Beauty and the Beast: Bringing a Tale as Old as Time to Life

“Winter turns to Spring, famine turns to feast, nature points the way, nothing left to say, Beauty and the Beast.” – Mrs. Potts

Disney could have hardly chosen a better time to make and release a live-action adaption of the beloved Beauty and the Beast 1991 animated classic.*

Winter’s cold, snowy and lethargic presence has been exacerbated by a long, polarizing and turbulent political season, leaving many of us desperately longing for a ray of spring sunshine and a rebirth of our depleted spirit.

While I suspect the film would have been a record-breaker** regardless of its release date, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast was all the more enjoyable and uplifting for the contrast it provides to the current mood and political climate permeating our country.

Whisking us away to a magical world of rolling green hills, a picturesque French village, and a hidden castle in a menacing forest, Beauty and the Beast not only masterfully captured the animated classic’s storyline and spirit in live-action – largely due to exquisite performances by the whole cast of characters – but was a true joy to watch, lifting our spirits and reminding us of the timeless wisdom to find beauty and goodness amidst darkness.

Honoring the lyrical songs written by Howard Ashman and the beloved, whimsical characters, who are just as vibrant and endearing as they were in the original, the film’s greatest strength is imparting subtle changes, with an air of freshness, into the original’s costumes, songs, characters and plot.

Tackling one of the most celebrated Disney classics – without overdoing it or taking too many liberties – is no easy feat, not to mention a bold undertaking. But, striking the perfect balance, Disney has shown it possible to truly bring a tale as old as time to life in a beautiful, enriching and imaginative way.

Watch the trailer and check out some ‘of interest reading’ below:

Of interest reading:

  • The New York Times review of this year’s Beauty and the Beast, which writes: “Its classicism feels unforced and fresh. Its romance neither winks nor panders. It looks good, moves gracefully and leaves a clean and invigorating aftertaste. I almost didn’t recognize the flavor: I think the name for it is joy.”
  • The New York Times review of the 1991 Beauty and the Beast 
  • Emma Watson’s (Belle) feature in this month’s Vanity Fair
  • Dan Stevens (Beast) interview in The Australian

*The 1991 Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature to receive an Academy Award nomination for best picture (it won two Oscars, for original song and original score).

**This year’s Beauty and the Beast has broken the record for the biggest opening weekend ever for March with an estimated $170 million, had the biggest opening ever for a PG-rated movie, and is now in 7th place in all-time opening weekend grosses, surpassing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (part 2).

Let There Be Light

Genesis 1 commentary

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” (Genesis 1:1-4)

Light is indeed good as we are reminded in the opening days of March that we will not be held forever frozen in the cold, dark abyss of winter. Around the 7th day of March each year, it begins to dawn on us that Daylight Savings time is just a wisp of wind around the corner and that the extra light will do us “good.” Good because it helps to bring us out of winter’s hibernating stupor and good because it reassures us that there is order in the universe – that we can find consistency and dependability in the rhythmic coming and going of seasons.

Indeed, the extra light of spring can be a welcome reprieve, bringing the goodness of beauty found in the cheerful colors of spring’s flowers, particularly at a time when it is so easy to become discouraged by the anarchy, disorder and turmoil that seem to surround us. One can find daily commentaries about the chaotic state of the world confirming the experience felt by many: that we are living in a hard, dark, disturbing and confusing time. As Geoffrey Norman notes in his article, “The United States of Dogs”, from the February 27 issue of The Weekly Standard: “It is a hard world and getting harder.”

As we step out of the darkness of winter this year into the promising light of spring, it would be good to recognize that it is in the messiness and chaos of life, whether it be in our personal lives or in the political vicissitudes of our nation and our world, that opportunity exists. Opportunity, not as powerless agents of a predetermined world, but as free agents capable of moving through the darkness and through the difficulties into a more excellent way of being. As theologian W. Sibley Towner writes: “If there were no freedom in this creation, no touches of disorder, no open ends, then moral choice, creativity, and excellence could not arise.”

In fact, the term “the deep” from Genesis 1:2 (“and darkness covered the face of the deep…”) comes from the Hebrew word “Tehôm,” signifying confusion and disturbance. Typically applied to the ocean to convey the restless motion of its waves, it is used here to describe the “chaos as a surging mass of shapeless matter.” It continues: “In the Babylonian legend, Tiàmet, the Hebrew tehôm, is represented as overcome by Merodach, who out of the primaeval anarchy brings order and beauty.”

It is in the darkness of our many struggles and challenges that our need for light arises. And it is light that illuminates our path and brings us to order and beauty.

It is out of the darkness that light was born. It is out of the darkness that we must come.

Springing into March and Maple Syrup Time

“March is a month of considerable frustration – it is so near Spring and yet across a great deal of the country the weather is still so violent and changeable that outdoor activity in our yards seems light years away.” – Thalassa Cruso (known as “The Julia Child of Horticulture”, 1909-1997)

While waiting for the March Lion to turn into a Lamb, for the snow to melt and the ground to thaw, consider baking one of the three cakes below (taken from “The Food52 Cookbook” by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs, 2011).

Maple Yogurt Pound Cake 

maple cakeIngredients:
1/2 cup Grade B Maple Syrup
3/4 cup yogurt, preferably whole milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 & 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F and generously butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
  1. In large mixing bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the wet ingredients and stir just to incorporate. Add the oil and fold gently until the oil is absorbed into the batter. Make sure not to over mix the batter.
  1. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet in the oven and bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes. Cut around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Turn the cake out onto the rack, then turn it upright on the rack and cool completely. Serve with fresh sliced strawberries and fresh whipped cream!

maple pound cake

Faulknerian Family Spice Cake with Caramel Icing

Ingredients for cake:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening (yes, shortening)
3 cups sugar
5 large eggs
3 cups flour
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground mace (don’t leave this out)
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Ingredients for caramel icing:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions for cake:

  1. To make the cake, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a tube pan and set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until smooth.
  1. Sift together the dry ingredients, twice. Add the dry mixture to the creamed mixture, alternating with the milk. Add the vanilla. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, turn out of the pan, and allow to cool completely on the rack.

Instructions for caramel icing:
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the brown sugar and cream. Remove from the heat and stir until smooth. Return to the heat and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Let the mixture cool, and then beat in the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla. Ice the cooled cake.

Lemony Cream Cheese Pancakes with Blueberries

Ingredients:
1 & 1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk
6 ounces cold cream cheese, cut up
1 tbsp. melted butter, plus additional for the pan
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. lemon juice
Zest of 1 large lemon
1 & 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
Honey, maple syrup, or jam, for serving

Instructions:

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and buttermilk. Add the cream cheese and mix until it has separated into uniformly small lumps, about the size of large cottage cheese curds. Stir in the milted butter, vanilla, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
  1. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, then stir to combine. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry; fold them gently into the batter.
  1. Heat a griddle or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles. Lower the heat to medium and butter or oil the pan. Drop the batter into the pan by 1/3 cupful’s, making sure not to crowd the pancakes. Once the batter has spread, drop in the berries. (You might want to drizzle some batter over to cover them.) These need to be cooked a bit longer than you might expect; they won’t bubble as quickly or as much as plain pancakes. Turn down the heat if necessary to keep them from overbrowning and let them puff up their full extent after you turn them, which will take 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with honey or maple syrup or jam.