|First appearance||Beauty and the Beast (1991)|
|Created by||Linda Woolverton|
|Voiced by||Paige O'Hara (1991–2011)
Belle is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 30th animated feature film Beauty and the Beast (1991), subsequently appearing in its midquels Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997) and Belle's Magical World (1998), spin-off Belle's Tales of Friendship (1999), and live-action television series Sing Me a Story with Belle. The character was originally voiced by Broadway actress Paige O'Hara from 1991 to 2011, who auditioned for the role after first reading about the film in The New York Times. In 2011, Disney replaced O'Hara with voice actress Julie Nathanson.
Created by screenwriter Linda Woolverton, Belle was animated by James Baxter and Mark Henn. Introduced in Beauty and the Beast as the daughter of an infamous inventor named Maurice, with whom she lives in a small French town, Belle, while commonly regarded as her village's most beautiful resident, is simultaneously ridiculed by its inhabitants for both her love of reading and non-conformity. Romantically pursued by a handsome but arrogant hunter named Gaston, in whom she has no interest, Belle longs to abandon her provincial life in exchange for "adventure in the great, wide somewhere". When Maurice is imprisoned by the Beast, Belle sacrifices her own freedom in return for his and, during her incarceration, eventually grows to love her captor in spite of his outward appearance.
Based on the heroine of the fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Belle was altered and re-written by Woolverton, who developed the character into a stronger, braver and more intelligent version of herself for the film adaptation. Additionally, Woolverton drew creative inspiration from actress Katharine Hepburn's portrayal of the character Jo March in the film Little Women (1933). The success of Beauty and the Beast led to the production of a Broadway musical based on the film, with actress Susan Egan originating the role of Belle. Chronologically, Belle is fifth in the Disney Princess line-up.
Belle has enjoyed a vastly positive reception from entertainment critics, many of whom praised her intelligence and bravery. Additionally, several critics have drawn positive comparisons between the character and preceding Disney Princess Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989). Feminists have also responded generally positively towards Belle, praising her independence as well as the fact that her goals and aspirations, in comparison to preceding Disney Princesses, do not particularly involve marriage. Additional accolades include recognition and appraisal from newspapers the Los Angeles Times and the Daily Mirror, and entertainment magazines The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, Complex and Elle. Belle was the only animated character to be nominated for the American Film Institute's list of best heroes and villains.
- 1 Character and development
- 2 Appearances
- 3 Reception
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Character and development
Background and conception
Following the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Walt Disney searched for a well-known story to adapt into the studio's second animated feature film. One of the earliest stories he had considered was the French fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. However, after several unsuccessful attempts, all effort on the film was abandoned because it proved to be a challenge when it came to story and character development. It wasn't until after the studio's releases of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid in 1988 and 1989, respectively, that Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg finally green-lit a musical adaptation of the fairy tale to be directed by Richard Purdum. First-time screenwriter Linda Woolverton was hired to write the film's screenplay. Considering Beauty and the Beast her "big break", Woolverton made history as the first woman to solely pen a Disney screenplay.
|"In the past we've seen that other animated heroines were reacting to outside forces. Belle isn't like that. She initiates action. She sets things in motion. What is great about her, I think, is that she shows us all that women don't have to sit around and wait."|
|— Woolverton, describing Belle.|
Although an initial story reel had been completed in 1987 under the direction of Richard Purdum, the film was ordered scrapped and restarted from scratch by Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg in favor of creating "a Broadway-style musical with a strong heroine", offering "a feminist twist" on the original fairy tale by creating a heroine who is "a departure from typical Disney female characters". Once hired, Woolverton was faced with the task of creating an intelligent, assertive and independent heroine who would ultimately be better received than previous Disney heroines, such as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, the depiction of whom some critics felt was "cloyingly sexist". Intent on creating a heroine who "wanted to do something other than wait for her prince to come", Woolverton, unwilling to be influenced by the 1946 Jean Cocteau film adaptation, refused to watch it and drew inspiration from the Little Women character Jo March instead, portrayed in the 1933 film adaptation by American actress Katharine Hepburn. Inspired by both her own and Jo's love of reading, Woolverton decided to attribute similar characteristics to Belle in order to demonstrate "that she had an open mind" and "was available to new concepts and ideas." To avoid having Belle embody perfection, Woolverton conceived "a little wisp of hair that keeps falling in her face", one of the few things she allowed herself to write about Belle's physical appearance.
In the original fairy tale, Belle is forced to take her father's place as the Beast's prisoner. Woolverton felt it essential that Belle resemble a stronger, braver and more adventurous character than how she is depicted in the fairy tale and decided to take liberty with the story, rewriting it so that Belle not only ventures outside her village in search of her father when he goes missing but, upon discovering his whereabouts, confronts the Beast and initiates the sacrifice, convincing him to take her as his prisoner in return for her father's release and promising to stay with him forever.
|"I'd been a Disney freak my whole life and was a huge fan of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, so I auditioned, along with about 500 other people. I was a working Broadway actor and, after the second audition, I felt positive. I just knew this was my part. Then, on my birthday, after the fifth audition, I got a call. 'You've got the job', they said."|
|— O'Hara, talking to The Guardian about how she acquired the role.|
Originally, the directors considered hiring actress Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid, to voice Belle, but felt that she sounded "too American." Describing her as "a woman that was ahead of her time", the filmmakers ultimately decided that they wanted Belle to have a womanly quality to her voice despite her young age and sound "mature beyond her years." Actress Paige O'Hara had read about Disney's then-upcoming animated film Beauty and the Beast in an article in The New York Times. Upon hearing that the studio was holding auditions for the film's female lead and specifically looking for Broadway performers, O'Hara, a Broadway actress who was working in New York at the time, contacted her agent, who scheduled her an audition.
O'Hara auditioned for the role a total of five times, competing against approximately 500 candidates. At her first audition, O'Hara was simply instructed to sing a song of her choice and performed "Heaven Help My Heart" from the Broadway musical Chess. Thinking that the filmmakers "might want to ... make [her] sound more like Snow White" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, O'Hara spoke in a higher voice than usual. However, she corrected this when the filmmakers asked that she speak in her natural voice, explaining to her, "We love your voice. We want you to do it just like you." Soon after her fifth and final audition, O'Hara received a telephone call from Disney on her birthday, informing her that she had got the part. She strongly believes in the fact that lyricist Howard Ashman enjoyed her performance on the cast recording of the Broadway musical Showboat proved essential in her acquiring of the role.
Woolverton enjoyed the fact that 30-year-old O'Hara sounded "more mature" than a traditional Disney Princess. Co-director Kirk Wise was very pleased with the quality of O'Hara's voice, likening it to that of actress Judy Garland. In addition to having to constantly remind O'Hara not to alter the pitch of her voice because they wanted Belle to sound "very realistic", O'Hara experienced difficulty controlling the level of her volume due to the fact that she is predominantly a stage actress, a profession in which actors are trained to project their voices. She told The Guardian that to solve this dilemma, "I just softened [my voice] and used the microphone." O'Hara would occasionally ad-lib her dialogue. However, none was included in the final film because it sounded "too modern". By special request of O'Hara and co-star Robby Benson, who provided the voice of the Beast, the filmmakers made the costly and time-consuming decision to allow them to record their dialogue together. O'Hara has since accredited being given the opportunity to work closely with Benson with enhancing her performance.
Julie Nathanson replacement
Since the November 1991 release of Beauty and the Beast, O'Hara has returned to The Walt Disney Company on several occasions to voice Belle in a variety of media and merchandise, including its direct-to-video sequelsBeauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997), Belle's Magical World (1998) and Belle's Tales of Friendship (1999), as well as various video game releases such as the Kingdom Hearts series and several audio and video recordings associated with the Disney Princess franchise. Additionally, O'Hara was hired by Disney to perform the song "Belle" at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992. O'Hara has referred to the studio as her "main employer for 20 years". In 2011, O'Hara was officially replaced by actress Julie Nathanson, who first voiced Belle in the video game Kinect Disneyland Adventures (2011). O'Hara revealed to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that news of the replacement greatly upset her to the point of which she was willing to re-record much of Belle's dialogue in an attempt to prove to the company that she is still capable of voicing the character. However, O'Hara eventually admitted that she found the process quite difficult as a result of the way in which her voice has changed over the course of 20 years.
Design and personality
Belle's supervising animators were James Baxter and Mark Henn. Drawing her with brown hair and hazel eyes, they attempted to make Belle more European-looking than The Little Mermaid's Ariel by designing her with fuller lips, smaller eyes and darker eyebrows. Baxter explained that Belle is a few years older than Ariel and, in addition to this, "a lot more worldly because she's always reading." According to the Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood by Lincoln Geraghty, Belle's appearance in Beauty and the Beast was modeled after actress Judy Garland's infamous role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Julie Andrews' portrayal of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965). O'Hara revealed that, in early concept designs, Belle looked "too perfect", likening her appearance to those of actresses Elizabeth Taylor and Angelina Jolie. Actress and model Sherri Stoner served as the performance model for Belle, providing live-action reference for the animators as they drew the character. Belle's tendency to constantly brush her hair away from her face was a gesture inspired by both Stoner and O'Hara. "I was constantly doing that and little quirky things that they would catch", she told The Guardian.
Charles Solomon, author of the behind the scenes book The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, wrote that Belle, in early scripts and storyboard sequences, was depicted as a rather "bland" and uninteresting character who was constantly being "upstaged" by a cast of more engaging supporting characters. Producer Don Hahn told The Boston Globe that Belle, in the original Beaumont fairy tale, is an "incredibly passive" character, drawing similarities between her and fairy tale heroines Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, as well as American actress and animal rights activist Doris Day. The writers aspired to make Belle a more "three-dimensional" character by giving her "hopes and aspirations beyond just marriage and love" and expanded the story to give Belle a more "bookish, inquisitive nature". O'Hara explained that the writers "decided...to keep [Belle] beautiful but quirkier and more identifiable." Both O'Hara and Woolverton encouraged both the intelligent and bookworm aspects of Belle's personality. Woolverton, who has been accredited with "creating" the character, described Belle as "a very strong, smart, courageous woman" who "trades her freedom, the very thing she's been wanting from the start of the film, in order to save her father." Woolverton continued, "Because she is an avid reader, she has a point of view of her life and that doesn't necessarily involve a man getting her there". O'Hara felt that she and Belle shared similar qualities. She told Boxoffice, "I was always a bit of an oddball like Belle...I loved the fact that she wasn't searching for a man for her dream life—she was searching for knowledge and adventure and a better life for her father and herself".
Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast was released to theaters in 1991, marking the character's first appearance. In the film, book-loving Belle has grown weary of her provincial life. Ruthlessly pursued by a handsome but arrogant hunter named Gaston, in whom she has no interest, Belle dreams of leaving her conventional village in favor of adventure. When her inventor father Maurice fails to return home from a county fair, Belle sets out to find him. Led to a dark, foreboding castle by her pet horse, Phillipe, she discovers that Maurice has been locked in its dungeon by a hideous beast. Desperate, Belle begs his captor, the Beast, to set him free, offering her own freedom in return. On the condition that she stay with him forever, the Beast sends Maurice home.
The castle's staff of enchanted objects encourage the Beast to treat Belle more like a guest than a prisoner, giving her permission to roam freely within the castle. Curious, Belle ignores the Beast's warnings and ventures into the forbidden West Wing. Infuriated, the Beast orders her to leave and a frightened Belle flees the castle. While racing home through the snow-covered woods, Belle is attacked by a pack of hungry wolves. The Beast arrives just in time to fend them off but soon collapses from his injuries. Too kind to abandon him, Belle brings the Beast back to the castle where she tends to his wounds and thanks him for saving her. Belle's generosity touches the Beast, and he begins to develop a more civil manner. Gradually, Belle and the Beast become friends.
The Beast falls deeply in love with Belle, but doubts that she will ever return his feelings. With his permission, Belle returns to the village to tend to her ailing father. Back home, Gaston threatens to put Maurice in the insane asylum if Belle refuses to marry him, which she does. After proving his existence, Gaston, realizing Belle has fallen in love with the Beast, leads a mob of angry villagers to storm the castle, intending to kill him out of jealousy. While the majority of the mob is fended off by the enchanted objects, Gaston succeeds in finding and attacking the Beast. A battle ensues on the rooftop between the two, but the Beast, heartbroken by Belle's departure, has lost the will to fight back. When Belle returns, the Beast's strength is revived and he retaliates. However, realizing how Belle has changed him, the Beast refuses to kill Gaston and simply orders him to leave. Belle and the Beast briefly reunite, but Gaston sneaks up behind him and stabs him in the back, then losing his balance and falling to his death. Belle helps the Beast to safety, where he succumbs to his wounds and dies in her arms. Just before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, Belle confesses her love for the Beast, which breaks the spell. The Beast, now a handsome prince, is revived; his enchanted servants transform back into human beings, and they live happily ever after.
Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
A midquel taking place during the winter segment of Beauty and the Beast, this is the story of Belle's attempt to bring back to the castle the one ritual Beast hates most: Christmas, because it is the very day that the Enchantress cast a spell on him.
Unfortunately, a pipe organ called Forte is determined to do anything necessary to keep the spell from breaking, because he thinks that if the curse is broken then the Beast won't be nice to him anymore. Thus, he proves to be an obstacle in Belle's plans. After several attempts to get Beast to agree, Beast finally approves of the idea of Christmas and allows Belle to prepare festivities, though he still harbors resentment for the day.
With advice from Forte, Belle goes out into the woods to get a suitable tree for Christmas, but she falls into thin ice and almost drowns. Fortunately, she is rescued by Beast, but he is angry at her because of a lie that Forte told him: that she was trying to desert him. Belle is thrown into the dungeon as punishment, but Beast then finds a book in the West Wing that Belle had written for him earlier, and decides to set her free. They both continue to prepare for Christmas.
Persistent Forte attempts to bring the whole castle down with Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in order to prevent the spell from ending, trying to end everyone's lives. Fortunately, Beast stops him in time by crashing his keyboard to pieces. Christmas finally comes, and the story goes back to the actual party, which is one year after these events. Belle is presented with a gift from the Prince: a rose.
Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World
In this movie, Belle is the only human. She meets her new three enchanted object friends Webster, Crane and LePlume and is set out to solve problems in all four segments before Belle's Tales of Friendship.
Belle's Tales of Friendship
In Belle's narration, Belle owns and works at her music and bookstore in France. A group of children walk into the store eager to hear Belle's stories, as she is noted to be a great storyteller. Belle agrees to tell a story, but the gang also play games and learn some simple lessons about life. Belle narrates two classic Disney cartoons, The Three Little Pigs and Babes in the Woods, while the children help Belle clean the bookstore. She also reads The Wise Little Hen and Morris the Midget Moose, but Shawn and Harmony will not help make chili for the group. Along the way, Belle adds music and interacts with the children.
Paige O'Hara reprises her voice cast as Belle, while Lyndsey McLeod portrays the character in the live-action sequences.
Sing Me a Story with Belle
A live-action Belle, portrayed by Lyndsey McLeod, lives in France and owns her own music and bookshop. Helping her at the bookstore are Lewis and Carol, two magical bookworms. Also at the bookstore is Harmony the Cat. The bookstore is visited by local children to whom Belle will tell (and sing) stories, usually with a moral that fit a situation happening in the shop or with the children.
|"When I auditioned for Beauty and the Beast ... I was the new girl in town. I made it to the final callbacks of Carousel and it was the same week as the final callbacks for Beauty and the Beast. I went to the Beauty and the Beast one first and I got the job. My dream was to originate a role ... I hadn't seen the movie of Beauty and the Beast. I played it funny in the auditions. I don't know that they thought it was right for Belle to be funny, but they saw that I had other interpretations."|
|— Susan Egan, original Belle on Broadway|
Belle appeared in the Broadway adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, which opened at the Palace Theatre on April 18, 1994, and closed at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on July 29, 2007 in lieu of Disney Theatrical's next production, The Little Mermaid. The role was originated by American actress Susan Egan, who was initially reluctant to audition for Beauty and the Beast because "[she] thought it was a terrible idea for Disney to put a cartoon on Broadway". Her agent, however, felt that it was a good idea, and managed to convince her otherwise. At the same time, Egan was receiving several callbacks for other Broadway productions, including My Fair Lady, Carousel, and Grease, which "she was far more interested in." Egan eventually chose Beauty and the Beast because "[her] dream was to originate a role." Prior to her audition, Egan had never seen the film version of Beauty and the Beast and had "nothing to inform her audition other than her own creative instincts." Egan said, "surprisingly, not having seen the movie helped." Egan would later voice Megara in Disney's 1997 animated feature film Hercules.
A total of seventeen actresses have portrayed Belle on Broadway, including recording artists Debbie Gibson and Toni Braxton, The Sopranos star Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and Disney Channel actresses Christy Carlson Romano and Anneliese van der Pol. Actress Sarah Litzsinger, who served as an understudy for actress Andrea McArdle until she left the production in December 2000, holds the distinction of being Broadway's longest-running Belle. Van der Pol, who starred in Disney Channel's That's So Raven, was the final actress to play Belle on Broadway.
In 1998, R&B singer Toni Braxton made her Broadway debut when she was cast as Belle, replacing actress Kim Huber. Braxton decided to pursue an acting career upon encountering a series of disagreements with her record label, turning down a lead role in the film Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1998) in favor of portraying Belle on Broadway, and hoping to "spike [her] up a bit." Braxton is recognized as the only African American have played Belle in production's thirteen-year history. Belle's song "A Change in Me" was not featured in the show prior to Braxton's arrival. It was written by songwriters Alan Menken and Tim Rice specifically for Braxton and was ultimately so well received that it has been included in the musical's set list ever since. According to The Huffington Post, Braxton's performance in Beauty and the Beast garnered "rave reviews". During her Broadway run as Belle, Braxton was stalked by a male "obsessed fan". Braxton told The Daily Beast, "I don't like to call him a stalker, but a very, very enthused fan." The stalker reportedly "bombarded" Braxton with threatening e-mails and letters. For security reasons, Braxton was forced to dress in full disguise when arriving at and departing from the Palace Theatre, accompanied by a security guard. She also exited the theatre using the front doors, reduced her total number of weekly performances from eight to seven, and refused to sign autographs for fans following performances. The alleged stalker was eventually arrested and charged for aggravated harassment.
Belle is a member of the Disney Princess line-up, a marketing franchise aimed at young girls. The franchise covers a wide variety of merchandise, including magazines, toys, music and video compilations, video games, and clothing items.
Belle appears at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. She had her own meet and greet attraction at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom called Storytime with Belle, which ran from 1999 to 2010, where Belle and the park's guests would act out a popular story. In 2012, a new location at the Magic Kingdom called Be Our Guest Restaurant, which will include the castle from the film as well as her cottage, village, and Gaston's Tavern.
Belle appeared in the animated television series Disney's House of Mouse and its direct-to-video film Snowed in at the House of Mouse. In the television series, Belle is voiced by American actress and singer Jodi Benson, while O'Hara reprises her role in the film. She was featured as one of the seven Princesses of Heart in the Kingdom Hearts video game series. A live-action version of Belle appears as a main character in the ABC television series Once Upon a Time, where she serves as the love interest of Rumplestiltskin (who is the show's version of the Beast). She portrayed by Australian actress Emilie de Ravin. The series Sofia the First included a cameo by Belle in a 2013 episode.
Disney Dream Portrait Series
The Walt Disney Company hired Oscar-winning Spanish actress Penélope Cruz to serve as the model for Belle in the Beauty and the Beast edition of photographer Annie Leibovitz's Disney Dream Portrait Series. The company also hired American actor Jeff Bridges to portray Prince Adam. The Daily Mail described the image in detail as Cruz "wearing Belle's gorgeous yellow gown and being lifted high into the air by her prince," accompanied by the phrase "Where a moment of beauty lasts forever."
Belle has garnered near universal acclaim from both film and entertainment critics. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post described her as a "compelling" character who is "more mature, more womanly and less blandly asexual" than previous Disney heroines, as well as "a more worldly girl than Ariel, a bookworm, with gumption and a mind of her own." Jennie Punter of The Globe and Mail praised the character, describing Belle as both a "smart, courageous heroine" and a 'take-charge kind of gal'", as well as the "main attraction of Beauty and the Beast". Emma Cochrane of Empire wrote that Belle is "a feminist heroine who [is] more rounded than previous Disney characters." Similarly, Paste's Annlee Ellingson opined, "[Belle]'s got a little feminist kick to her". Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun commented, "Belle ... is no passive fairy tale princess, but a real live girl, with a spunky personality and her own private agenda." TLC's Vicki Arkoff received Belle's personality enthusiastically, describing the character as both a "smart" and "sharp-tongued" heroine who is responsible for "break[ing] Disney's passive-princess mold."
Marc Bernardin of Entertainment Weekly complimented the character's independence, coining Belle "the hero" of Beauty and the Beast. About.com's David Nusair described the character's bravery as "nothing short of admirable". Similarly, Entertainment Weekly's Christian Blauvelt opined, "Unlike previous Disney heroines who needed to be rescued by a prince themselves, Belle not only saves the Beast's life, she saves his soul." AllMovie critics Don Kaye and Perry Seibert echoed each other's positive opinions about the character. While Kaye described both Belle and the Beast as "three-dimensional", "complex individuals who defy stereotyping and change over the course of the story", Seibert commented, "Belle herself sidesteps most of the clichés surrounding Disney heroines ... because she dreams of independence and adventure, not romance." Seibert continued, "She is a strong female character whose love is won through kindness, selflessness, and honesty, and not given away just because the lead male character is attractive." Common Sense Media hailed Belle as "one of Disney's smartest, most independent heroines."
One of the character's few lukewarm reviews was written by Ethan Alter of Television Without Pity. Praising Belle's independence but questioning her relationship with her father and the Beast, Alter wrote:
[T]he movie .. present[ed] audiences with a willful female protagonist that was firmly in control of her romantic destiny and regularly placed reading books above chasing after boys. And it's true that in that respect at least, Belle stood in stark contrast to past Disney heroines, up to and including Ariel. Still, the filmmakers didn't do the character any favors by swapping out that boy crazy trait for a pronounced maternalistic streak that comes across as a little creepy. Besides being utterly devoted to her father, Belle's relationship with the Beast possesses a distinctly mother/toddler dynamic, what with her teaching him how to use a spoon properly and stop throwing violent temper tantrums. Their romance also lacks spark because -- due to the fundamental set-up of the narrative, what with the evil witch's curse and steadily wilting rose -- it's always clear that he needs her far more than she needs him. Particularly when compared to some of the dynamic animated heroines that came after her -- including Mulan, Ginormica from Monsters vs. Aliens and even Rapunzel from Tangled -- today Belle can't help but seem ... bland.
Voice actress Paige O'Hara has also been unanimously lauded for her vocal performance as Belle. According to Variety, Belle was "magnificently voiced by Paige O’Hara". Variety film critic Joe Leydon wrote that Belle was "sweetly voiced by Paige O’Hara". The Star-Ledger's Stephen Whitty similarly opined, "Paige O’Hara gives the heroine a pretty soprano". John Hartl of The Seattle Times, while describing the cast's vocal performance as "superb", wrote, "Paige O'Hara does a spirited job of investing the character with warmth, intuition and maturity." Similarly, the Sun-Sentinel's Candice Russel commented, "Paige O`Hara does a good job of creating Belle as intellectual, wisely feminine and disarmed by the stirrings of her heart."
Accolades and legacy
Belle has been widely recognized for her iconic role in Beauty and the Beast. Several film critics have hailed the character as a positive role model, praising her for providing a significant change in Disney's controversial depiction of women, as well as criticism and speculation surrounding the Disney Princess media franchise. About.com's David Nusair wrote that Belle "effectively updated the princess formula for an entirely new generation", while Ashley Terrill of Elle labeled the character Disney's "first active female protagonist". Boxoffice hailed Belle as "Disney's Smartest Heroine". Justin Humphreys of The Hook opined, "Belle remains a most successful princess because people can relate." The Los Angeles Times' Charles Solomon accredited Belle as one of the four "spunky" Disney Princesses responsible for "break[ing] the bonds of convention". Elina Bolokhova of Parenting commented that Belle's "bravery and independence helped redefine the meaning of a Disney princess". The Atlantic's Lindsay Lowe echoed Bolokhova's statement, describing Belle as a "headstrong" and "assertive" heroine who brought forth a change in "a long history of relying on docile heroines".
|“||As Disney heroines go, Belle was an iconoclast. Her strong-willed, independent personality feels invigorating in a medium where most damsels are in distress. That was definitely true 20 years ago when Beauty was released, and it's still half-true today ... The rapport Belle slowly develops with Beast feels natural and unforced, and gives the film the kind of emotional resonance that deservedly earned it a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, the first animated film to receive that honor in the history of the Academy.||”|
—Boxoffice's Todd Gilchrist explaining the way in which Belle altered Disney heroines for the 20th and 21st centuries.
In 2003, Belle was nominated for the American Film Institute's list AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains, currently holding the distinction of being the list's only female candidate to have appeared in an animated film. In 2013, Stephanie Goldberg of CNN included Belle in her article "'Brave's Merida and other animated heroines", an article that recognizes Disney's most heroic and independent animated heroines as determined by Goldberg. The author described Belle as a "literate and brave" heroine who "takes care of her father, fends off an arrogant hunk and teaches table manners to an enchanted prince". Later in 2013, Jessica Best of the Daily Mirror ranked the character second in the newspaper's "Disney at 90: The 20 most iconic Disney characters" article, describing Belle as a "portrait of bravery, teaching us to look beyond appearances and stand up for what we believe in." According to a list published by the Georgia Institute of Technology, Belle is the fourth best Disney character. Additionally, she is the article's highest-ranking female character. Belle has also garnered significant accolades and recognition for her physical appearance. In 2008, UGO Entertainment, Inc ranked the character 64th in its article "Top Animated Hotties". In 2011, Dimas Sanfiorenzo of Complex ranked Belle fourteenth in the magazine's list of the "25 Hottest Cartoon Women of All Time". In 2012, Entertainment Weekly's Annie Barrett ranked Belle's hair fifth in the magazine's article "Disney Princesses: Ranking Their Hairdos -- and Don'ts!", complimenting its simple yet sophisticated design.
In 1998, voice actress Paige O'Hara was nominated for the Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Female Performer in an Animated Feature Production for reprising her role as the character in the sequel Belle's Magical World. To commemorate her work on Beauty and the Beast as well as her overall devotion to The Walt Disney Company, O'Hara was presented with a Disney Legends award at the D23 Expo on August 19, 2011. In her acceptance speech, O'Hara expressed gratitude towards producer Don Hahn, songwriters Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, screenwriter Linda Woolverton, directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, and supervising animators James Baxter and Mark Henn. She also acknowledged co-star Robby Benson, and her fans.
Belle performs the opening number of Beauty and the Beast, "Belle". Referred to as the film's "I Want" song, "Belle" received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992, but ultimately lost to the title song from Beauty and the Beast. Oh No They Didn't ranked the song twentieth on its list of "The Top 25 Disney Songs of All Time".
Feminist criticism and response
For several years, The Walt Disney Company has been criticized for its portrayal of female characters. However, feminists in the media and news industries have expressed mostly positive opinions of Belle. Daily Campus' Cathy Schmidt gave a positive analysis of the character, labeling both her and Ariel from The Little Mermaid "the beginnings of the more modern Disney princesses." Schmidt praised Belle's role in Beauty and the Beast, writing, "Belle teaches how a kind, sweet woman can change a man with a temper and poor demeanor into a gentleman." Similarly, Judith Welikala of The Independent drew similarities between Belle and Ariel. She wrote, "Like Ariel, Belle has much more personality than early Disney heroines. Articulate and opinionated, she resists the village hunk Gaston, who wants a trophy wife." Welikala commended Belle for "seeing past the [B]east's appearance", but criticized her for "melting back into the role of wife when he turns back into a handsome prince." Complex's Tara Aquino wrote that Belle is "a kinda feminist ... who's well-read, self-sufficient, and with standards high enough that she doesn't fall for the town's brain-dead pretty boy." Aquino continued, "Instead, she's into the wounded monster of man who challenges her and treats her with respect." Sonia Saraiya of Nerve ranked Belle sixth most feminist out of the ten Disney Princesses in her article "Ranked: Disney Princesses From Least To Most Feminist". Comparing Belle to Ariel, Saraiya wrote, "you get the impression Belle's sass doesn't come from teenage rebellion, but rather from intellectual acuity." Saraiya commended Belle for resisting "her village's expectations of what her life should look like", accrediting her with being "the first princess to express some skepticism about married life." She acknowledged the fact that Belle sacrifices her freedom to save her father's life was brave, but also labeled it "not much of a step for womankind", accusing her in the end of falling "for a domineering man."
|"Now, just like a breath of fresh air, the 1990s usher in a new breed of princesses. First up is Belle from 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. Although she has no job, she’s smart. She’s a free-thinker, not afraid to be different, and she reads books...she learns to love the hideous Beast despite his appearances."|
|— Noelle Buffam, describing that ways in which Belle differs from previous Disney heroines.|
Scholars and academic journalists have been generally mixed to positive in their opinions of Belle. In her article "Beauty and the Belles: Discourses of Feminism and Femininity in Disneyland", Allison Craven, in contribution to the European Journal of Women's Studies, commended Disney for altering the original fairy tale in favor of portraying Belle as a feminist. Craven wrote, "Belle is a down-to-earth girl, fussy about boys, and a bit of a feminist to boot." In contrast, June Cummins, writing for Children's Literature Association Quarterly, gave a negative analysis of the character in her article "Romancing the Plot: The Real Beast of Disney's Beauty and the Beast", criticizing the film for being "Not at all a feminist movie" that "encourages young viewers to believe that true happiness for women exists only in the arms of a prince". Cummins continued, "in spite of this insistence that Belle is a strong female character...I saw the same old story, a romance plot that robs female characters of self-determination and individuality." In her article "The Mask of Beauty: Masquerade Theory and Disney's Beauty and the Beast", Lara Sumera, writing for the Quarterly Review of Film and Video, believes that Disney uses seemingly feminist heroines, such as "the intelligent and sophisticated Belle", in its films simply to "mask Disney's engrained conservatism, evidenced in its films by its stringent adherence of the patriarchal order." Vanessa Matyas, writing for McMaster University's Graduate Major Research Papers and Multimedia Projects, gave Belle a fairly positive review in her article "Tale as Old as Time: A Textual Analysis of Race and Gender in Disney Princess Films". While panning other Disney Princess films for their portrayal of women, Matyas labeled Beauty and the Beast a "turning point in the power dynamic used for the relationships within the films." She noticed in the film "a shift...where the males no longer have total power over the women and the power in the relationship becomes...more mutual." However, Matyas criticized Beauty and the Beast for "[centering] on a woman’s quest for freedom, which is only found when the woman successfully finds love," and using Belle as "a prop...to solve the Beast’s dilemma."
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