Written by Paramount New Works Development Director and Beauty and the Beast Director Amber Mak

Each night I sit with my daughter and pick books from her bookshelf to read. I know this is a ritual familiar to many parents. A filled bookshelf is art to me. The spines of books tease us to pull one of them from the shelf to read. Many of the stories are fairytales that have endured for many years, such as the story you’re watching today. Although the books are inanimate, they are filled with life.

Storybooks and fairytales lure us in with fantasy, adventure and romance, but it seems to be the moral questions and lessons that each tale weaves that bring us back to the story again and again. They are neither historical nor contemporary, but ever present in our everyday life.

I was a young girl when the animated Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast came out. I remember sitting in the theatre being terrified of the wolves, sympathetic to the Beast, and deeply identifying with Belle because of her love of books and adventure. My relationship to the story was fairly simple then. Revisiting this story as an adult and mother, I am surprised and intrigued in a whole new way. The words “Beauty” and “Beast” that, at one time, seemed antithetical and simple, now seem to hold such a complex and fluid relationship. With the constantly devastating news cycle, I can’t help but beg the question: what does it actually mean to be human? In a tale of transformation where there is a real threat of losing one’s humanity, what separates human from beast? What role does beauty play as a defining human characteristic? Or does it?

We begin our tale with four simple words that I find, when put together, are truly magical in their ability to ignite imagination, enthrall senses, excite emotions and open the pages to so much possibility.

And so, we begin: Once upon a time…

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