Truth in a Fairy Tale

One of this season's biggest box office hits, surprisingly enough, had no profanity. No nudity. No bloody shoot-outs. It was a children's movie but grown-ups liked it, too. Parents stayed in the theater for this one. And teenagers volunteered to take younger brothers and sisters so they wouldn't be embarrassed going to see a children's film. What was it? Walt Disney's cartoon version of the classic fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast." It's a real tribute to classic fairy tales that they still have a powerful impact on the imagination. Fairy tales have been passed down from parents to children for hundreds of years. They embody in picture language some of the most universal human experiences and moral insights. In "Beauty and the Beast," a spoiled young prince is rude to an enchantress, so she changes him into a beast. He will recover his human form only if he finds someone who loves him as he is--beastliness and all. The plot turns around a young woman, who learns to see past his ugliness and, finally, to love him. In the cartoon, Disney succeeds in the delicate task of adding new elements that actually enhance the original story. For example, the young woman is not only beautiful but bright. She loves to read books, even though she is mocked for it by the other villagers. The movie even adds a new character, a dashing but conceited young man named Gaston [gah stone'], who serves as a contrast to the Beast. The lessons of the fairy tale are clear: that appearances can be deceptive. That we are transformed only when we admit that we are really beasts. That we become lovable when someone else first loves us. There are profoundly biblical themes. The great Christian writer G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "My first and last philosophy ... I learned in the nursery." He meant that the most important truths he learned as a youngster--from fairy tales. Think of Jack the Giant Killer, with its lesson that the little guy can win against overwhelming odds. Hansel and Gretel, with its warning that what looks good on the outside may be deadly. And Cinderella, with its promise that the humble shall be exalted. Teachers and librarians sometimes complain that the old fairy tales use too much violent imagery--witches, giants, and dragons. They'd like to replace fairy tales with modern realistic stories about things like how Johnny adjusts to a new school. But in fact children like stories about wicked witches and scary giants--as long as the bad guys get their just deserts in the end. Well-known psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim says children are acutely sensitive to injustice. They find it deeply satisfying to read stories where a horrible evil is horribly punished--and the moral balance of the universe is restored. Yes, the writers of the old fairy tales, like the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, knew something important: that children develop their basic sense of right and wrong in the early years. So why don't you grab a couple of kids and take them to see "Beauty and the Beast." You might just help them gain something that will last the rest of their lives.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary