Once upon a time in a far away land, a young prince lived in a shining castle...
And thus begins Disney's Beauty and the Beast
(Hereafter BatB) and my pondering about the movie.
We begin by zooming in on the castle that was. It's a pretty good representation of Cinderella Castle - the one we see at the opening of every Disney movie. From there we have a montage of stained-glass frames representing the backstory. An enchantress in disguise tests Prince Adam (unnamed in the movie) and finds him wanting. She places Adam, the Castle and all of the inhabitants under a powerful spell. The spell will only be broken if he can learn to love someone and they love him in return. She leaves him with two magical objects. The first is the rose she offered as part of the test; it acts as a timer for Prince Adam - if he fails before the last petal falls, he's doomed to remain a beast forever (and the castle inhabitants are likewise doomed). The second item is a mirror that shows him anything his heart desires - it's used primarily to advance the plot. Notably, the mirror and its function are lifted straight from the original story.
Finally, we see the Prince's despair as he destroys the portrait of his human face and the newly uglified West Wing. The detail for the castle in both its pre and post-transformation forms is very good, especially for a movie that was 99% hand drawn.Prince Adam
The Beast's name is never mentioned in the movie - he is referred to as "Prince", "Beast" or "Master" throughout. This represents one of the few missteps that the creators made. A scene could have been inserted where the Beast reveals his name to Belle, showing his returning civilized side. In the earlier parts of the movie, the Beast is referred to only descriptively, further dehumanizing him, but later he could
have been referred to by name, humanizing him. I'll show the ideal place to do this later, when we get to it.
The name "Adam" is an unusual choice and probably reflects a marketing person's attempt at finding a suitable name. While there is no reason the Prince of a quasi-French realm couldn't be named Adam, I think a more French name would have been better. Possibly Adam was chosen specifically so it wouldn't be too French-y, and thus to American ears, girly.
As for his title, the King's son would certainly have been missed, so Prince is used here to mean the ruler of a Principality. In rank, Adam would be lower than a Duke, but higher than a Marquess. Liechtenstein is a Principality and is only 61 square mile in area, so we can see that the area of Adam's rule is not necessarily that large. This is important for the next section.The Nature of the Enchantress and Her Spell
The spell the Enchantress places on Adam was very powerful, it had the following effects:
- Adam was transformed into a beast.
- The Castle and it's immediate surroundings are made to look scarier.
- The inhabitants of the castle are transformed into animate Objects, representing their various jobs.
- Normal objects also become animate, but not sentient.
- The rules of time and space between the immediate area of the castle and the rest of the Principality become skewed.
- The people of the Principality forget about their local nobility.
The last three of these are not immediately obvious. I can support all of these claims though.
First, there are many more animate objects in the castle than there would have been people. I doubt every fork and spoon represents someone. While Chip is later told by his mother Mrs. Potts to "get into the cupboard with your brothers and sisters", I doubt that every
cup is one of Chip's siblings. If that's the case, Mrs. Potts was a very fertile woman in her prime. We can safely assume that any object that speaks or has eyes (eyes are the windows to the soul, and the ability to talk separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom) is probably a person, and any that lack those traits is not. The only exception is the ottoman, which was a dog (and notably doesn't have eyes). I'll use the convention of Maguire's re-imagined Oz novels
(where the sentient animals are referred to as Animals, with a capital, to distinguish them from normal animals) and call the objects that were originally people as Objects.
Time is also out of whack and only peripherally connected to the outside world. The period of time that the castle is enchanted is ten years (from Be Our Guest
: "Ten years we've been rusting..."
). This leads to a possible contradiction where the enchantment is to last until the Prince's 21st year. Either the Prince was cursed as an eleven year old, or the nature of the spell means time is not a constant. My belief is that the Beast is just shy of 21 when he is cursed. We don't see much of the all important portrait before it is shredded, but it does look like a young man, and not an eleven year old boy. The Rose is then a more ambiguous timer, perhaps dropping a petal every year to mark the passage of time. Perhaps it sometimes goes multiple years without dropping a petal, or sometimes drops two at once. This would be additional psychological torture on the beast.
So the adult Prince has been cursed, and that curse is nearing the end of ten years. That's a nice round number.
Meanwhile, over the course of the story, three days occur in the village. First day:
Belle in the village, Maurice leaves and is imprisoned. Second day:
Gaston proposes, Belle switches places with Maurice, Maurice returns to the village. Third day:
Belle sees Maurice in the mirror and returns him home, Gaston and the villagers attack the castle). Inside the castle it appears that several weeks or months go by - Beast and Belle have time to get to know each other, and Disney was able to insert two additional movies into the narrative
Meanwhile, the Principality (as represented by the "poor provincial town") doesn't seem to have noticed that their Prince has gone missing for close to ten years. No deliveries go to the castle and no communication comes from it. Possibly it's been a lot less than ten years to them. I figure it's been, at most, a year or two.
But it's not just time that's screwed up, it's also perceptions - the villagers seem unaware that a huge castle, less than a day's ride away, even exists. The spell has affected them too - either they avoid the whole area because of taboo, or their mind is fogged to not even realize it's there. They simply have a blind spot when it comes to the castle. They don't notice the road leading up to it, and people off road (hunters for example) simply deflect around it. For ten years the villagers have been without nobility and have never questioned it. For example, Gaston poaches enough to do use antlers in all of his decorating, and wouldn't the local Prince object to that? Gaston, being the "strong man" of the village, is half way to becoming the local nobility. Certainly everyone defers to him. But I didn't want to get into Gaston this early. Suffice to say, the village behaves like it is also under an enchantment.
I imagine travellers deciding that the villagers are all crazy and vice-versa.
"Who lives in that castle a half-day's ride north of here?"
"The giant castle with multiple towers that you can see from miles away. That castle."
"Don't know what you're talking about - there are no castles around here."
Notably, Belle and Maurice moved to the village from somewhere else. Both of them have no problem finding the castle because neither of them were part of the initial enchantment.
And what of the enchantress? Good? Evil? Capricious?
One could argue that's she's good if one takes a "tough love" approach. She curses the Prince, but it's to teach him a valuable lesson in not being a cruel ruler. She knows that Belle will appear and times events so that this will happen.
On the other hand, she did enchant everyone
in the castle, for the Prince's transgression. Even if you assume that the servants were equally guilty (for not standing up to their Master when he was being a jerk), that doesn't explain Chip - trapped as a tea cup for ten years, and mentally stalled as a six-year old. Certainly he didn't deserve this fate. If we assume that the enchantress is evil, these objections go away - the test was akin to putting a rock under a hat in the street knowing that someone was going to kick it and break their toe. In this case, the extent of the spell, the magic items left behind and the nature of it are all there simply to be cruel. He's a beast, and his servants are Objects, the village has forgotten them, and the only two magical items left both serve to remind him of what he's lost - If you'd been cursed into an inhuman form, what would your "heart's desire" be? In this version, the mirror likely showed him his human form, or his death.
Finally, perhaps the enchantress is simply a capricious demigod, like Circe. Quick to anger and to punish, but her spells have loopholes - not so that the loopholes will inevitably be exploited, but because demigods are simply not that clever compared to humans who require wits rather than magic to survive. In this version, the enchantress intends for the curse to be permanent, the nature of the spell requires an "out" so she puts in an unlikely "true love" clause, not really expecting it to happen.
Next time, we're introduced to Belle, Gaston and the "poor provincial town". Lots of back story there to chew over.