In honor of the newly released Beauty and the Beast, we wanted to republish one of our past favorite posts tackling the enduring legal questions raised by the classic tale.
We’ve all been there—camped out on the couch with the kids, watching animated movies with them for the umpteenth time. But instead of surreptitiously peeking at your phone every two minutes to quell the boredom (not that any of us do that), why not evaluate what claims and charges could be brought against the main characters (if they lived in Texas)? Let’s keep those issue-spotting skills sharp.
With that idea in mind, O’Connor’s presents the Legal Guide to Beauty and the Beast, outlining just some of the tortious, contractual, and criminal problems that pop up in the story.
Trespass. Belle’s father, Maurice, enters the gate on the Beast’s castle grounds to escape hungry wolves that are chasing him through the forest, and instantly commits criminal trespass. See Tex. Pen. Code §30.05. However, he appears to have an arguable necessity defense (i.e., being chased by ferocious wolves), so Maurice might be able to escape criminal liability. See Tex. Pen. Code §9.22. But what about civil liability for trespass? The Beast’s quiet enjoyment of the enchanted castle is clearly interrupted (as evidenced by his roaring, teeth-gnashing, etc.) and although you might think Maurice could have an argument that the wolves made his trespass involuntary, it doesn’t seem like that argument would fly in Texas. He could try a necessity defense in the civil context as well, but it’s debatable whether that defense would get him past the gate and excuse his entry into the castle itself—and even cozying up in the Beast’s armchair. Curling up in front of a fire after narrowly escaping being mauled and eaten by wolves might qualify as an emotional necessity, but not a legal one.
False Imprisonment. Even though trespassers can cause annoyance, property owners still aren’t allowed to lock them away in a tower forever in retaliation. (Surprising, we know.) Maurice clearly has a false-imprisonment claim against the Beast, and could even bring criminal charges against him. See Tex. Pen. Code §20.02.
More trespass. Belle trespasses on the Beast’s property in search of her father, and this time there aren’t any wolves at her heels, so the necessity defense isn’t going to help. Sorry, Belle.
Contract? When Belle finds her father locked away in the Beast’s tower, she offers to switch places with him and gives her word that she’ll stay with the Beast forever in exchange for her father’s release. It’s a ridiculous bargained-for exchange, because it’s based on an illegal act (i.e., the Beast’s false imprisonment of Maurice) and wouldn’t survive a statute-of-frauds challenge (because forever is more than one year), but she offers it nonetheless.
Breach of contract. The Beast terrifies Belle when she attempts to touch his enchanted rose, and Belle can be heard saying, “Promise or no promise, I’m not staying here another minute!” as she flees from the castle. Ma chère mademoiselle, you’ve just committed material breach.
Immunity defense? One last thing to consider in this calculus is whether the Beast, who we know is secretly a prince, would have some kind of sovereign immunity based on him being … an actual sovereign. If he rules over the surrounding countryside, he could probably invoke sovereign immunity at any time in this process and avoid false-imprisonment liability completely. (You could also ask why no one in the poor provincial town nearby knows that he exists, if he’s their prince, but that would be bringing too much logic to the table. It’s better that we don’t question it.)
As you can see, this charming little fairy tale is just filled with tortious and criminal acts—perfect for the kids.
The next time you find yourself watching an animated movie with your children, make sure to have your O’Connor’s books nearby so you can add another layer of understanding to the tale. Too bad you can’t get CLE credit!