Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast, rated PG
***

Despite some well-publicized content concerns, Disney’s new Beauty and the Beast is a treat overall.
Following the success of their recent animation to live action remakes of some of their classic films – Alice in Wonderland (2010), Cinderella (2015) and The Jungle Book (2016), Disney returns with a new version of Beauty and the Beast. The 1991 animated version received five Oscar nominations, winning two. The new film is directed by Oscar winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters), and written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. It had an estimated budget of $160 million, but is expected to earn that back and more, with a projected worldwide opening this weekend of $215-245 million. The film features an outstanding cast and is visually stunning.
The film is set in the town of Villeneuve in France. Belle, played by Emma Watson (Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films) is a happy, independent, book-loving inventor who loves her father Maurice, played by Oscar winner Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda). Throughout the film Belle is pursued constantly by Gaston (Luke Evans, The Girl on the Train), who wants to marry her, but Belle has no interest in him. The one who does have interest in Gaston is the homosexual character LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who voiced Olaf in Disney’s Frozen.  The song “Gaston” has new lyrics that were written by the late Howard Ashman, but did not make it into the 1991 film as they were not considered appropriate for a children’s film.
As Maurice leaves on a trip, he promises to bring Belle back a rose. The rose he tries to bring her is growing on the land of the Beast, played by Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey). Maurice is then captured and put in a jail cell in the castle of the Beast. If you are familiar with the story, the Beast must find someone to love him before the final petal of a red rose kept under glass falls off. If he doesn’t, he is doomed to remain a beast forever, and the members of his household will remain clocks, cups, etc. forever.
As I mentioned, the film features a strong cast. In addition to Watson and Kline, Ewan McGregor portrays the candlestick Lumiere, two-time Oscar nominee Ian McKellen plays the mantle clock Cogsworth, two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility and Howard’s End) plays the teapot Mrs. Potts, and Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci plays Maestro Cadenza.
Alan Menken, who wrote the music for the 1991 film, returns to do the music for this film, which includes new recordings of his original songs such as “Be Our Guest”, along with new songs written by Menken and three-time Oscar winner Tim Rice (The Lion King, Aladdin, and Evita).  I loved the music and the costumes in the film. The computer generated imagery (CGI) – the castle, wolves, the face of the Beast, etc. were all well done.    My wife thought that the “Be Our Guest” scene was almost over done – maybe they were trying to have it be like a scene from Fantasia?
We attended the film on opening night; the theatre was filled with very small children. However, unlike the animated version, this is not a children’s film. It is dark and the scenes with wolves may well be too frightening for small children.
Leading up to the film there was controversy when the director made news in speaking about the film’s “exclusively gay moment”, which takes place near the end of the film. However, we saw LaFou’s homosexuality played out throughout the film, along with other things thrown in to make this film, as Condon has stated, as diverse as possible. He stated that “By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural…” Chances are, small children will not even notice what Condon and Disney have put in this film, but discerning Christians will and they will find it in conflict with the Scripture (Romans 1:26-27). It’s not enough, in my opinion, to keep you from seeing the film, but it did impact our enjoyment and our overall rating of the film.  On the flip side, sacrificial love is portrayed well.

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My Review of the Movie MOANA

moanaMoana, rated PG
***

It is rare that I’ll see a film after it’s been in the theatres for a few weeks. Usually I’ll see a film its opening weekend; Moana is an exception. I really had no interest in seeing the film when it first came out, even after seeing the previews. However, due to word of mouth from family and friends, strong positive reviews from critics and viewers, and a lack of other good options, I decided to check out the film that has now topped the box office all three weeks since its release, with an accumulated total of more than $145 million in ticket sales.

This animated film from Disney is funny, visually stunning, features excellent animation, has catchy songs (from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, as well as co-writers Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i), good writing, and overall positive messages. There are also a few concerns which I’ll address later.

The film is directed by two-time Oscar nominee Ron Clements and Oscar nominee John Musker, with co-directors being Oscar winner Don Hall and Oscar winner Chris Williams. The screenplay is by Jared Bush, who also wrote Zootopia, one of my favorite films of the year. The film had a budget of approximately $150 million.        

We first meet the young Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the only daughter of Chief Tu (Temuera Morrison), as a toddler, living with her family on a peaceful Polynesian island about 2,000 years ago. (“Moana” is the Polynesian word for ocean or sea. It is also a common Polynesian word for the color blue.). As she hears stories being told by her Gramma Tala (Rachel House), Moana is immediately captivated, while we see other toddlers cry.

The film begins with “in the beginning”, but it’s not the “In the beginning” that we would know from Genesis 1. In this beginning the earth was all water until Te Fiti, a beautiful island rose up. At the heart of the island was a stone that was believed to give the ability to create life. However, one day a demigod name Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) stole the stone. As he does so, Te Ka, a giant, evil lava monster (who could be scary for young viewers), confronts Maui and he loses the stone and his magical hook.  The hook allows him to transform himself into a large hawk, as well as other animals.

Even at a young age Moana feels called to the ocean though her father prohibits it; she is never to go beyond the reef. She later finds out more about her people’s background which explains why she’s so drawn to the sea. Her grandmother tells Moana, who is preparing to one day be the leader of her people, that unless someone can return the stone to the heart of Te Fiti, their island will be destroyed. We hear that the fishermen can no longer find fish around the island and we see diseased coconuts. Something must be done. Gramma tells Moana that the ocean has chosen Moana to be the one to save her people. So, Moana, along with a hilarious chicken, sets out beyond the reef to enlist the demigod Maui to save her people.

When Moana is shipwrecked on an island, it turns out to be the island where Maui is living. And he is very full of himself with tattoos covering his body that he talks to, and they respond back. (Although this is a computer animated film, Maui’s tattoos are actually hand-drawn animation). Maui thinks everyone should be grateful for and to him, for all he has done as a demigod. He evens signs an autograph for Moana on her oar. Although he initially refuses to go with Moana, and he certainly doesn’t want to face Te Ka again, he eventually reluctantly agrees.

Moana shows courage as she seeks to save her people and their island. As they begin their journey Maui several times tries to throw Moana into the ocean, only to have the ocean, which is a living character in this film, put her right back on the boat. On their way to the lava monster, they have to recover Maui’s magical hook from Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), a crab living well under the ocean’s surface.

The film is based on stories from Polynesian mythology. We hear of demigods, reincarnation and see Moana speaking to a spirit. The film is fun to watch and the songs are catchy. It will also give Christian parents an opportunity to compare this fictional story with the Biblical story of creation and the true savior.


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My Review of the Movie ‘Pete’s Dragon’

Pete's DragonPete’s Dragon, rated PG
*** ½

The 1977 version of Pete’s Dragon was an animated musical and received two Oscar nominations for the music. This new film is directed by David Lowery who also co-wrote the film with Toby Halbrooks and is based on a short story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Field.  Lowery and Halbrooks worked together on 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. The music is by Daniel Hart, who also did the music for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and was a good addition to the film. Included were a few folk-type songs, some with an early Bob Dylan feel to them.
The new film has a budget of approximately $65 million and is set in the town of Millhaven in the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s.

Disney is known for sad scenes. The film opens with another one of them; we then see Pete head into the forest. Just before he is about to be killed by wolves he is rescued by a dragon. The dragon is a big green winged furry beast who can make himself invisible whenever he wants.  But he is also kind-hearted, and he and Pete show each other sacrificial love throughout the film.

For six years the two are inseparable, best friends. Pete, now 11, played by Oakes Fegley, names the magical dragon Elliot, after the lost puppy in a book that is important to him. We get to see the two of them playing together in the forest which is a joyful part of the film. Elliot isn’t perfect – he has a chipped tooth and doesn’t always have the most graceful of landings after he has been soaring through the air. And, he is known to sneeze and leave his snot all over whatever (or whoever) is nearby. This section of the film was my favorite. It brought to mind some of the best parts of Disney’s The Jungle Book from earlier this year. I enjoyed the way the film also really brings out the personality of Elliot, much like The BFG (my favorite film of the year) did with the Big Friendly Giant.

Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard, Claire from Jurassic World) is a Forest Service Ranger. Her father Mr. Meacham (Oscar winner Robert Redford), taught her about the woods and tells stories about a dragon he once saw that lives in the forest. Grace doesn’t believe his silly stories, but her stepdaughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) does.

Pete sees Grace walking in the forest. Soon, he is spotted by Natalie. Pete and Elliot’s peaceful existence in the forest is disrupted by loggers, Gavin (Karl Urban, who recently played Bones in Star Trek Beyond), and his brother Jack (Wes Bentley). The loggers are portrayed as bad guys in the film as we see them taking down trees in the forest.

The film was sadder than expected, and it will pull on your heartstrings. The importance of family is a key theme in the film. Because of some of the mature themes in the film as well as some scary scenes with the dragon, this film may not be appropriate for the youngest viewers.  Otherwise, it would be appropriate for the entire family. Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen this year.   (Note:  my wife thought it was too sad and only gave it two stars for that reason.)

I didn’t see the 1977 film or read the book as a child, so I don’t know how close to the original story this film is. If you have seen the first film or read the book and also see this film, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.