselves to be diverted from the true message of the gospel by their struggle with, and focus on single sex relationships. Notwithstanding the fact it is a fleeting part of the whole film story, it becomes the raison d’etre of this piece. Shocking some parents would see this as a reason not to watch this film. Jesus teaches redemption, hope and grace. The film reflects those messages and is a superb talking point for teaching children to recognise a raft of common sin such as selfishness, jealousy, greed, dishonesty, cruelty and much more and the power of a saving grace that rolls its sleeves up and does something practical to change the outcome. As Jesus did. To come at those discussions on the ‘single-sex relationships are wrong’ angle is totally misplaced, arguably non-Biblical in any event, and likely to have the effect of throwing young minds into utter confusion. Please, get this in perspective, and focus on the key teachings of the Gospel rather than the latest cultural obsession of the Church in our times. No wonder the Church is failing to reach people.

    • Jack Klumpenhower at 6:28 pm

      Well, Rachel, this was my worry too when I decided to write the article. I almost didn’t write it at all, despite the fact that I really like the Beauty and the Beast story and think it has strong gospel echoes, because I do want to write about redemption in Christ… and I feared the “gay moment” (the director’s words, not mine) would get in the way. But then I realized that moment couldn’t really be separated from what the movie has to say about redemption. I’m pretty sure the movie’s own view of redemption is that one way to overcome our broken humanness is to figure out our sexual/gender issues and make adjustments.

      So you see, that’s much more than a matter of what is morally right. I don’t have much interest in lingering on the morality issue. But the issue of who or what can fix our broken humanness is THE question the gospel answers. And since this movie suggested the answer might be something other than Jesus, I felt it would be helpful for me to address it.

      Sorry if that wasn’t clear. It really is a hard matter to write about without seeming to moralize, given the tone of the dialogue these days.

  4. Madeline at 7:48 am

    Curious about your comments on Frozen. I have been more concerned about all the Christian parents letting their daughters sing the defiant, rebellious anthem declaring that there is no right or wrong.

    • Jack Klumpenhower at 7:57 am

      In the context of the movie, that song from Frozen comes at a time in Elsa’s life when she is still shutting people out and refusing love. It is not an attitude to emulate. However, many people don’t think about the song in the context of the movie, and do take it as an attitude to copy. For sure, it is an important part of the movie to discuss with kids who have seen it. I wrote about it here:

  5. Jamie Carter at 4:43 am

    They think we can be happy if we sort out the pressures of society and the quirks of nature, and discover we are gay or straight, or masculine or feminine, or skateboard enthusiasts, or soup kitchen volunteers, or whatever.

    Some things you just are and some things you can choose to be. I see all sorts of people day in and day out. People are happiest when others accept them for who they are as they see themself. The beast knew that was not who he really was and did not enjoy having that identity thrust upon him. We cannot be cursing people the same way saying: “shame on you for not being straight or masculine or feminine!” We are not guardians of identity who exist to make all gays straight, all men masculine, all women feminine, and to seperate spheres so that only straight masculine men may be skateboard enthusiasts and only straight feminine women may be soup kitchen volunteers. Your beliefs about your mission to correct others’ identities are why you are loosing eveyone who you cannot mold into your own image. Your not meant to fix what isn’t broken, and you are breaking the hearts of those whom God made as they are for a reason. God uses the things that are not to nullify the things that are so that no one can boast, so stop your boasting and learn humility.

    • Jack Klumpenhower at 10:22 am

      Thanks for interacting, Jamie. I agree with much of what you say. But I’d like to add that the Bible does not affirm that lasting happiness can come from living (or being accepted) for the way you see yourself today. That may bring some temporary contentment. But the lasting challenge is not to be who we feel we are now, but to become the persons God made us to be. This is why the truth of God as Creator is so key, and why I must point out that the Bible disagrees when you say people are not broken. When we (1) believe God is Creator and (2) believe the world and human beings are broken by sin and its effects, we will be people who trust what God says about who we truly are rather than trusting what we feel.

      The Bible strongly acknowledges the confusion most people feel over their identity, and the unhappiness that comes with it. We should expect to struggle with these issues, perhaps profoundly and deeply. The difference between today’s Western culture and the Bible is that the culture proposes acceptance of what feels right while the Bible offers escape and rescue. And the culture suggests being your own person while the Bible offers for us to be joined to the only truly free Person, Jesus, and renewed in him. So moral standards are not the first issue here at all. The big issue is how we can be saved from our current condition. Is it by finding and accepting ourselves, or is it by finding and accepting Jesus? That’s THE question of life, and a key place where our culture is at odds with the gospel of Jesus.

      I am a Christian. This makes me counter-cultural. I have very different answers to the key problems of life than the answers the culture generally agrees on.

      I am absolutely not on a mission to mold others into MY image or to change their identity to fit my notions. That is a common but false view of Christianity. Rather, my desire is that God would mold each of us into the image of Jesus. I try to show the glory of Jesus, so we all would gaze on him and be “transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We ALL have deep issues that make us unlike the humans we were made to be. The challenge is not to accept this, but to choose the much harder work of being renewed in Jesus. Happily, it is God’s work in us that will get the job done, or we would never be successful. I least of all!

      I recognize that this hope of renewal does not fit the current cultural ethic that emphasizes acceptance of our current condition and what feels right to the individual. Sexual and gender issues are just a small piece of it, really, though they happen to be what the culture emphasizes today. Please understand that at the core of Christianity there is Jesus and there is change; we are being rescued from our current condition and transformed into the people we were meant to be. Without this good news, Christ means little. Without a desire to be new people, Christians are not really Christians at all. The desire to leave behind who we once were (both sexually and in so many other ways) is what makes believers in Jesus distinct. It’s central to OUR identity in Christ.

      • Jamie Carter at 12:43 pm

        But the lasting challenge is not to be who we feel we are now, but to become the persons God made us to be. … Rather, my desire is that God would mold each of us into the image of Jesus.

        Assuming God made us to be images of Jesus; then how do masculinity teachings or femininity teachings make manly men more like Jesus or womanly women more like Jesus? Doesn’t being like Jesus blur gender lines and create a common zone of humanity where men and women are no different and not unequal at all? (i.e.) Jesus submitting is a lesson just as much to the men as it is to the women, Jesus using his authority is a lesson just as much to the women as it is to the men? I suppose you could cut Jesus in half, a pink half for the women to follow and a blue half for the men to follow to have it both ways. If the idea is to make everyone Jesus, then why forbid women from preaching and teaching; wouldn’t that be forbidding Jesus from speaking in his own church? Or are women’s identity in Jesus lesser than that of men?

        I still see Christians as the enchantress who have specific ideas about how people should be like, she goes around and zaps people into beasts, holding up signs and picketing them, shaming them for not matching her expectations – what right has she to do that? Somehow she gets a pass for cursing people because she only goes after those she considers to be the worst / rudest / careless / most sinful of all and nobody else calls her out on it. Belle breaks the spell because she looks to the Beast’s heart and sees who he truly is. Christians are often so busy trying to fix people that they fail to realize how beautiful God made this person that they’re condemning for something they don’t like. I still think that she was wrong and she abused her power.

  6. Jack Klumpenhower at 6:02 pm

    Jamie, I’m saddened that you’ve met so-called Christians who go around shaming or condemning others. This is not at all what a Christian should be like. Christians should know best of all that they themselves would receive the ultimate shame and condemnation if it were not for Jesus. This ought to make Christians loving and humble whenever they speak, even if they feel it is necessary to speak hard truths. I realize the “shaming Christian” is a common caricature in popular entertainment, but real-life Christians ought to rise above that.

    I will avoid trying to summarize the Bible’s worldview on gender and sexuality in this short a space. It really requires a lengthy discussion, because it’s part of a much larger way of thinking about what it means to be human, have dignity, and care for others.

    But maybe I can help by better explaining what I mean when I say we want to be like Jesus. When the Bible speaks of this, it mostly has in mind the character of Jesus: how he loved God and others, how he obeyed the Father and conformed to God’s will instead of living by his own will, and the glory due him because of his obedience. This is the main way Christians want to be like Jesus. Beginning today and with greater honor and glory one day when we are with him in the next age, we want to be like him first of all in his character.

    It would not be appropriate for any of us, male or female, to presume to be like Jesus in his role as the Savior and Messiah. Jesus had a unique commission that made him fit for teaching and other Christly (prophet/priest/king) duties. None of the rest of us have this exact commission. There are echoes of it in some things we do, but the fact that Jesus had that particular role does not mean any believer shares that particular role.

    I realize this still doesn’t address the more complicated issue of whether or not some roles in the church or in the home may be tied to gender. But I thought it might help for me to point out that we don’t have ordained-of-God roles in mind when we speak of being like Jesus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *