The Whipping Boy (1994)

The Whipping Boy (1994)

The Whipping Boy is based on Sid Fleischman’s eponymous children’s book, which won the Newbery Medal in 1987. The Disney Channel adaptation was directed by Syd Macartney and won a CableACE Award. The story is set in the mid-18th century. Orphans Jemmy and Annyrose see Prince Horace (Nic Knight, Quintin from The Santa Clause) when he is coming through town in his carriage. The prince nearly runs them over and the wheels splatter dirty water on them. Annyrose nicknames him Prince Brat since he is from Brattingham, and he’s bratty. Prince Brat harasses the orphans, who are busy catching rats to sell to a pirate. They use the rat money to secure lodging.

I believe I’ve commented before on kidnapping in a couple of Disney Channel Premiere Films. It happens more than once in this one. Jemmy is kidnapped by the prince’s men to become his new whipping boy. “Me? The future king? I’ve never been spanked in my life!” the prince exclaims. Instead of bearing the punishment for his own misdemeanors, Prince Horace has his whipping boy take the beating. The prince frequently acts out because his father is too busy to spend time with him. “You are old enough to know that affairs of State take precedence over royal recreation,” the king says when he bails on his son. Two of the prince’s offenses include putting rats on the dinner trays for a royal feast, and tampering with a painting of his grandmother by putting her head on a horse’s body and the horse’s head on her. The final straw: the brat puts goose grease on the saddle of an ambassador who is visiting the king about a border dispute. The king tells the prince that he will be whipped this time, not the whipping boy.

Prince Horace decides to run away, forcing Jemmy to go with him. In the forest, there’s another kidnapping — robbers who stole from the ambassador’s carriage turn around and take both boys. Luckily, the prince’s teacher taught the whipping boy how to write, so he fools the crooks when he agrees to write a ransom letter for them. These clowns aren’t very smart, but they know they want the prince’s weight in gold before they’ll set him free. They think Jemmy is the prince and Horace is the whipping boy. The children escape but again are kidnapped. Thankfully, a gypsy helps them by sending her pet bear to chase after the bad guys. The king is so grateful to Jemmy that he sets Annyrose free from prison (she was there for stealing a handkerchief, which she didn’t actually do). Jemmy and Prince Horace become friends. It’s not the writing, the acting, or the time period I dislike. It’s the fact that a homeless orphan is drafted to endure corporal punishment for about half of this movie. I was an infant in 1994, but I wonder what kids watching Disney Channel at the time thought of The Whipping Boy!

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