In the world of writing and storytelling, reinvention and imagination can expand the good, but some of the best ideas cannot be “re-created” in certain environments. Take the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast for an example. Somehow, this fairy tale wouldn’t work very well in a modern setting. The majority of critics who reviewed Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance forgot this. They expected some award-winning, sweeping contemporary retelling. But how could a “beast” or the circumstances of the original work out in modern times without magic? Although the introduction of the film excuses its plot’s setting by hinting that it’s some parallel universe where creative license is akin to fantasy, references to actual places like the state of California immediately ground the story on a realistic land.
In this version of the tale, Belle is simply an ambitious young woman trying to deal with her family’s poverty through the strength of her Christian convictions. However, fate (or God) has other plans: by means of an accident, Belle gets “tricked” into working for “the Beast,” a cold and unfriendly businessman named Eric Landry. However, Belle has to work for “the Beast” as his assistant rather than being incarcerated in his luxurious mansion. Another way the screenwriter drastically changed the fairy tale is that Belle has to not only “transform” the Beast but also earn his trust and respect on a more impersonal level before she can get closer to him.
There are no spells or enchantments in Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance. Aside from a comical love triangle and some unnecessary supporting characters, the film is decent content-wise. Stephanie Wood makes an affable and spunky beauty queen of a heroine, while Matthew Davis (a.k.a. Matthew Reese) is an unusual choice for “the Beast,” being average-looking and not very temperamental. Stage settings means there’s no noticeable difference between Landry’s mansion and the orthodontic office Belle works for. Emotionally, the characters end up in limbo, not leaning towards a soap opera atmosphere or a classic romance. However, the filmmakers show they put a lot of effort into turning out a reasonable Christian take on Beauty and the Beast without letting religious fanaticism or excruciating incredibility leak in. The result is a workable modern setting, two defined main characters, and an intelligible quest for redemption that may not make a fairy tale of a movie but does provide room for considerable contemplation on the viewer’s part.
Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance is available upon request on DVD wherever movies are sold in Fresno and online; it also can be rented for free from local libraries.