When I was 12, I won the Mesquite library summer reading contest. It was a 30-minute walk to the library and almost every weekday morning, I would go and fill my book bags to overflowing before the long walk home in the Arizona heat. In the afternoons I would curl up with a book and a cold glass of Country Time Lemonade and escape, traveling the world, solving dangerous mysteries and living a glamorous life.
My oldest daughter Liv, was almost 5 the first time she drug a huge volume of a book,( An encyclopedia of Dog Breeds, because she loved dogs of course) too heavy for her to carry, to the checkout desk at our local library. She found and followed her own adventures through books, and for most of her pre-teen years, often carried a book with her for comfort.
I was hoping my second daughter Zoe would also discover the ability to dream, to imagine her desires and travel within the pages of a well-loved book. I read to her for hours, and we listened to books too. As Zoe grew older, the challenge of higher level reading comprehension was too great and so she often prefers the easy entertainment of a movie.
The movie screen plays out all the possibilities, satiating her curiosity to discover new worlds. A teenager now, Zoe especially admires and enjoys strong heroines. Once Zoe told me about a dream she had and that sometimes when she sees herself in her dreams, she doesn't have her wheelchair, and that her muscles are stronger and in her dreams, her legs carry her wherever she wants to go.
At the new release of Beauty and the Beast, the romantic fantasy musical remake of Disney's 1991 animated film, Zoe and I settle in just before the movie opens. Belle, portrayed by Emma Watson, is seen by the villagers as “ always wanting more.” Belle “ always has her nose stuck in a book” and like my daughter Liv, is seen carrying her book throughout town wherever she goes and the villagers can’t stop remarking how “ very different than the rest of us” Belle is.
Smart, headstrong Belle, longs for more, wants more than “they’ve got planned” ( the villagers) and doesn’t apologize for it. She is curious and capable, and even though she is called “strange”, she persists.
Scene by scene the movie follows the original storyline with highly embellished, amazing music and production. I watch this daughter of mine, taking it all in, completely entranced and I wonder if Zoe imagines herself as the heroine, just as I used to do as a girl with my pile of books.
Although the romance and the heavily decorated Disney theme are consuming, the true beauty in this movie is the inspiring modern day message.
It is in the way Belle shows us over and over again, how to persist (and shows her village) that she will choose who to love, and that she can call it love and then, goes on to fight and defend her love.
Belle’s own empty heart previously fulfilled only by her love for reading is drawn to the Beast, who discovers that books can help him, too, overcome his own loneliness. The human theme of vulnerability and loneliness runs throughout the movie as Belle connects to his human quality and wisdom “Funny girl,” he shows Belle, “Even a village can be lonely”.
He goes on to encourage her: “Think of the one thing you’ve always wanted. See it in your mind’s eyes and feel it in your heart.” It is with this truth, this authenticity (with the help of a magical mirror) that Belle is finally transported to a place she has always wanted to be—where she first began.
As I said goodnight to Zoe later, she asked me if I liked the movie. “Of course” I assured her, and it was true, I did. I loved the music, the dancing, and the delight of a happy ending that Disney fairy tales deliver.
Because in today’s world there is no guarantee of a happy ending. My daughter will always be different, and with difference comes discrimination. And with adversity, there is truth and with love, there is judgment.
Still, it was what Belle taught us that I love the most.
That you should strive to be true to yourself, to be human, and that to be lonely sometimes, is to be real. To be different is okay. That you must persist, and above all, you choose who you will love, because love IS love is love is love.