Belle and Sébastien Synopsis
It is the summer of 1943 in a small village in France and there is something disturbing the livestock of the area. Sébastian, a young orphaned boy, continues his usual wildlife exploring and accidently runs into the ‘beast’ everyone was talking about – a Great Pyrenees – whom he later names Belle. Belle was a domestic dog “gone crazy” after mistreatment from a previous owner and turned loose. Sébastian befriends Belle and hides their forbidden friendship until it is no longer possible and they protect each other. As the film progresses, the traditional ‘use’ of Belle as a working protector for humans becomes apparent; each task Belle falls into grows exponentially larger by circumstance. Belle ends up saving the day by leading the refugees and their guide over the mountains to Switzerland to escape the Germans while befriending Sébastian and somewhat replaces the motherly figure in his life by protecting him.
Action and Adventure Hybrid
While you don’t normally associate dogs and little boys for an action film, the movie creates an action/adventure crossover while testing many gender boundaries. According to AMC’s Filmsite, adventure films are less focused on violence and shifts the audience to travel through unexpected journeys with the main characters . Although the two separate genres usually contain male heroes, the film creates a hybrid hero with both Belle and Sébastian as one unit – without one there is not the other. This demonstrates just one of the feminine ideals complimenting the traditionally masculine topic of war – the Germans invading France during World War II. In the end, although not the intended main characters, the true heroines of the film are Belle and Angélina; an unlikely combination within this genre. Throughout the film, both are seen inferior to the men they are surrounded by and not taken as seriously; when left with no other choice, they end up saving the day by leading the refuges, guiding them on the perilous journey to Switzerland through the mountains . While the film creates the message about the animal relationships with humans, it toys with common stereotypes by defeating traditional gender roles often found in both genres.
In this action/adventure film, animal presence is often seen as dangerous to humans unless they are calm, domesticate-able animals: all are inferior, however. The first scene – following the grand mountain scenery pan overs – we witness the murder of the young female goat and her orphaned kid left on a ledge by Caesar and Sébastien. Caesar acknowledges the murder of the goat was wrong he takes the kid goat and nurses it until he can release it back into the wild Similar to Elsa in Born Free . He later expresses his concern to the hunting group of townsmen about how it was cruel to shoot a young mother this early in the summer – this establishes the belief that it is acceptable to intervene with wild animals, but only at proper times. Despite the initial concern for the goats, Caesar extends this belief by his determination to kill “The Beast” killing their livestock. Sébastien, ignoring all warnings from the townsmen, goes wandering during his normal daily adventures and stumbles across Belle, a filthy Great Pyrenees dog, “The Beast”. The introduction of Belle and Sébastien creates a connection between the orphaned boy and the domesticated, now feral dog – indicating a sort of man-to-dog relationship immediate connection or “man’s best friend”. This connection is created because they both are missing important figures – Sébastien a mother, and Belle an owner – and each can potentially fill that role for each other.
Sébastien continues to sneak off to play with his new friend almost every day. He wins her trust by showing her traps laid out by the townsmen aimed to hurt her and demonstrating his friendship towards her. Upon meeting Sébastien, her instincts of protection and human servitude show their true colors . However, despite the cute playful scenes of teasing in the snow and slapstick moments of Belle eating a harmless frog, Sébastien guides Belle back into domestication which reflects the struggle between the Allies and the Axis Forces. During her re-domestication, she learns to trust other humans again and demonstrates her desire to help. Historically, Great Pyrenees dogs were royal protectors in France and important protective dogs many other countries . Elements of this historical presence of these dogs presents itself in Belle as she proves her innocence and protective nature to humans with each circumstance she finds herself in. The obvious instances are: protecting Sébastien from the German soldiers, her scaring off of the wolves that broke into the sheep shed, and finally her assistance in leading the refugees through the mountain pass into Switzerland to escape the Germans. This helps to confirm the
implicit message that dogs, man’s best friend, are there to serve and protect the humans that “own” them.
The final task that Belle must overcome is leading the refugees through the perilous mountain trek on Christmas day. Since the unfortunate event of Dr. Guillaume spraining his ankle following Belle’s courageous act of forcing the wolves away from the flock of sheep, his girlfriend Angélina decides to lead the expedition. Due to the weather, the human capability to see through the Christmas mountain blizzard rapidly declines and the reliance on Belle, the working dog, increases. The expedition then relies on Belle in order to make it through the pass safely with the Germans on their tail. The expedition she was guiding was fully relying on her help in return for their freedom. The final minutes of the film successfully demonstrate the true meaning of Belle’s life, to aid humans whenever they are unable to perform, but still remain extremely important for emotional support. Although this section of the film is one of the final moments, many of the relationships Belle acquires with human happens early on in the film and continue to grow into a powerful trust. Belle discovers natural abilities, as presented by the film, by giving aid to the humans and providing protection and guidance. Not only does Belle become the true heroine at that point in time, but ends up being able to ‘save’ humans for time to come by the companionship with Sébastien, his family, and his town.
While there are plenty of direct animal-human relationships throughout Belle and Sébastien, there are two main over-arching themes that present themselves. The first is that man is dominant over all beings and the other is that animals somehow directly represent freedom, especially regarding wild animals. Many of the direct relationships mentioned before and others not mentioned, somehow fit into these two categories.
The film wants to ensure that the audience is certain that humans, particularly males, are dominant over all other beings: children, women, and animals. This is demonstrated by the actions of the men that are in the town – more specifically, inferiority, comments of disbelief, lack of trust, and denial towards the children, women, and animals in the film. Three specific characters that are subject to this are Sébastien, Angélina, and Belle. These three characters are never taken seriously until they perform difficult tasks that the men cannot perform. Even though Sébastien helps prove Belle’s innocence, Belle herself paves the way for the other two to be taken seriously.
A common theme that is brought up in many animal movies, like Born Free, a wild animal means a free animal . This association with wild animals and freedom is an important occurrence in the film Belle and Sébastien. There are many instances where the topics of freedom, happiness, and success are discussed and are concluded with a wide pan over shot of an eagle flying over the mountains. By doing this, the directors want you to associate wildlife and freedom together. Belle, a domesticated dog, is put under the task against her will to help a group of refugees, to their freedom. By being a dog, she is expected to serve humans, ironically, she ends up saving refugees from being captured by German soldiers while she herself is under human control.
Belle and Sébastien provides an excellent representation of animal companionship with humans. Despite Belle being hunted by the entire town, somehow Sébastien manages to create and grow his relationship with her. This overpowering “man’s best friend” theme can be found in many films, particularly in the adventure genre such as Eight Below (2006) and Hachie: A Dog’s Tale (2009). As the relationship of Belle and Sébastien grows, her acts of protection and guidance towards humans increases. The director develops a strong story of animal companionship while still sticking close to the long running TV series and popular children’s book, Belle and Sébastien.
“Belle and Sébastien.” Uni France Films. n.d. https://en.unifrance.org/movie/34274/belle-and-sebastien (accessed November 11, 2015).
“Belle et Sébastien.” IMDb. n.d. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3146360/ (accessed November 11, 2015).
Dirks, Tim. “Action Films.” AMC Filmsite. n.d. https://www.filmsite.org/actionfilms.html (accessed November 11, 2015).
—. “Adventure Films.” AMC Filmsite. n.d. https://www.filmsite.org/adventurefilms.html (accessed November 11, 2015).
Goodall, Scott. “Le Chemin de la Liberté: WWII escape route to Spain.” Ariège Pyrenees . n.d. https://www.ariege.com/histoire/chemin.html (accessed November 11, 2015).
“Great Pyrenees.” Dog Breed Info. n.d. https://www.dogbreedinfo.com/greatpyrenees.htm (accessed November 11, 2015).
“Great Pyrenees Dog Breed Information, Pictures, Characteristics & Facts .” Dogtime. n.d. https://dogtime.com/dog-breeds/great-pyrenees (accessed November 11, 2015).
Born Free. Directed by Tom McGowan (uncredited) James Hill. 1966.
“Map.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. n.d. https://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/media_nm.php?MediaId=361 (accessed November 25, 2015).
UniFrance. “Belle and Sébastien / Belle et Sébastien (2013) – Trailer English Subs.” Youtube. n.d. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsHJK0bgyRw (accessed November 25, 2015).
Belle and Sébastien. Directed by Nicolas Vanier. 2013.
 Dirks, Tim. “Action Films.”/ Dirks, Tim. “Adventure Films.”
 Goodall, Scott. “Le Chemin de la Liberté: WWII escape route to Spain.” – Historical reference – further reading on this topic.
 Born Free. Directed by Tom McGowan (uncredited) James Hill. 1966.
 “Great Pyrenees.” Dog Breed Info.
 “Great Pyrenees Dog Breed Information, Pictures, Characteristics & Facts.” Dogtime
 Born Free. Directed by Tom McGowan (uncredited) James Hill. 1966.