Belle wearing her golden ball gown, in which she dances with the Beast.
|First appearance||Beauty and the Beast (1991)|
|Last appearance||Sing Me a Story with Belle (1999)|
|Created by||Linda Woolverton|
|Voiced by||Paige O'Hara (1991–2011)
Julie Nathanson (2011-present)
Belle is a fictional character who is the female lead in Walt Disney Pictures' thirtieth animated feature film Beauty and the Beast (1991). She reprises her role in the film's two direct-to-video midquels, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997) and Belle's Magical World (1998), direct-to-video spin-off Belle's Tales of Friendship (1999), and live-action television series Sing Me a Story with Belle. From 1991 to 2011, Belle was voiced by American actress and singer Paige O'Hara, who auditioned for the role after she read about it in The New York Times. Since 2011, Belle has been voiced by American actress Julie Nathanson.
Created by screenwriter Linda Woolverton and animated by James Baxter and Mark Henn, Belle is the daughter of an infamous inventor named Maurice, with whom she lives in a small town in France. Though perceived by her fellow villagers as "the most beautiful girl in town," Belle is considered strange and an outcast because of her love of reading and non-conformity. Romantically pursued by a handsome but arrogant hunter named Gaston, in whom she shows no romantic interest because of his conceitedness and sexist mentality, Belle dreams of leaving her provincial village life in favor of adventure. When her father is taken prisoner by the Beast, Belle sacrifices her own freedom, taking his place in order to save his life and eventually learning to accept him despite his monstrous appearance. Intelligent, strong-willed, outspoken and brave, Belle is a young woman who refuses to succumb to her village's outdated view on the role of women in society.
Belle was based on the heroine of the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, but was developed by Woolverton into a stronger character for the Disney film adaptation. Additionally, Woolverton drew inspiration from the character Jo March from the film Little Women (1933) to create Belle. The success of Beauty and the Beast led to the production of a Broadway musical based on the film, that ran from 1994 to 2007. The role of Belle was originated by American actress and singer Susan Egan. Belle has enjoyed a positive reception from critics, many of whom praised her intelligence, contemporaneity and bravery, often drawing comparisons between her and previous Disney Princess Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989). Feminist criticism towards Belle has also been mostly positive, with commentators praising her intellect, independence and non-conformity, as well as the fact that her goals are, unlike previous Disney Princesses, unrelated to marriage.
Character and development 
Background and conception 
Following the critical and commercial success of Walt Disney Feature Animation's first animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Walt Disney made several attempts to adapt the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast" by French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont into a full-length animated feature first in the 1930s and then, when he was unsuccessful, again in the 1950s. All effort on the film was abandoned, however, after it proved to be a challenge when it came to story and character development. Analyzing the relatively simple plot of the original fairy tale, The Daily Beast wrote that "Beauty and the Beast" "was just a series of dinners between the imprisoned Belle and the romantically imploring Beast". It wasn't until after the studio released their first two successful films in years, the live-action/animated hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988 followed by the animated fantasy The Little Mermaid in 1989, that production began on a musical adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Novice screenwriter Linda Woolverton was hired to write the film's script. This was the first time a screenwriter had been assigned to a Disney animated film which were, prior to this point, written in storyboard format. Woolverton, who considers Beauty and the Beast her "big break," also made history by becoming the first woman to write a Disney animated film.
|"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.|
Belle was based on the heroine of "Beauty and the Beast". Upon joining the Beauty and the Beast creative team, Woolverton was faced with the task of creating an assertive, intelligent and independent heroine who would ultimately be better received than previous Disney animated heroines, such as Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989), the portrayal of whom some critics felt was "cloyingly sexist". When creating Belle, Woolverton drew inspiration from the Little Women character Jo March, portrayed in the 1933 film adaptation by American actress Katharine Hepburn. Inspired by both the character's and her own 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." Woolverton did not want Belle to exhibit total perfection, so she came up with the idea of there being "a little wisp of hair that keeps falling in her face," revealing that this was 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. In addition to her love of reading, Woolverton felt it important to make Belle resemble a stronger, braver, and more adventurous character than how she is depicted in the fairy tale. In order to achieve this effect, Woolverton took liberty with the story, re-writing it so that Belle not only ventures out to find her father when he goes missing but, upon discovering his whereabouts, confronts the Beast and initiates the sacrifice, convincing him to take her in her father's place. Voice actress Paige O'Hara was pleased with the alteration, calling it "a very important choice that [the filmmakers] made".
Casting and auditions 
|"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. My husband had proposed to me the night before. What a week that was!"|
|— O'Hara, voice of Belle, talking to The Guardian about how she got the role.|
Originally, the filmmakers considered having actress and singer Jodi Benson, who voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid, voice Belle. They then came to the decision that they wanted Belle to have a womanly quality to her voice, despite her young age. Describing her as "a woman that was ahead of her time," the filmmakers wanted Belle to sound "mature beyond her years." Actress and singer 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 got her an audition.
O'Hara auditioned for the role of Belle five times, the first two at which she simply recorded her voice for it to be sent back to Los Angeles, California. She competed for the role against approximately 500 actresses. At her first audition, O'Hara was simply instructed to "sing something that you love," deciding upon the song "Heaven Help My Heart" from the Broadway musical Chess, which impressed the judges. She thought that they "might want to raise [her] voice and make [her] sound more like Snow White" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Instead, they simply asked her to use her own voice, saying, "'We love your voice. We want you to do it just like you'." O'Hara was fairly confident in her audition. The majority of the Beauty and the Beast creative team was in attendance by "the last few auditions". Present at her fifth and final audition was lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, producer Don Hahn, directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, and Disney CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Soon afterward, O'Hara received a telephone call from Disney on her birthday, informing her that she had got the part. O'Hara believes the fact that Ashman greatly admired her cast recording of the musical Showboat assisted in her getting the role.
Studio work and recording process 
|"[M]usically it was similar to recording a Broadway CD because you're in a booth and you sing live with [the orchestra]. But in terms of the acting, it was totally different because they wanted Belle and Beast to be very subtle. Of course, Beast gets really loud when he gets mad but in terms of the intimate scene work, Robby Benson and I requested to work together and that made such a difference."|
|— O'Hara, describing the recording process and working with co-star Robby Benson, voice of the Beast|
Woolverton took note of the fact that O'Hara was thirty-years-old and therefore older than a typical Disney Princess. As a result, she sounded more mature. Woolverton considered this an asset because she felt it went along well with what she had conceived for her character. Wise was pleased with the quality of O'Hara's voice, likening both it and her character to American actress Judy Garland. The filmmakers had to constantly remind O'Hara not to raise the pitch of her voice because they wanted Belle to sound "very realistic." Due to the fact that she is predominantly a stage actress, a profession that requires her to speak loudly in order to be heard, O'Hara had to constantly lower her volume when recording Belle's dialogue. O'Hara told The Guardian that "Instead of projecting like [she] would on the Broadway stage, [she] just softened [her voice] and used the microphone." O'Hara would occasionally ad-lib her dialogue, but none were included in the final film because they sounded "too modern". Despite the fact that Beauty and the Beast was her first major film role, O'Hara did not feel overwhelmed by the recording process because she felt she had enough experience to play Belle.
By special request of O'Hara and her co-star Robby Benson, voice of the Beast, Disney made the costly and time-consuming decision to allow O'Hara and Benson to record their shared scenes together as opposed to the conventional method of having them record in separate isolation booths. O'Hara has accredited her close collaboration with Benson with enhancing her performance.
2011 Replacement 
Since the release of Beauty and the Beast in November 1991, O'Hara has returned to The Walt Disney Company on several several occasions to voice Belle in various forms of media, such as sequels, television series, and video games. She has often referred to the company as "[her] main employer for 20 years". As of 2011, Belle has been voiced by American actress Julie Nathanson, who first voiced the character in the 2011 video game Kinect Disneyland Adventures. O'Hara told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that news of the replacement 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 studio that she was still capable of voicing the character. However, she admitted that because her voice has changed significantly over the course of twenty years, she was forced to work really hard.
Design and personality 
Belle's supervising animators were James Baxter and Mark Henn. Drawn with brown hair and hazel eyes, a color combination that had never before been used in the design of a Disney Princess, the animators attempted to make Belle appear more European-looking than The Little Mermaid's Ariel by drawing her with fuller lips, smaller eyes, and darker eyebrows. Baxter said that Belle is "a few years older" than Ariel and, in addition to this, "a lot more worldly because she's always reading." O'Hara said that Belle looked "too perfect" in early concept sketches because she resembled "a cross between a young 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 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", O'Hara told The Guardian.
Charles Solomon, author of the behind the scenes book The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast, wrote that Belle was initially portrayed as a "bland" character who was constantly being "upstaged" by more engaging supporting characters. O'Hara said that the writers "decided...to keep [Belle] beautiful but quirkier and more identifiable." O'Hara and Woolverton further "pushed" 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 went on to say that "[b]ecause 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 saw herself in her character. 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 
Book-loving Belle has grown tired of her provincial life. Ruthlessly pursued by a handsome but arrogant hunter named Gaston, Belle dreams of leaving her village in favor of adventure. When her father Maurice does not return home from a fair, Belle sets out to find him. Led to a dark foreboding castle by her pet horse Phillipe, she finds Maurice locked in its dungeon by a hideous beast. Desperate, Belle begs the Beast to set him free, and when he refuses, offers her own freedom in return. On the condition that she stay with him forever, the Beast sends Maurice home.
The Beast treats Belle more like a guest than a prisoner, giving her permission to roam freely among the castle while his enchanted servants tend to her. Eventually, Belle's curiosity gets the best of her, and she ventures into the forbidden West Wing where she is discovered by the Beast. Infuriated, the Beast orders her to leave, and a frightened Belle flees the castle. While racing through the woods, Belle is attacked by a pack of wolves. The Beast arrives just in time to fend them off, but soon collapses from his wounds. Unable to bring herself to leave 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. Slowly, Belle and the Beast become friends.
The Beast falls deeply in love with Belle, but doesn't believe she will ever love him in return. With the Beast's permission, Belle leaves the castle to tend to her ailing father. Back home in the village, Gaston threatens to put Maurice in the insane asylum for ranting about the Beast if Belle refuses to marry him, which she does. After Belle proves the Beast's existence, Gaston, realizing she has fallen in love with the Beast, leads a mob of angry villagers to storm the castle, intent on killing him out of jealousy. The majority of the mob is fended off by the enchanted objects upon arrival, but Gaston manages to find and attack the Beast. A battle ensues on the rooftop between Gaston and the Beast, but the Beast, heartbroken by Belle's departure, doesn't have the will to fight back. When Belle returns, the Beast's strength is revived and he fights back. 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 loses his balance and falls 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 cries and sobs, broken-hearted at the sight of the beast's dead body. She 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.
Toni Braxton run and stalker controversy 
American R&B recording artist Toni Braxton made her Broadway debut when she joined the cast of Beauty and the Beast in 1998, replacing American actress Kim Huber. She decided to pursue an acting career after she rendered herself "Unable to reconcile...contractual issues" with her record label. Braxton had just recently turned down roles in films such as Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1998), and took it upon herself to "spike [Belle] up a bit." Braxton is recognized for being the first and only African American to have played Belle in the show's thirteen-year history, likening this accomplishment to when American recording artist Brandy starred in the Disney-produced television film Cinderella (1997). In the musical, Belle performs "A Change in Me", a song that was not featured in the show prior to Braxton's arrival. The ballad was written by songwriters Alan Menken and Tim Rice specifically with Braxton in mind, and was ultimately so well received by critics and audiences alike that it has remained part of 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 reportedly stalked by a male "obsessed 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 later arrested and charged for aggravated harassment.
Other appearances 
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.
Reception and legacy 
Critical response 
|"Belle is not a princess, so she is different than the other female protagonists, but she is just as lovely and engaging as the rest and I dare say one of the more attractive Disney animated women...She is loyal, loving, and reliable to the point where she springs into action when her father's life is in danger. Despite her lack of royal blood, Belle is one of the most inspiring Disney females."|
|— Chad Webb, in review of Belle.|
Belle has garnered near universal acclaim from 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 a "smart, courageous heroine – a 'take-charge kind of gal'" and 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." Parenting's Elina Bolokhova praised the character's personality, writing, "Belle, whose bravery and independence helped redefine the meaning of a Disney princess...truly makes the movie." Bolokhova continued, "Bookish and fairly odd...Belle continues to serve as an inspiration to girls who feel most at home in the library."
Marc Bernardin of Entertainment Weekly wrote positively of Belle, highlighting her independence and labeling her "the hero" of Beauty and the Beast. "Belle's journey doesn't require her to be a pawn, or an object, or a victim," Bernardin wrote. "Beauty and the Beast is her story". Bernardin also accredited Belle with making Beauty and the Beast "the strongest" of "Disney's 'princess' movies". Charles Solomon of the Los Angeles Times labeled Belle one of the four "spunky" Disney Princesses responsible for "break[ing] the bonds of convention" by choosing to "marry whom they wanted." He praised the fact that Belle "fall[s] in love with the gentle heart hidden within Beast's baleful exterior rather than a handsome face," recognizing it as "something genuinely new in animation." Lindsay Lowe of The Atlantic described Belle as a "headstrong" and "assertive" heroine, accrediting her with providing a break in "a long history of relying on docile heroines". James Berardinelli of ReelViews complimented Belle, describing her as a "strong-willed, independent, and smart" heroine. Common Sense Media hailed Belle as "one of Disney's smartest, most independent heroines."
Feminist criticism and analysis 
Feminists in the media and news industries have had mostly positive things to say about Belle. Judith Welikala of The Independent drew similarities between Belle and Ariel from The Little Mermaid, writing, "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 admitted the fact that Belle sacrifices her freedom to save her father's life was indeed brave, but also called it "not much of a step for womankind," accusing her in the end of falling "for a domineering man." Tala Dayrit of Female Network included Belle on her list of "30 Fierce and Fun Female Cartoon Characters". Describing the character as "not your typical damsel in distress," Dayrit praised Belle's independence, writing, "[d]on’t let her femininity fool you: she pluckily snapped back whenever the Beast took his temper out on her, stood against Gaston, saved her father from the Beast’s wrath, and stood up to an angry mob who was hunting her prince."
|"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 how 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 on their modernized and innovative of 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 direct 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."
Awards and recognition 
Since her 1991 film debut, Belle has received both critical and cultural praise and recognition for her innovative role in Beauty and the Beast. About.com's David Nusair wrote that Belle's role in Beauty and the Beast "effectively updated the princess formula for an entirely new generation, with the emphasis on old-school elements offset by the inclusion of distinctly contemporary attributes". In 2003, Belle was nominated to be included on the American Film Institute's list AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains, part of the AFI's 100 Years...series. Belle holds the distinction of being the only "hero" nominated to be a character from an animated film. In lieu of the theatrical release of Pixar's Brave, Stephanie Goldberg of CNN included Belle in her article "'Brave's' Merida and other animated heroines", a list that recognized some of Disney's most heroic and independent animated heroines. Goldberg 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". Dimas Sanfiorenzo of Complex ranked Belle fourteenth on his list "25 Hottest Cartoon Women of All Time", describing the fact that she is not greatly affected by outward appearances as an asset.
In Beauty and the Beast, Belle performs the opening number "Belle". The song received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song at the 64th Academy Awards in 1992. Ultimately, the song lost to the title song from Beauty and the Beast. Oh No They Didn't ranked "Belle" twentieth on their list "The Top 25 Disney Songs of All Time". To commemorate her work on Beauty and the Beast and her overall devotion to The Walt Disney Company, voice actress Paige O'Hara was presented with a Disney Legends award at the D23 Expo on August 19, 2011. In her acceptance speech, O'Hara expressed her 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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