In August of 2009, Jaycee Lee Dugard was found alive after she had been abducted in 1991, and she was still with her original captor. Sources have stated that Dugard had developed a case of Stockholm syndrome with the man who kidnapped her eighteen years ago. A psychiatrist named Keith Ablow stated that “To maintain one’s desperation and grief and rage for many years, would be too damaging to the human mind – so the human mind tells itself a story about safety and contentment to safeguard itself – that’s the essence of Stockholm Syndrome” (Engel).
For decades, Stockholm syndrome has made an appearance in dozens of films; sometimes the entire plot focuses around it, sometimes it’s a vague reference. However, one instance of Stockholm syndrome that is incredibly pronounced, yet never addressed occurs in Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale 1991). Based on a French novel, Beauty and the Beast was critically acclaimed as being one of the best love stories ever told, as it taught to love what is within, instead of being consumed by vanity; it was considered so successful that it was even the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for best picture.
However, even with its critical and box office success, no one has really addressed what kind of love story Disney is promoting. The film Beauty and the Beast does not show a story of true love and admiration of inner beauty, but instead promotes the idea of Stockholm syndrome and falling in love with your kidnapper. When Belle goes on a quest to save her father, she ends up at a secluded castle, where she finds her father locked inside the dungeon at the top of a tower. The Beast, who rules the castle, offers to let her father go if Belle takes his place as prisoner.
His reasoning for making her stay as his prisoner is his hope of making her fall in love with him (and him with her) in order to break the curse upon him, his servants, and his castle. Right there we see that the Beast’s entire character motivation is focused around Stockholm Syndrome, as he is attempting to make his prisoner, who he is holding against her will, fall in love with him. He is not kind at first; he roars and yells, effectively scaring the woman of his desires, and demands she follow his orders, much like any captor would.
Belle, on the other hand, is at first adamant about keeping her distance from the Beast, even when his enchanted furniture servants attempt to convince her that he’s really a “good guy”. Belle begins to have a change of heart after the Beast saves her from being eaten by wolves…she was almost eaten because she was attempting to escape. Even though the Beast saves her from the mean and scary wolves by bringing her back to her place of captivity, she’s so grateful for his “rescue” that she begins to think that he has the potential to be good.
A montage of cute interactions between the two characters then takes place, showing how the two are beginning to bond and feel something for one another, with barely a whisper of the fact that Belle is still being held against her will. The Beast lavishes upon her with food, music, and clothing; the gracious captor even deems a huge library in the castle to be hers, and she can access it any time she wants. How kind of him to give her full access to books inside a castle that she has no choice but to spend all of her time in.
He later creates a fancy date night for the two of them (still inside the castle) that even contains ballroom dancing. He finds out she is homesick, figures out he is in love with her, and let’s her go free. However, she later returns to the castle of her own free will in order to save his life. She professes her love, he turns into a handsome prince, and they live happily ever after at a castle that he now has permission to leave any time she wants.
Perhaps by the end of the film Belle really did love the Beast. Even so, her love was shaped and influenced by her self-created tale of “safety and contentment” altered opinion of him during her captivity in his castle. Disney’s version of this tale of Stockholm syndrome-based love seems to contain a great moral message for young girls: if you’re held captive by a hideous monster who is vying for your affection, just go ahead and fall in love, because he’ll turn beautiful.
Belle’s happy ending meant she never had to sue the beast for kidnapping, luckily for him. It’s a shame real life doesn’t follow Disney cartoons as often as it should. Just ask Jaycee. Her beast is still a beast; there was no prince at the end of her story. She got her freedom, yes, but no prince. That’s probably a good thing. It’s definitely better that beastly captors don’t change into rich and handsome men once their imprisoned object of desire returns their feelings; the justice system would never get anything done.