Beauty, the Beast, and the French Revolution

A few months back, when my stepson was in town, we had some friends over to watch the new Blu-Ray of Beauty and the Beast. Claudia Gray and I fell into a discussion: the movie takes place in France in the late 18th or early 19th century - right around the time of the French Revolution, when the peasants rose up, overthrew the nobility, and had their heads trimmed from their necks. Has all of this already happened when the movie takes place, or is Belle just setting herself up on a date with the guillotine by moving into the castle?

There are other questions that come about from the movie, of course. Like, why is anyone surprised to hear about the castle? Didn't they know it was there? Hadn't it once been the #1 employer in the area? Didn't they wonder what happened to the mean prince?

All of these questions are answered if we assume that the revolution came between the time that the mysterious old woman turned the prince into a beast and the events of the movie. In fact, this attack on the prince could have been the first major attack of the revolution. It probably pre-dated the storming of the Bastille in 1789. By the time Belle and her father go to the castle, six or seven years have passed, and France is being controlled by the Directory (as it will be for a couple more years before the rise of Napoleon).

The biggest clue for me that this is a post-revolution movie comes when the townspeople get their torches and prepare to storm the castle. Look at the way they get organized here - I get the distinct impression that this ain't their first rodeo. They've stormed a castle or two in their day. Maybe they've even sat knitting at the foot of a guillotine.

Perhaps when they stormed the castle before, the Beast was hiding out in the West Wing. The townspeople had arrived expecting a big fight with the mean prince and his armies, but found the place deserted ("nobody here but us furniture!") So they figured that some other angry mob had gotten there first, patted themselves on the back, considered it a job well done, and went home. Being a Beast didn't just save that prince's heart - it saved his neck, too!


Jess said...

Very thorough analysis! My stepdaughter is studying the F.R. in class--I'll have to offer this up as an essay topic.

Thanks for the comment on my blog~ I also occasionally said things in class that did not amuse the teachers :)

Just so you know, I now follow you on Twitter because of this awesome tweet (retweeted by Jennifer Laughran):

"Sometimes I like to eat fingerling potatoes and pretend I'm a giant."

I laughed my butt off, then thought about it, then decided that dinner tonight will include fingerling potatoes.

Kevin said...

I've been wondering those exact same things about Disney movies lately. Many of them avoid the grittier details of royalty in favor of selling their Princess fantasies.

- Maleficent is the queen of a neighboring kingdom so is it any surprise she would take offense to being the only monarch not invited to Aurora's christening? Forget cursing their child. Weren't the king and queen worried at all about relations with a neighboring kingdom? (granted, that kingdom likely generates no income)

- When Jasmine runs away from home, Aladdin saves her from a future of being mockingly called "Princess Hook". When he tells her all about how he wishes he didn't have to steal for his next meal, isn't it just a tad insensitive that she dismisses his very real concerns with complaints about how awful it is to be rich?

- Then Jasmine goes home and doesn't even bring up any concerns about how brutal life is for her people on the streets while she and her father have a throne room the size of a baseball field. To say nothing of running water for purely decorative purposes in the middle of the desert. And Jafar, wanting his due as the real sultan, suddenly makes sense when you realize he's the one really governing. The ineffectual sultan just wants to play with toys all day long rather than make hard decisions.

- King Triton puts the entire ocean in jeopardy to save one daughter who is, at best, 7th in the line of succession. His people aren't even worth a moment of consideration next to the daughters he so loves to throw concerts for.

Adam's New Book: Sept 2013