Movie junkies will tell you, there are few greater joys than sharing a beloved film with their kids.
My boys turn eight and four in February. I’ve done all that I can up to this point to participate in their movie consumption. Sure, there are a number of films they can pull down off of our shelves and watch on their own. But there’s also a short list of movies I need to watch with them, to share in the experience, learn from them, and attempt to recreate the magic I felt when I first watched the movie in question.
Over the weekend, I finally screened Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with my oldest son, P.J. He had been asking for some time now – virtually from the minute The Chamber of Secrets ended – if we could move on to the next chapter in Harry’s story. Chris Columbus’s opening chapters in the Potter saga are safe, but you know as well as I that the franchise upgrades with Alfonso Cuaron’s masterful installment, and I didn’t think P.J. was ready.
Even now, working our way through Azkaban, I paused it often to make sure he understood the relationships and plot developments. It helped a lot to stop and talk about things that he might have missed because of the accents or the brisk pacing. Who is Peter Pettigrew? How did Sirius Black escape from Azkaban? When we got to the time travel part of the story, P.J. basically just held on for the wild ride, which was fine. But there was a moment late in the picture, shortly after Sirius attacks Lupin to defend Harry, when the boy wizard says (and I’m paraphrasing) “Man, Professor Lupin is having a rough day.” And P.J. gave a great laugh. At that moment, I knew he was getting it. And my heart nearly burst with a newfound enjoyment.
Some of you reading this might be looking for that kind of experience by bringing your children to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
on the big screen. As they did recently with The Lion King
(and plan to do later with pictures like Finding Nemo
), Disney is re-releasing its award-winning animated classic back into theaters with a 3D upgrade. But really, it’s giving parents an opportunity to revisit a bona fide masterpiece with their children in a proper theatrical setting, seeing Beauty
as it’s meant to be seen.
The 3D discussion is for another column. I’d rather run through the highs and lows of Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s Beauty, to help you figure out who can go and what they can expect. So, let’s accept an enchanted rose from the haggard old witch, tell a tale as old as time and figure out when you can watch Beauty and the Beast with your kids.
Green Lights: “There will be music, romantic candlelight … provided by myself!”
We don’t focus on animated features in the When Can I Watch column that often, primarily because there’s a 95% chance you’ve watched the film in question with your kids before. But in addition to the theatrical re-release, there are numerous reasons why it’s worth revisiting Beauty with your kids, and any of these topics could make for great discussions before or after the film.
Beauty, for example, is the first animated feature to earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination. In fact, it’s inclusion in the exclusive category led to the creation of a separate Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards, which made it virtually impossible for a “cartoon” to break into the Best Picture race until the field expanded to 10 so Pixar films like Up and Toy Story 3 could get into the awards discussion.
And upon revisiting, it’s clear why Beauty belonged in the Best Picture race in 1991. Using exquisite animation and an attention to story and song composure that hadn’t been seen in years, the film relays Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s classic fairy tale but introduces modern Disney improvements.
Belle, for example, redefines the Disney Princess mold, the traditional damsel in distress who needed to be rescued by her Prince Charming. Belle, instead, is a book-smart role model who dreams of more than “this provincial life.” There’s a great scene in the beginning where Belle’s reading a vintage story about a maiden meeting her knight in shining armor, and the sheep standing near her literally tries to eat the page out of the book, as if to say, “That line of thinking has no place here.”
What does have a place? Kindness. Hospitality. Teaching impressionable children that true beauty is “found from within.” And while we’re on the topic of beauty, I can’t emphasize enough how gorgeous the animation is in Beast. It’s widely known at this point that Beast extended a creative Renaissance in Disney animation that began with The Little Mermaid, brining the production house back from the brink and inspiring a fresh team to deliver such classics as Aladdin and The Lion King.
That has to be the brightest Green Light we can mention about Beauty, because without it, those other winning stories might not exist, and that would be a crime.
Red Flags: “Both a little scared. Neither one prepared. Beauty and the Beast.”
If Belle’s an unconventional role model meant to be celebrated because she’s different, then Gaston – the picture’s antagonist – is a too-traditional villain culled from the Disney archetype, a monster hiding in plain sight who’s so despicable, you never understand why anyone in the town would give him the time of day, let alone treat him with such hero worship.
He’s handsome, yes, but also arrogant, empty-headed, aggressive, delusional, and a shortsighted blowhard. “It’s not right for a woman to read,“ Gaston tells Belle. “Soon she starts getting ideas and thinking.”
Gaston’s such an ass, you can’t wait for the Beast to best him … except, for the bulk of Beauty, the Beast is pretty damn scary, himself. He imprisons Belle’s father, then trades the old man’s life for hers. Sweet guy. When it comes time to romance his “house guest” and possibly break the haggard witch’s spell, Beast is about as charming as a death-row inmate. (It’s a good thing he has Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts and chip around to smooth over his animalistic attempts at love!)
Never fear, though. This is a Disney film, and while characters find themselves in peril – most notably when Belle is attacked by wolves in the forest outside of Beast’s castle, or when it appears that Gaston has sent the Beast to his death – Trousdale and Wise aren’t interested in pushing the envelope or terrifying your youngest. They want to make it clear that danger exists, yet good certainly will triumph over evil.
Which is why …
Beauty and the Beast absolutely is appropriate for all ages, so be our guest and bring the whole family to the theater to experience the animated masterpiece on the biggest screen you can find.
I sincerely hope that Beast enjoys the same rejuvenated support that The Lion King witnessed last year, when audiences flocked for weeks to see one of Walt Disney Animation Studio’s finest efforts as they likely never have seen before.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.