|Beauty and the Beast character|
|First appearance||Beauty and the Beast (1991)|
|Created by||Linda Woolverton|
|Voiced by||Paige O'Hara (1991 – 2011)
Julie Nathanson (2011 – )
Belle is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 30th animated feature film Beauty and the Beast (1991), as well as its several sequels and spin-offs. The character was originally voiced by Broadway actress Paige O'Hara from 1991 to 2011, when Disney eventually replaced her with voice actress Julie Nathanson. The book-loving daughter of an eccentric inventor, Belle is looked down upon by her village as an outcast due to the character's love of reading, and longs to abandon her provincial life in exchange adventure. When her father is imprisoned by the Beast, she willingly sacrifices her own freedom in return for his, eventually learning to accept and love the Beast, and ultimately ending his enchantment.
Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg conceived Beauty and the Beast as an animated musical with a strong heroine, and hired first-time screenwriter Linda Woolverton, the first woman to pen an animated film, to write it. Loosely based on the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's heroine, Belle was developed by Woolverton into a stronger and braver character for the film. Directly inspired by the women's movement, Woolverton wanted Belle to be as different as possible from The Little Mermaid's popular Ariel, deliberately conceiving the character as a feminist in response to the negative reception Disney had been receiving for the studio's treatment and depiction of women. Belle's fearlessness and love of reading were inspired by actress Katharine Hepburn's portrayal of Jo March in the film Little Women (1933), while the writers developed the character by giving her aspirations beyond marriage and romance. Animated by James Baxter and Mark Henn, who based the character's mannerisms on artist Edgar Degas' paintings of ballerinas, Belle's smaller European facial features were inspired by those of British actresses Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn.
Actress Susan Egan originated the role of Belle in the Broadway musical adaptation of the film, a Tony Award-nominated performance that has since been portrayed by singers Debbie Gibson and Toni Braxton. The fifth Disney Princess, Belle has garnered widespread acclaim from film critics, who responded to the character's bravery, intelligence and independence positively. However, reception towards her feminism has been mixed, with critics accusing the character's actions of being mostly romance-oriented. Regarded as one of the earliest and prime examples of feminism in Disney films, the media agrees that Belle's role in Beauty and the Beast is responsible for inspiring a generation of strong, independent heroines. One of Disney's most iconic characters, Belle has garnered accolades from the Daily Mirror, Entertainment Weekly, E! and Complex, while her song "Belle" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Belle was the only female animated character nominated for the American Film Institute's greatest heroes in film ranking.
Conception and writing
In the wake of the success of Walt Disney Productions' first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), producer Walt Disney himself had considered adapting the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont into one of the studio's earliest animated films. Although several attempts had been made by Disney to adapt the fairy tale during the 1940s and 1950s, the project was repeatedly abandoned due to the story's "static" plot and main characters, which have been described by Katrine Ames of The Daily Beast as simply "a series of dinners between the imprisoned Belle and the romantically imploring Beast." It wasn't until after the success of Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989) that Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg finally green-lit another attempt at adapting "Beauty and the Beast", enlisting Richard Purdum to direct it. By the late 1980s, Purdum had completed a story reel of a dark, non-musical version of "Beauty and the Beast", which was pitched to Katzenberg. However, Katzenberg did not approve of the somber direction in which the film was heading at the time, and ultimately ordered that it be restarted from scratch in favor of creating "a Broadway-style musical with a strong heroine," similar to The Little Mermaid. Opting for a more "feminist twist" on the fairy tale, Katzenberg enlisted television writer Linda Woolverton, who had never written an animated film before, to write the film's screenplay.
As a character who "begins to see what's underneath all the [Beast's] fur and teeth," Disney senior vice president Peter Schneider promoted Belle in an interview with The Morning Call as "more than a traditional fairy-tale heroine." The first woman to write an animated film, Woolverton explored Belle as an opportunity to create a character who would ultimately be better received than previous Disney heroines, specifically Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Woolverton admitted to Time that "It was very difficult to change the point of view of the Disney princess" due in part to Ariel's popularity and success. Inspired by the women's movement, Woolverton was unwilling to create another "insipid" princess, deliberately making the character a headstrong feminist who "could still be [a] Disney princess" nonetheless. Conceiving Belle as a "a woman of the '90s" who "wanted to do something other than wait for her prince to come," Woolverton refused to be influenced by Jean Cocteau's 1946 adaptation of the fairy tale, choosing instead to base Belle on actress Katharine Hepburn's portrayal of the book-loving Little Women character Jo March in the 1933 adaptation of the book. Inspired by both her own and Jo's love of reading, Woolverton decided to bestow similar characteristics upon Belle in order to demonstrate the character's "open mind." Meanwhile, Belle's vain suitor, Gaston, was inspired by several of Woolverton's own unsuccessful relationships, while Woolverton removed Belle's two sisters and their respective romantic interests from the original story in favor of solely focusing on Belle's relationship with Gaston, as well as eliminate similarities between the film and Disney's Cinderella (1950). At one point, Belle had a younger sister named Clarice and an evil aunt name Marguerite, both of whom were eventually written out of the story, Clarice to emphasize Belle's loneliness, and Marguerite to make way for Gaston as the film's main antagonist. During Gaston's climactic fight with the Beast, the character's line "Time to die!” was ultimately changed “Belle is mine!" in order to return Belle to the scene.
In Beaumont's fairy tale, Belle is forced, by men, to replace her father as the Beast's prisoner. Feeling that Disney's Belle needed to be stronger and more independent, Woolverton re-wrote the character so that she willingly ventures into the woods by herself in search of her father, confronts the Beast upon discovering whereabouts, and ultimately trades her own freedom in return for Maurice's. Due to the fact that Beauty and the Beast's filmmakers were predominantly male during a time in which there "were very few women" involved, Woolverton often found herself at odds with them when it came to Belle's depiction. On one particular occasion, the story artists changed what Woolverton had originally scripted as Belle indicating places to where she wanted to travel on a map while waiting for Maurice to return, to the character baking a cake. Arguing that the liberated Belle "wouldn't even know how to bake," Woolverton eventually settled for having the character read a book instead. At one time the story artists had also had Belle crying a lot during her imprisonment. However, Woolverton resented this, arguing that Belle was the type of character who would "be looking for a way out, or she'd be intrigued that she was living in an enchanted castle" instead.
The filmmakers had originally wanted actress Jodi Benson, who had just recently voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid, to voice Belle, but ultimately concluded that Benson sounded "too American." Describing the character as "a woman ... ahead of her time", the filmmakers wanted Belle's voice to evoke a "womanly" quality in spite of her young age and sound "mature beyond her years." Broadway actress and singer Paige O'Hara had read about Disney's then-upcoming animated feature film Beauty and the Beast in an article in The New York Times. Upon learning that the studio was holding auditions for Belle, the film's female lead, and specifically asking for Broadway actresses, O'Hara immediately contacted her agent, who managed to get her an audition.
|"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.|
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. According to Rob Burch of The Hollywood News, O'Hara's age "lends much to her maturity and depth as a character." 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.
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 sequels Beauty 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.
Characterization and design
Woolverton was determined to make Belle "an unusual Disney heroine: she wasn't a princess, she liked books, she was independent, and she had no interest in marrying the handsomest eligible male around." Producer Don Hahn told The Boston Globe that, in the fairy tale, Belle is an "incredibly passive" character, likening her to Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Working hard to make the character more "three-dimensional," the writers gave her "hopes and aspirations beyond just marriage and love," while expanding the story to give Belle a more "bookish, inquisitive nature." Both O'Hara and Woolverton encouraged both the intelligent and bookworm aspects of Belle's personality. Woolverton 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." At times, however, the animators and story artists struggled to fulfill Woolverton's vision of the character's personality. Woolverton explained, "Once everybody realized she wasn’t going to be this typical Disney female, they would go to the extreme ... She became bitchy." The screenwriter argued that the character "was too smart for that." To ensure that the character was imperfect, 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. Woolverton felt that "It was important not to write a throwback character," considering it "very important to have a good role model for the girls out there."
Belle's supervising animators were James Baxter and Mark Henn. Drawing the character with a unique combination of brown hair and hazel eyes, the animators wanted Belle to appear distinctly different and more European than The Little Mermaid's Ariel by designing her with fuller lips, narrower eyes and darker eyebrows. Baxter explained that Belle is a few years older than Ariel and "a lot more worldly because she's always reading." The character's European-looking face was inspired by British actresses Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn, while Belle's yellow ballgown was based on a costume Hepburn herself wore in the film Roman Holiday (1953). Baxter studied the work of French impressionist Edgar Degas, an artist renowned for his paintings of ballerinas, which Baxter incorporated into Belle's animation to give her "graceful, swan-like movements." The second heroine Henn had ever animated, after Ariel, the animator was specifically assigned certain scenes to animate from the studio's Florida division, namely the character exploring the West Wing, the scene in which Belle tends to the Beast's wounds, and the "Something There" musical sequence. Art director Brian McEntee suggested that Belle be the only character to wear blue in order emphasize the idea that she is different and an outcast. The colors Belle wears also mimic her emotions, blue being associated with sadness and loneliness. Blue was also used to symbolize good, while Gaston's red represented evil. According to the Directory of World Cinema: American Hollywood by Lincoln Geraghty, Belle was inspired by actress Judy Garland's role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Julie Andrews' performance as Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965).
O'Hara felt that Belle originally looked "too perfect," likening the character's appearance to 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. Although first suggested by Woolverton, Belle's tendency to constantly brush her hair away from her face was also inspired by both Stoner and O'Hara. "I was constantly doing that and little quirky things that they would catch," O'Hara told The Guardian. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Charles Solomon observed inconsistencies in Belle's appearance, writing, "The prettiest and liveliest Belle waltzes with Beast in his marble ballroom and weeps over his body before he's transformed into the Prince" while "The Belle who receives the library from Beast has wider-set eyes and a more prominent mouth than the noticeably slimmer Belle who sings 'Something There'". Beauty and the Beast became the first animated film to fully credit each animator responsible for animating a specific character during the film's closing credits. Having since animated Jasmine in Aladdin (1992), Mulan in Mulan (1998) and Tiana in The Princess and the Frog (2009), Henn has established himself "as the go-to man behind many Disney princesses."
Belle remains Disney's first and only princess to have hazel eyes. According to Tales, Then and Now: More Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults author Anna E. Altmann, Disney heavily promoted Beauty and the Beast as "a feminist fairy tale" and "a radical departure from earlier Disney films" due to Belle's role and characterization in the film. In his book Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon: Preaching and Popular Movies, author Timothy B. Cargal agreed that the character indicates "Disney's ... continued efforts to reshape their heroines for a more feminist age." According to Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia author Claudia Mitchell, Belle's feminism was heavily influenced by the girl power movement during the 1980s and 1990s. Writing for Wired.com, Matt Blum reviewed Belle as "easily the geekiest heroine of any Disney animated film," while Rob Burch of The Hollywood News observed that Belle "comes across as arrogant at times" because she "spends much of the first act complaining about what she wants in life." In her book Sex, Love and Abuse: Discourses on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, author Sharon Hayes described Belle as "the quintessential beautiful young ingenue." Comparing Belle's personality to that of the princess who throws the frog against a wall in the Brothers Grimm's fairy tale "The Frog Prince", The Meanings of "Beauty and the Beast": A Handbook author Jerry Griswold called belle "feisty and outspoken." According to Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era author Susan Jeffords, "Belle's credentials as heroine are established ... when she is the only one of the town's single women not to swoon over Gaston," while the character's love of reading is essentially used "to mark her as better than the rest of the townspeople."
Critics have debated over whether Belle or the Beast is the film's rightful protagonist. Susan Jeffords, author of Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era, felt that although Belle appears to be the main character in Beaumont's original fairy tale, she becomes "less the focus of the narrative" In Disney's adaptation and more of a "mechanism for solving the Beast's 'dilemma'," in turning allowing the plot to focus more-so on the Beast's transformation more than Belle's involvement. Jeffords additionally described Belle as the Beast's problem-solver and teacher.
Film and television
Belle debuted in Beauty and the Beast (1991) as a beautiful bibliophile who, although praised by her fellow villagers for her unrivaled beauty, is ridiculed for her intelligence and non-conformity. Having grown weary of her uneventful provincial life, in which she is relentlessly romantically pursued by an arrogant hunter named Gaston, Belle longs for adventure. When her father Maurice is imprisoned by a cold-hearted beast, Belle sacrifices her own freedom in return for his, promising to remain with the Beast in his castle among his staff of enchanted objects forever. Although she initially dislikes her captor, Belle gradually learns to accept the Beast in spite of his appearance and eventually befriends him. Belle and the Beast's strong bond greatly envies Gaston to the point of which he storms the castle and kills him, only to fall to his own death in the process. However, Belle confesses her love for the Beast just in time to break the spell under which he had been placed by an enchantress as punishment for his selfish ways, and the Beast ultimately transforms back into a handsome prince.
In the film's first midquel, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997), Belle attempts to lift the castle's waning spirit by celebrating Christmas in spite of the Beast's strong resentment towards the holiday. Meanwhile, a solemn pipe organ named Forte grows determined to sabotage Belle and the Beast's budding friendship because he longs to maintain his co-dependent relationship with the Beast. Encouraged by Forte to retrieve a Christmas tree from a frozen pond, Belle nearly drowns. However, she is rescued by the Beast who, having been influenced by Forte, wrongly accuses Belle of trying to escape and locks her in the dungeon as punishment. When the Beast ultimately discovers the truth, Belle helps him thwart Forte's plan to demolish the castle and everyone in it by destroying his keyboard. The film's second midquel, Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World (1998), sees Belle interacting primarily with the Beast's enchanted servants, exploring themes such as forgiveness, cooperation and respect in four individual segments.
In Belle's Tales of Friendship, a spin-off of the three films, Belle owns bookstore in France, where she teaches children valuable less via revellings of stories. 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.
Belle appeared in the Broadway musical adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. The role was originated by 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, managed to convince her otherwise, and Egan ultimately turned down callbacks for the musicals My Fair Lady, Carousel and Grease in favour of starring as Belle in Beauty and the Beast because she had always wanted to originate a Broadway role. Egan had never watched Beauty and the Beast prior to her audition, relying solely on "her own creative instincts" instead. Egan's performance as Belle earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical at the 48th Tony Awards. A total of seventeen actresses have portrayed Belle in the Broadway musical, among them recording artists Debbie Gibson and Toni Braxton, The Sopranos' Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and Disney Channel alumnae Christy Carlson Romano and Anneliese van der Pol, the latter of whom became Broadway's final Belle when the show ended its thirteen year-long run in 2007. Actress Sarah Litzsinger remains Broadway's longest-running Belle.
A best-selling R&B singer, Braxton made her Broadway debut when she was cast as Belle in 1998, turning down actress Halle Berry's role in the film Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1998). Braxton's desire to pursue an acting career stemmed from a series of conflicts with the singer's record label at the time, making her the only African American to portray Belle in the show's history. Belle's ballad "A Change in Me" was written by songwriters Alan Menken and Tim Rice specifically for Braxton. However, the song was ultimately so well-received that it has been included in the musical ever since. During her term as Belle, Braxton was stalked by an "obsessed fan." The stalker had reportedly "bombarded" Braxton with threatening e-mails and letters. Several measures were taken to ensure the singer's safety, including forcing Braxton to dress in full disguise when travelling to and from the theatre in addition to reducing her total number of weekly performances from eight to seven. The stalker was eventually arrested and charged with "aggravated harassment."
Belle along with Beast and Chip appeared at the 64th Academy Awards as presenters for Best Animated Short Feature. She also makes a brief cameo appearance in Disney's 34th animated feature film The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) during the "Out There" musical sequence. Belle appeared in the animated television series Disney's House of Mouse and its direct-to-video film Mickey's Magical Christmas: 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.
She was also the main character in various comic books based on the film, including a midquel set during Belle's stay at the castle published by Marvel Comics, and a prequel set several years before the film distributed by Disney Comics. In the former, the storylines generally have the servants trying to coax Belle into doing something with the Beast, only for it to backfire and nearly ruin their friendship before they make up. In the latter serial, Belle ends up locked up in a cellar by village children after reluctantly playing pirates with them, and later nearly goes down the path leading to Beast's castle. The latter serial also implies that she holds misandric views and refuses to associate herself with the village children, especially the males, due to their not being as well-versed in literature as she.
Actors portraying Belle and the other characters from the first movie appear in the stage show, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney World. An actress playing Belle appears in a meet-and-greet attraction at Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland called Enchanted Tales with Belle.
Disney hired 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 widespread acclaim from film critics. Hal Hinson of The Washington Post described Belle as a "compelling" character who is "more mature, more womanly and less blandly asexual" than Ariel, as well as "a more worldly girl than Ariel, a bookworm, with gumption and a mind of her own." Also comparing Belle to Ariel, John Hartl of The Seattle Times penned, "there's rarely a sense of deja vu, perhaps because the heroine is so different from 'Mermaid's' dependent Ariel, and her dilemma is more poignant," while Boxoffice similarly opined, "Undoubtedly in response to criticism that the cute little 'Mermaid' Ariel was nothing more than a precocious sexpot, the idea-people behind this beauty--aptly named Belle ... chose to make her an icon of self-reliance and a voracious reader with a curiosity and love for everything around her." Jennie Punter of The Globe and Mail lauded Belle, describing the character as a "smart, courageous ... 'take-charge kind of gal'," while dubbing her the "main attraction of Beauty and the Beast." Emma Cochrane of Empire hailed Belle as "a feminist heroine who [is] more rounded than previous Disney characters." Paste's Annlee Ellingson similarly praised the character for her "feminist kick." Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun wrote that "Belle ... is no passive fairy tale princess, but a real live girl, with a spunky personality and her own private agenda." TV Guide wrote that "The familiar narrative is strengthened by the independent, self-assured character of Belle," concluding, "Unlike Disney heroines from Snow White through Ariel, Belle is smart, knows what she wants, and doesn't spend her time pining away for the love of a handsome prince." Marc Bernardin of Entertainment Weekly enjoyed Belle's heroism, dubbing her "the hero" of Beauty and the Beast, while 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."
TLC's Vicki Arkoff reviewed Belle as a "smart" and "sharp-tongued" heroine, praising the character for "break[ing] Disney's passive-princess mold." About.com's David Nusair described Belle as "admirable" heroine. AllMovie's Don Kaye and Perry Seibert echoed each other's reviews, with Kaye calling both Belle and the Beast "three-dimensional ... complex individuals who defy stereotyping and change over the course of the story," and Seibert describing Belle as a "strong female character" who "sidesteps most of the clichés surrounding Disney heroines." Common Sense Media hailed Belle as "one of Disney's smartest, most independent heroines." Meanwhile, Belle and the Beast's relationship has been met with positive reviews. About.com's David Nusair wrote, "the palpable chemistry between Belle and The Beast ensur[es] that Beauty and the Beast lives up to its reputation as one of the most memorable romances of all time." Calling it an "unconventional romance," Charles Solomon of the Los Angeles Times opined, "The idea of a young woman learning to love a gentle heart hidden beneath a baleful exterior represented a major break with tradition." Likewise, critics enjoyed O'Hara's performance. According to Variety, Belle was "magnificently voiced by O’Hara." The Star-Ledger's Stephen Whitty enjoyed O'Hara's "pretty soprano." John Hartl of The Seattle Times wrote, "O'Hara does a spirited job of investing the character with warmth, intuition and maturity," while the Sun-Sentinel's Candice Russel felt that O'Hara "does a good job of creating Belle as intellectual, wisely feminine and disarmed by the stirrings of her heart."
One of the character's few negative reviews was written by Ethan Alter of Television Without Pity, who opined:
[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 ... 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 .... Their romance also lacks spark because -- due to the fundamental set-up of the narrative ... 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 ... today Belle can't help but seem ... bland.
Feminist criticism and analysis
Feminist critics have been generally mixed in their opinions of Belle, arguing over whether or not the character is in fact "feminist enough." Jezebel determined that the character "is often held up as the standard of the 'feminist' Disney princess." Although Beauty and the Beast was praised upon release for having a "forward thinking and feminist" heroine, commentators tend to agree that, in spite of Belle's independence and resentment towards Gaston, Beauty and the Beast essentially remains a romance about a girl who "meets her ideal man." Acknowledging that Belle and Ariel "represented significant change from their sweet, mop-wielding predecessors," Twilight and History author Nancy Reagin observed that "the end result of fulfillment through marriage has been maintained" as both characters "marry to rise socially." While commending Belle for "seeing past the beast's appearance," Judith Welikala of The Independent criticized the character in the end for "melting back into the role of wife when he turns back into a handsome prince." Fairy Tale author Andrew Teverson regarded Belle as Disney's attempt to address "feminist criticism of its representation of women in earlier films," but ultimately criticized the character's curiosity for "extend[ing] only to romance," additionally accusing her of being "a zealous individualist with a pathological hostility to common men and women." Kathleen Maher of The Austin Chronicle cited Belle as an example of "pseudo-feminism" because she "is not content to marry a big hulking village boy. She wants something more – like, to marry a prince." Meanwhile, Stylist ranked Belle among "The most feminist characters in Disney," describing her as an "incredibly intelligent" character who "doesn't stand for a man who considers her as just a piece of meat ... she wants someone who loves her for her mind too." Acknowledging the character's "feminist longings," Daniel Eagen, author of America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide to the Landmark Movies in the National Film Registry, cited Belle as Disney's "modern-day corrective to Snow White." Beyond Adaptation: Essays on Radical Transformations of Original Works author Phyllis Frus wrote that, initially, Beauty and the Beast does not seem "remotely feminist." The author did, however, acknowledge Belle as "an appealing character with a noticeable feminist streak," but in the end criticized Disney's Consumer Products of undoing what the film had nearly accomplished by inducting the character into the Disney Princess franchise. In Refinery29's "Definitive Ranking Of Disney Princesses As Feminist Role Models", author Vanessa Golembewski ranked the character eighth, writing, "Belle’s fairly independent. She’s reading. She’s caring for her father. She’s actively refusing the advances of Gaston ... When it comes to Beast, she’s having none of his broody attitudes." However, she ultimately described the character's motives as "confusing." Complex's Tara Aquino described Belle as "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."
Commentators have ultimately been more critical of Belle's relationship with the film's main characters, namely the Beast, than the character herself. Writing for the University of Central Florida, Faith Dickens felt that after Belle's introduction in which her personality and goals are revealed, the character becomes nothing more than "a vehicle for exploring the Beast's dilemmas," while her initial pining for adventure is replaced by a longing for romance. Dickens went on to criticize the fact that while Belle is seemingly "perfect the way she is" and the Beast "need[s] to be reformed," arguing that this means that a woman must first be perfect in order for such a change to occur. In addition to the idea that Belle appears to perfect and excused from having to grow or learn anything, Anna E. Altmann, author of Tales, Then and Now: More Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults, criticized the fact that Belle appears to share a motherly relationship with both her father and Maurice. Altmann also criticized the fact that, although an avid reader and intellectual, Belle's interest in books appears to be limited to fairy tales with happy endings, ultimately dismissing the character as nothing more than "a feisty North American version of" Beaumont's heroine. Orange Coast writer Henry A. Giroux felt that Belle serves as little more than "a prop for resolving the Beast's problems." Sonia Saraiya of Nerve ranked Belle the sixth most feminist Disney Princess, writing that, unlike Ariel, "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."
Accolades and legacy
Belle continues to garner praise and accolades for her role in Beauty and the Beast. Deemed an "iconoclast" by Boxoffice, the character is regarded as an icon, while considered a positive role model for young women. Critics agree that the character's role in Beauty and the Beast as Disney's first "strong female lead" and "thinking woman" is responsible for changing the way in which women would be portrayed in animated films, specifically in regards to the traditional Disney heroine and princess formula. The Daily Campus' Cathy Schmidt hailed Belle and Ariel as "the beginnings of the more modern Disney princesses." According to About.com's David Nusair, Belle "effectively updated the princess formula for an entirely new generation." The Atlantic's Lindsay Lowe echoed Nusair's sentiment, describing Belle as a "headstrong" and "assertive" heroine who ended Disney's "long history of ... docile heroines". Ashley Terrill of Elle called Belle Disney's "first active female protagonist," while Boxoffice's Amy Nicholson coined the character "Disney's Smartest Heroine." In terms of the Disney Princess franchise, Belle is often spoken of and ranked highly due to the character's unprecedented bravery, independence, intelligence and love of reading, having since become "the standard of the 'feminist' Disney princess," according to Jezebel. Justin Humphreys of The Hook opined that "Belle remains a most successful princess because people can relate." The Los Angeles Times' Charles Solomon included Belle among the four Disney princesses who broke "the bonds of convention." Elina Bolokhova of Parenting wrote that Belle's "bravery and independence helped redefine the meaning of a Disney princess." Belle was placed first on E!'s ranking of the Disney Princesses for her lack of vanity, relatability and literacy, while Cosmopolitan ranked the character fourth. In the magazine's "Definitive Ranking Of Disney Princesses, From Distressed Damsels To Most Kickass," Seventeen ranked Belle fifth, praising her for rescuing her prince "unlike some of the other damsels on this list." Similarly, BuzzFeed also ranked the character fifth, praising the fact that she reads but accusing her of having Stockholm syndrome. According to TheRichest and The Fiscal Times, Belle is the fifth most successful Disney Princess in terms of box office receipts, with sales of over $350 million in tickets. Following the release of Frozen and the popularity of its heroine Elsa, Belle became the lowest-selling Disney Princess on eBay in 2013, with sales of only $6,867 in spite of the fact that she is often cited as customer's favorite Disney Princess.
|“||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.||”|
—Boxoffice's Todd Gilchrist explaining the way in which Belle altered Disney heroines for the 20th and 21st centuries.
Belle was the only female animated character nominated for the American Film Institute's ranking of the greatest heroes in film history. CNN included Belle among "Merida and other animated heroines", a list of animated characters in which Stephanie Goldberg recognized Disney's most heroic and independent heroines. The Daily Mirror ranked Belle Disney's second most iconic character, describing her as a "portrait of bravery, teaching us to look beyond appearances and stand up for what we believe in." Similarly, PopMatters ranked Belle Disney's second greatest hero. A sex symbol and fashion icon, Belle has garnered accolades for her physical appearance and fashion. UGO ranked the character 64th on the website's list of the most attractive animated heroines, while finishing fourth on Complex's "25 Hottest Cartoon Women of All Time" list. E! ranked Belle the second best-dressed Disney Princess, dubbing her "the most couture of all the Disney princesses," while praising the character's outerwear. Author Emily Popp also applauded the character's ballgown for being "off the Oscar de la Renta runway." Belle appeared on BuzzFeed's "Definitive Ranking Of 72 Disney Princess Outfits" a total of four times, with author Leonora Epstein ranking the character's green, blue, pink and yellow dresses 51st, 37th, 31st and 15th, respectively. Similarly, Belle's blue, purple, yellow and green dresses were respectively ranked 18th, 10th, ninth and fourth by Official Disney Blogs. Although the author liked the character's green dress the most, the author admitted that Belle's yellow ballgown "went down in the history books." Belle appeared on Stylist's list of the "Best beauty looks in Disney" twice, first for the character's "Half up half down" hairstyle and second for her ponytail. Entertainment Weekly ranked Belle's hair fifth in the magazine's "Disney Princesses: Ranking Their Hairdos -- and Don'ts!" article, complimenting its simplicity.
Woolverton herself has been praised for her creation of Belle, writing Beauty and the Beast's feminist-conscious screenplay, and overall contributions to women in film as a writer. Susan Wloszczyna of Indiewire wrote that "Woolverton set a new standard for fully fleshed-out fairy-tale heroines ... with Belle." Lily Rothman of Time observed that, ever since Belle, most of Woolverton's characters have been strong, independent women, namely Nala in The Lion King (1994), Mulan in Mulan (1998), Alice in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Maleficent in Maleficent (2014), in turn indirectly paving the way for characters such as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, and Anna and Elsa in Frozen (2013). In Beauty and the Beast, Belle performs the film's opening number, "Belle", which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992. In 1998, O'Hara was nominated for an Annie Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Female Performer in an Animated Feature Production for reprising her role as Belle in the second of Beauty and the Beast's three direct-to-video sequels, Belle's Magical World. To commemorate her work on Beauty and the Beast, as well as her overall devotion and loyalty to The Walt Disney Company, O'Hara was honored with a Disney Legends award 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.
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Yet there's no question Disney has been responsible for creating some of the finest female leads.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Belle (Disney).|
Beauty and the Beast (1991)