Now, first of all, let me start this off by saying that I love Beauty and the Beast. It’s always been one of my favourite Disney movies, and is probably going to remain one for a good long time. The characters are lovely, the music (both songs and background variety) is amazing and vibrant, the Beast’s animation team and Robby Benson do an astounding job of making him a truly compelling character. I even like the annoying kid character, and they usually drive me nuts.
Well, I was watching Paw’s review of it the other day, and that inspired me to watch the movie again for the first time in years, and I noticed something that’s just completely shaken my entire concept of the Disney classic. It happens early on, and so fortunately doesn’t require me to summarize the entire film in order to get there. For the benefit of those of you who either have managed to live your entire lives without seeing the movie or, more likely, just don’t remember the specifics of a movie you haven’t seen since you were kids, I’ll let Wikipedia cover the necessary basics:
An enchantress disguised as an old beggar woman offers a young prince a rose in exchange for a night’s shelter. When he turns her away, she punishes him by transforming him into an uglyBeast and turning his servants into furniture and other household items. She gives him a magic mirror that will enable him to view faraway events, and she gives him the rose, which will bloom until his twenty-first birthday. He must love and be loved in return before all the rose’s petals have fallen off, or he will remain a Beast forever.
Ten years later, a young, beautiful woman known as Belle comes along …
And the story continues, la la la. Poor inventor’s father gets in trouble, Belle rescues him, Stockholm Syndrome sets in and is in turn replaced by the afore-required true love. We have conflict, and pouffy gold dresses, and the Mob Song which remains one of my favourite Disney songs of all time, and we all go home happy.
There’s just one little problem, and it mostly has to do with math.
The Beast, we get told right away, has until his 21st birthday to learn to love and get love in return. Well, all right, that’s actually already a bit of a big ask. I’m 24, and I’ve never known true love — at least nothing I think would satisfy some pissed-off Enchantress. And this is coming from a reasonably-cute girl with decent people skills, who spent the last seven years on university campuses. What exactly is a Beast supposed to be able to do that I couldn’t, even if he wasn’t locked in a castle with only his furniturized servants for company? Yes, yes, I get that this is supposed to be punishment, but you’d think she’d give him a bit of a chance! Why bother to offer an escape clause, if it’s just flat-out impossible? And in an era where everyone is either having arranged marriages or ends up wedding the neighbour because you’re both still single and hey, those kids won’t have themselves … it’s not like Love is a common thing to be quested for.
So, okay, maybe I ended up discovering a couple of problems – but, we’ll try to get back on track now.
Which has us with …Prince, cursed, has until his 21’st birthday to find love, or he stays a beast forever. Unfortunate, but there you have it. Since the falling of the last petal occurs within the film, I’m assuming that his 21st birthday does as well. So our poor unfortunate Belle wanders into his life when the guy is 20.
That’s right. The deep, thoughtful, twisted creature we follow (voiced by a then-35 year old actor) is 20. Which for me suddenly makes it hard to take anything he says, does, or feels seriously. Suddenly his erruptions of temper stop being about years of solitude, a clash between his self-identification as a hideous monster and the personification of civility and humanity he sees in Belle, and turn into the grumpy poutings of an adolescent male who doesn’t get his way. Of course he’s not very good at dealing with women, most guys his age aren’t — he’s not special, he’s just home-schooled. And a bit hairy. I’m surprised he doesn’t try to seduce her by suggesting that his junk is proportionally large and muscular!
Maybe I’m just odd, but I always took his lack of maturity mostly as a factor of his mental growth. Surely the things he didn’t know or understand, his lack of social grace, were meant to be poignent testaments to his isolation, not an accurate reflection of a frat-boy trying to hit on the nerd. Weren’t they?
I don’t know, maybe I’m just insane.
But even if I am, we run into another problem if you keep walking the clock backwards. First of all, the movie is peppered with hints that the status quo has been the way it is for quite some time. Little phrases like ‘years went by’, ‘it’s been so long since’, ‘years of sadness and tears’ remind us all that yes, a full decade went by since the Enchantress stopped by at the castle, asked for room and board in exchange for a flower. (Which, by the way, just sounds cheap. Is her giant moral here that everyone should assume that everyone’s an enchantress, and never try to charge full price or anything? Why does having magic mean she shouldn’t have to pay for something? Freeloading bitch!) The prince, stuck-up brat that he was, didn’t think she was awesome enough to share his castle, and she punished him for his heartlessness.
Except that if one does a bit of math … the prince was eleven.
Yes, the animators seemed to have done the best they could to hide that fact. They drew the prince as some burly broad-shouldered thug who seems to be somewhere between the ages of 17 and 35. And the briefly-seen portrait a few seconds later makes it even clearer: he looks exactly the same as he does at the end of the movie, just a little bit more paintery.
But as noble as their efforts are, as hard as they try to fool us into thinking that he was old enough to have a clue, the story says ‘no’. When you get down to the story, the ruling is that the Enchantress worked all of her mayhem – cursed hundreds upon hundreds of innocent servants, quite possibly forever – because some snot-nosed kid decided he didn’t want to let the strange old lady and her flower into his castle while his parents weren’t home.
And honestly, I’m not sure what the moral of that is supposed to be. Kids are taught to be wary of strangers, especially when they’re inexplicably left alone with the staff. So really, his unwillingness to let a stranger into the house seems sort of an admirable trait, rather than a negative one. And even if he wasn’t being smart about it, and just didn’t want to be nice to her, is he really the only bratty kid she’s ever met? Really? ‘Cause I find myself left wondering whether this might not just be one in a long chain if inappropriately severe punishments she’s decided to dish out over the years – over there, a man forgot to hold the door for her, got turned into a door himself; here, two children were playing in the street and didn’t get out of the way, turned into clouds so that they’d never be in anyone’s way ever again; &c. &c.
Oh, sure, it’s all well and good to say that she looked into his heart, or whatever, but isn’t it just possible that with no parents raising him, he was never taught compassion? Were there really no other options that she could think of, other than turning him into a member of a different species, and then telling him that he had only his teenage years to find true love? In a world where, hey, most people are just probably going to try to kill you on sight. I really hope that for their honeymoon, Belle and Phillip (or whatever his name was, funny how I stop caring about him at all once he transforms back into Prince Blandness) go on a cross-country trip to track her down and bring her to some kind of justice.
On a more practical level, I’m just going to assume that the animators were trying to do us all a favour by ignoring that part of the script, and quietly pretend to myself that the prince was 15 or 16 at the beginning, and had until his 25th birthday, by which time he might possibly have come out of puberty and started to have a brain.
But on the off-chance that I’m wrong … Dear future animation teams. If you don’t want to confuse us? This is what kids look like: