With the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast fast approaching, I've been spending possibly a little more time than I should admit (as an adult) thinking about the original animated classic. It is, by far, my favorite animated Disney movie, inspiring my love of books and writing, my very real desire to have a library with a rolling ladder, and a Belle tattoo that covers one thigh.
I'm not the only one being inspired by the classic tale, however. The internet is full of theories, criticisms and funny takes on the tale. Most of these I can enjoy (or just laugh off and then feel a little sad about the people in the world who are immune to the magic), but there is one persistent concept that I wanted to take a deeper look into, and that's about the Beast's age.
Created by Xibira on DeviantArt, this adorable cartoon takes the age of Adam (the Beast's human name, if you weren't aware) when he is transformed, and works backword to come to the conclusion that when he had his run-in with the Enchantress when he was all of eleven.
Second: If this is true, there are some serious issues with the underlying principles of the film. For one thing, as Xibira so concisely points out, what kind of bitter, twisted enchantress decides to test an eleven year old orphan on his kindness? He's a kid. Kids make mistakes, and this is a slightly extreme lesson to teach a child. Far more disturbingly, what's the underlying message here? That Adam, an eleven year old, should have invited a stranger into his house. Small army of servants aside, that seems to run counter to the general concept of "stranger danger", doesn't it? Not exactly a lesson you would want your impressionable, Disney-loving children to take to heart.
This is in addition to some other issues that have been pointed out by viewers over the years, such as why on earth has Belle's village apparently completely forgotten about the castle and the prince within it? Isn't 21 a little young to expect someone to find their true love? How is it that the curse has been going on for so long, yet there is a tiny enchanted kid in the form of Chip?
Reconciling strange ages, forgetful villagers, less-than-clear curses and unreasonable enchantresses, I've solved this thorny problem (see what I did there?).
Adam was actually seventeen when the curse was cast, and the curse lasted not until his twenty-first year, but for twenty one years. During those years, time in the castle moved much more slowly than in the surrounding countryside (pretty common for enchanted spells, by the way. Look at Sleeping Beauty.), so the inhabitants aged at a delayed rate. Thus, when the spell was broken, Adam was only slightly older in appearance, despite having been cursed for nearly two decades.
1. "The rose will bloom until your 21st year"
This seems to be the key to the original theory, that the spell seems to say that the rose will bloom until the prince turns 21. However, it makes more sense if this is read as "your 21st year as a beast". Enchantress clearly wants to give Adam a fighting chance to redeem himself, otherwise why bother with roses and conditions? If she just wanted to punish him for being judgmental, she would have turned him into a Beast and left it at that. She wants to give him some time, and as she's clearly smart enough to learn some incredibly powerful magic, she would presumably realize that giving an eleven year old ten years to change isn't fair.
Assume, however, that he was a little older at the start, and giving a 17 year old twenty one years seems pretty reasonable. In fact, it seems downright generous, and would leave him until the mental age of 38 to find love. We have to assume that enchantress has her reasons for wanting him to succeed, so it would make sense for her to give him a really good chance. (I personally believe that she was looking out for the good of the kingdom here - making sure that our young, spoiled, orphan didn't turn tyrant.)
2. "For ten years, we've been rusting"
This is the second part of the theory, based on a line in the song "be our guest". Lumiere sings that for ten years, they've been rusting (needing so much more than dusting, needing exercise, a chance to use their skills...). The original assumption is that this means it's been ten years since the curse was laid.
The big issue here is that this makes no sense when you consider the personalities of the characters involved. Adam, up until the curse is laid, is spoiled and demanding, expecting everything to be handed to him on a golden platter. Would that young man (at any age) simply settle down to his life as a
Beast? Throw a little tantrum, rip some pictures, and leave it at that? Nope. You can bet that he spent quite some time trying to figure out how to break the curse, sending for help, talking to any other magician he could get his hands on. His servants, in their new forms, would have been turning away visitors, making sure that his royal responsibilities were dealt with, audiences and annual balls/events were cancelled. They'd also be spending time in that amazing library, researching possible ways to lift the curse, and seeing if there were any other local spell-casters who could help them out.
That's enough to keep 'em busy for some time. I'm going to say that they would take around a decade before giving in, settling down, and starting to gather dust.
3. The Chip Conundrum
Chip, the adorable little son of Mrs Potts, is turned into a china cup when the castle is enchanted, and becomes a boy of around six when the spell is broken. However, if they had been aging naturally during the past ten-plus years, Chip wouldn't even have been born when the castle was cursed.
Again, not possible. For one thing, if the curse had been put on the castle ten years ago, Mrs Potts would have to have given birth to Chip as a teapot. Assuming for moment that such a thing would even be possible (and I have zero interest in imaging the mechanics of that), we already know it isn't true. In The Enchanted Christmas, we get to see a flashback of the night that the Enchantress came to the castle. Chip is clearly visible in the scene as a toddler, standing next to Mrs Potts. In this one, he looks around two, which also makes sense given that earlier in the film, he has no memory of Christmas, which a two year old wouldn't.
From this, we know that people under the enchantment don't age at a normal rate. If this was the case, Chip would have come out of the curse at a bare minimum of twelve.
4. Young Adam
Another very major issue with the idea that Adam is eleven when he is transformed comes in the same clip where we saw Chip as a toddler. Here we actually get to see Adam as he is transformed, and either I'm just getting really old, or this isn't an eleven year old boy. To me, he looks like a sulky teenager.
Add to that the fact that there is a portrait of Adam as a human hanging in the West Wing where he is clearly older than eleven, and you either have to assume that he was a teen, and the painter made him look a little more regal (logical), or that for some reason he had a portrait painted of what he would look like as an adult - to torture himself? That seems a lot more far-fetched.
5. Forgetful villagers
A common complaint about the film is the fact that Gaston and the villagers seem to have no idea that there is a castle nearby. If it had only been ten years, and we assume that Gaston is in his early twenties, at least he would have remembered a time where there were balls and events at a major castle within a day's ride of the village.
However, if we assume it's been twenty one years (the rose, having already begun to wilt, making it clear that the curse-span is nearly up), anyone under around 25 would have no memory of the castle at all, including Belle and Gaston. As for anyone who was an adult or a child old enough to remember, well, they would presumably be aware it was there, but think it was empty. Adam wouldn't have told the surrounding villages that he had been turned into a monster, after all, he would have come up with some kind of convincing story. The most logical explanation would be that this was just one of his castles (after all, it's pretty common for royalty to have more than one) and he left for a different residence, thus cancelling all the balls and visits without having to explain to anyone that the entire castle is now, y'know, talking candlesticks and stuff.
Here's The Really Cool Part
Let's assume I'm on to something, and it's been twenty one years since the curse was put on Adam. For the first eleven years of the curse, the castle staff worked diligently (but secretly) to try and break the spell; researching in the library, sending out messengers, and creating an explanation for the surrounding villages as to why the castle was suddenly "empty".
Chip was two when the curse was set, and six when it was broken, meaning that people under the curse age at a rate of one natural year for every 5.25 enchanted years. If Adam "ages" at the same rate, and was a seventeen year old when the curse was laid, when it's broken, he would be twenty one. Or, to go back to our original curse...it was broken by his twenty-first year.