|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 – )
Unnamed mother (deceased)
|Children||Prince Ben (son; in Descendants only)|
Belle is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 30th animated feature film Beauty and the Beast (1991), as well as its sequels and spin-offs. The character was originally voiced by actress and singer Paige O'Hara until Disney eventually replaced her with voice actress Julie Nathanson in 2011 due to the former's maturing voice. The book-loving daughter of an eccentric inventor, Belle is regarded as an outcast by her peers because of the character's nonconformity, and longs to abandon her provincial village life in exchange for adventure. When her father is imprisoned by the Beast, Belle sacrifices her own freedom in return for his, and eventually learns to love the Beast despite his outward appearance.
Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg commissioned Beauty and the Beast as an animated musical with a strong heroine, and hired first-time screenwriter Linda Woolverton to write it. Loosely based on the heroine in Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast", Belle was developed by Woolverton into a stronger and braver character for the film. Directly inspired by the women's rights 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 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 simply marriage and romance. Animated by James Baxter and Mark Henn, the former of whom based the character's graceful mannerisms on artist Edgar Degas' paintings of ballerinas, Belle's European facial features were inspired by British actresses Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn.
Actress Susan Egan originated the role of Belle in the Broadway musical adaptation of the film, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. 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 romance-oriented, while questioning her unconventional relationship with the Beast. Regarded as one of the most important examples of feminism in Disney films, critics agree that Belle's role in Beauty and the Beast, in addition to changing the traditional image and reputation of the Disney princess, is responsible for inspiring a generation of strong and independent film heroines. One of Disney's most iconic characters, Belle became the only animated heroine to be nominated for the American Film Institute's greatest heroes in film ranking.
- 1 Development
- 2 Appearances
- 3 Reception
- 4 References
- 5 External links
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 the filmmaker 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. After the success of Disney's The Little Mermaid in 1989, Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg green-lit another attempt at adapting "Beauty and the Beast", enlisting Richard Purdum to direct it. By the late 1980s, Purdum had completed an initial story reel of a dark, non-musical version of "Beauty and the Beast", which was then pitched to Katzenberg. However, Katzenberg disapproved of the somber direction in which the film was heading at the time, and ultimately ordered that it be restarted in favor of creating "a Broadway-style musical with a strong heroine." Opting for a more "feminist twist" on the fairy tale, Katzenberg unprecedentedly 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 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 intelligence and 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 was removed to emphasize Belle's loneliness, and Marguerite was eliminated 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 deliberately changed to "Belle is mine!" in order bring Belle back into the picture.
In Beaumont's fairy tale, Belle is essentially forced to replace her father as the Beast's prisoner. Feeling that Belle needed to be a stronger and more independent character, Woolverton re-wrote her so that she willingly ventures into the woods by herself in search of her father, bravely confronts the Beast and ultimately trades her own freedom in return for Maurice's instead. Due to the fact that Beauty and the Beast's creative team was predominantly male during a time in which there were few women involved in the animated filmmaking process, Woolverton often found that she was 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 would not know how to bake, Woolverton eventually settled for having the character read a book instead. During her song "Belle", the book Belle describes is her own story, Beauty and the Beast; a closeup of the book she is reading in fact depicts Belle, the Beast and his castle.
Disney had originally wanted actress Jodi Benson, who had just recently voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid, to voice Belle, but eventually concluded that the actress sounded "too American." Describing the character as "a woman ... ahead of her time," the filmmakers envisioned Belle's voice having a "womanly" quality in spite of her young age, requiring the character to sound "mature beyond her years." Broadway actress and singer Paige O'Hara had read about Disney's Beauty and the Beast in an article in the The New York Times. Upon learning that the studio was holding auditions for the lead role of Belle and asking specifically for Broadway performers, O'Hara immediately asked her agent to get 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.
Co-director Kirk Wise was pleased with the quality of O'Hara's voice, likening it to that of American actress Judy Garland, and advised the actress not to alter the pitch of her voice because she wanted Belle to sound "very realistic." O'Hara initially found it difficult to control her own volume due to the fact that she is predominantly a stage actress, a profession for which she was trained to project her voice. O'Hara told The Guardian that to solve this she "softened and used the microphone." The actress would occasionally ad-lib her own dialogue. However, none was included in the final film because it sounded "too modern". O'Hara and co-star Robby Benson, voice of the Beast, specially requested that they be allowed to record their dialogue together, to which the filmmakers agreed in spite of its costliness. O'Hara has since accredited being given the opportunity to work closely with Benson with enhancing her performance. Woolverton appreciated the fact that O'Hara, who was thirty-years-old at the time, sounded "more mature" than traditional Disney heroines. According to Rob Burch of The Hollywood News, O'Hara's age "lends much to her maturity and depth as a character."
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 have Belle be "an unusual Disney heroine," elaborating, "she wasn't a princess, she liked books, she was independent, and she had no interest in marrying the handsomest eligible male around." The Express-Times described the character as an intelligent young woman who "sings songs about reading and wanting to gain knowledge, rather than falling in love." Producer Don Hahn told The Boston Globe that, in Beaumont's original fairy tale, Belle is an "incredibly passive" character, likening her personality to those of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Reworking her into a more three-dimensional character, the writers gave Belle "hopes and aspirations beyond just marriage and love," while expanding the story in order to give Belle a more "bookish, inquisitive nature." Woolverton explained that Belle's knowledge and love of books gives the character a "point of view of her life and that doesn't necessarily involve a man getting her there." Both Woolverton and O'Hara further encouraged the intelligent and book-loving elements of Belle's personality. At times, however, the animators struggled to fulfill what Woolverton had envisioned for the character, explaining, "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 Belle "was too smart for that." Contrastingly, the animators had initially drawn Belle crying relentlessly during her imprisonment. Resenting this, Woolverton argued that Belle was the type of character who would much rather "be looking for a way out, or she'd be intrigued that she was living in an enchanted castle." To further emphasize the character's imperfection, Woolverton scribed "a little wisp of hair that keeps falling in her face," one of only a few things she chose to write about Belle's physical appearance.
Belle's supervising animators were James Baxter and Mark Henn. Drawing the character with an unprecedented combination of brown hair and hazel eyes, the animators wanted Belle to appear noticeably 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 facial features were inspired by British actresses Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn, while Belle's yellow ballgown was based on a costume Hepburn herself had worn in the film Roman Holiday (1953). To give Belle "graceful, swan-like movements," Baxter studied the art of French impressionist Edgar Degas, a painter renowned for his portraits of ballerinas. The second heroine Henn had 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."
Analysis and recognition
Writing for Wired.com, Matt Blum dubbed Belle "the geekiest heroine of any Disney animated film." Similarly, Boxoffice's Amy Nicholson coined the character "Disney's Smartest Heroine," while Rob Burch of The Hollywood News observed that the character "comes across as arrogant at times" because she "spends much of the first act complaining." 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 in the Brothers Grimm's fairy tale "The Frog Prince", The Meanings of "Beauty and the Beast": A Handbook author Jerry Griswold described the character as a similarly "feisty and outspoken" heroine. Writing for St. Francis Xavier University, Dawn Elizabeth England observed that Belle possesses equally as many traditionally feminine as she does masculine traits, citing her bravery, independence and assertiveness as masculine, and her sensitivity and fearfulness as feminine. 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 manipulated "to mark her as better than the rest of the townspeople." Writing for The Statesman, David O'Connor cited Belle's intelligence and bibliophilia as "in stark opposition to the insensitive and significantly dim-witted Gaston." Critics continue to debate over whether Belle or the Beast is the film's protagonist. Susan Jeffords, author of Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era, felt that although Belle appears to be the protagonist in Beaumont's original fairy tale, the character becomes "less the focus of the narrative" in Disney's adaptation and more of a "mechanism for solving the Beast's 'dilemma'." In her article "The Tangled Evolution of the Disney Princess", Noelle Buffam felt that Belle arrived just in time when Disney's heroines were "in a dire need for some change," awarding her "the red stamp of approval" for her intelligence and spirit.
Analyzing ways in which Disney's heroines have evolved overtime due to "the approach to the characterization of the princesses chang[ing]" as the characters gradually transformed from passive young women into heroines who "had ambitions and desires aside from finding true love," critics often divide the Disney Princesses into three separate categories and rank Belle among the middle of the timeline, with Kit Steinkellner of HelloGiggles observing that the character improved upon "the Disney princess archetype" by simultaneously serving as both a "dreamer" and a "doer" in her film, as opposed to exclusively the former. Film historian Paula Sigman Lowery explained to the Daily Express that Belle's personality is a combination of Ariel's spirit and burgeoning independence, and Pocahontas' maturity, while Belle is "a little older [than Ariel] and a little further along in their journey towards independence." About.com's David Nusair believes that Belle belongs to a category of Disney Princesses known as "The Lady Vanishes," in which the heroines, in spite of being brave, outspoken and independent, nonetheless "are forced to behave passively as others help them achieve their respective goals." Michelle Munro, writing for Durham College of Applied Arts and Technology, felt that even though Belle shares several traits with her more passive predecessors, the character introduced "new possibilities for princesses." Girls in Capes wrote that Belle pioneered a generation of princesses who taught "about ambition, self-discovery and the pursuit of what we want." Additionally, Belle remains Disney's first and only princess to have hazel eyes.
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 at the same time 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 Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997), Belle attempts to reignite the castle's waning spirit by reintroducing and 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 burgeoning friendship because he longs to maintain his co-dependent relationship with his master. Tricked by Forte into retrieving a large Christmas tree from a frozen pond, Belle nearly drowns, only to be rescued by the Beast. The Beast, however, having been misinformed by Forte, wrongly accuses Belle of trying to escape again, and locks her in the dungeon as punishment. When the Beast finally discovers the truth, they forgive each other, and Belle helps him thwart Forte's plan to destroy the castle. Beauty and the Beast: Belle's Magical World (1998), depicts Belle as she interacts with both the Beast and his enchanted servants in various segments, exploring themes such as forgiveness, friendship, cooperation and respect.
In Belle's Tales of Friendship (1999), a spin-off of the film series, Belle owns a bookstore in which she teaches valuable lessons to children by reading and retelling well-known stories and fairy tales, narrating four classic Disney animated shorts: The Three Little Pigs (1933), Peter and the Wolf (1946), The Wise Little Hen (1934) and Morris the Midget Moose (1950). For the first time, Belle appears as both animated and live-action versions of herself, voiced and portrayed by actresses Paige O'Hara and Lyndsey McLeod, respectively. In the television series Sing Me a Story with Belle (1995–1999), Belle, in a role reprised by McLeod, owns her own music and bookshop, where she is visited by children to whom she tells and sings stories.
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." However, her agent managed to convince her otherwise, and Egan ultimately turned down callbacks for roles in the musicals My Fair Lady, Carousel and Grease in favor 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 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, in turn 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 tenure 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 traveling 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 films Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse and Mickey's House of Villains. 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 is portrayed by Australian actress Emilie de Ravin. Another live-action version of the character appeared in the 2015 television film Descendants, where she was played by Keegan Connor Tracy (who is also a cast member on Once Upon a Time, except she plays The Blue Fairy/Mother Superior in the series) and serves as the Queen of the United States of Auradon. The series Sofia the First included a cameo by Belle in a 2013 episode. In January 2015, English actress Emma Watson announced that she will be portraying Belle in a live-action adaptation of the film, scheduled for a 2017 release.
Belle was also the main character in various comic books based on the film, including one 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. In season 18 of Dancing With the Stars, Danica McKellar played Belle while performing a Quickstep on a Disney themed episode.
Belle has garnered widespread acclaim from film critics, several of whom voiced their preference towards the character over her predecessor, Ariel from The Little Mermaid. 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," calling her "a bookworm, with gumption and a mind of her own." Also comparing Belle to Ariel, John Hartl of The Seattle Times penned that, in Beauty and the Beast, "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 enjoyed the character's for "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's relationship with the Beast has also been met with positive reviews. About.com's David Nusair wrote that "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." Describing it as 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." According to the Young Writers Society, Belle remains the best-reviewed Disney Princess to-date.
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.
Jezebel determined that Belle "is often held up as the standard of the 'feminist' Disney princess." 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" due to Belle's characterization and role in the film. In his book Hearing a Film, Seeing a Sermon: Preaching and Popular Movies, author Timothy B. Cargal agreed that the character indicated "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 influenced by third-wave feminism and the relatively new concept of girl power during the 1990s. Feminist critics have been generally mixed in their analyses of Belle, arguing over whether or not the character is in fact "feminist enough." Although Beauty and the Beast was initially lauded upon release for starring a "forward thinking and feminist" heroine, critics 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 finally "meets her ideal man." Acknowledging that Belle "represented significant change from [her] sweet, mop-wielding predecessors," Twilight and History author Nancy Reagin observed that "the end result of fulfillment through marriage has been maintained." Kathleen Maher of The Austin Chronicle cited Belle as an example of "pseudo-feminism" because she rejects one man, Gaston, in favor of another, a prince. While commending Belle for "seeing past the beast's appearance," Judith Welikala of The Independent in the end accused the character of "melting back into the role of wife when he turns back into a handsome prince." Fairy Tale author Andrew Teverson referred to 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." Meanwhile, Stylist ranked Belle among the most feminist Disney characters, describing her as an "incredibly intelligent" woman 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." However, the author did acknowledge Belle as "an appealing character with a noticeable feminist streak," but in the end criticized Disney's Consumer Products of reversing 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 but described her personality and ambitions 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 generally reacted more cynically towards Belle's relationship with the film's male characters, particularly the Beast, questioning its morality. Writing for the University of Central Florida, Faith Dickens felt that after Belle's introduction, the character becomes little more than "a vehicle for exploring the Beast's dilemmas," while her initial pining for adventure is replaced by romance. Dickens went on to criticize the fact that while Belle appears to be "perfect the way she is," the Beast "need[s] to be reformed." Anna E. Altmann, author of Tales, Then and Now: More Folktales as Literary Fictions for Young Adults, disliked the fact that Belle appears to share a motherly relationship with both the Beast and Maurice. Altman also panned the fact that Belle's interest in reading appears to be limited to fairy tales, ultimately dismissing the character as little 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 moth feminist Disney Princess, writing that, unlike Ariel, "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," crediting her with being "the first princess to express some skepticism about married life." While calling Belle's sacrifice "brave," the author also labeled it "not much of a step for womankind," in the end accusing her of falling "for a domineering man." Similarly, Kit Steinkellner of HelloGiggles expressed concern over the "abusive undercurrents running through Belle and Beast’s relationship." Meanwhile, Bustle's Mary Grace Garis also commended Belle's aspirations and love of reading, but criticized her relationship with the Beast, concluding, "Though the ’90s showed a move toward princesses wanting to buck conventions and free themselves from their fathers (or the town misogynist) the endgame is the still the same, elaborating, "When the movie ends, they’re still solidly with a man, their dreams of adventure abandoned. Therefore, the Disney renaissance is characterized more by theoretical want of adventure rather than a genuine pursuit."
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 often reveled as an icon. Michael Hale of Medium considers the character to be among "the most important in all of Disney animation history." Critics agree that the character's performance in Beauty and the Beast as one of Disney's first strong female leads is responsible for altering the way in which women would be portrayed in subsequent animated films. 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, citing Belle as the character responsible for ending Disney's "long history of ... docile heroines." When referring to the Disney Princess franchise, critics often speak highly of Belle in terms of the character's independence, intelligence and love of reading, with Sonia Saraiya of Jezebel since dubbing her "the standard of the 'feminist' Disney princess." According to Aoife Kelly of the Irish Independent, Belle was "the first Disney princess to boast a bit more character." The Daily Campus' Cathy Schmidt hailed Belle and Ariel as "the beginnings of the more modern Disney princesses." Writing for Virgin Media, Limara Salt believes that "Belle proved that audiences could fall in love with a brown-haired intellectual." Justin Humphreys of The Hook expressed, "Belle remains a most successful princess because people can relate" to her. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times' Charles Solomon ranked Belle among the four Disney Princesses responsible for breaking "the bonds of convention." Elina Bolokhova of Parenting believes that Belle's "bravery and independence helped redefine the meaning of a Disney princess." The character was placed first on E!'s ranking of the Disney Princesses due to her lack of vanity, relatability and intelligence, while Cosmopolitan ranked her fourth. In the magazine's "Definitive Ranking Of Disney Princesses", Seventeen ranked Belle fifth. Similarly, BuzzFeed also ranked the character fifth, praising her love of reading. BuzzFeed also determined that Belle is the most popular Disney Princess, with the character having garnered 18% of votes. According to TheRichest and The Fiscal Times, Belle is the fifth most successful Disney Princess in terms of box office success, with her film having garnered ticket sales of over $350 million. However, following the release of Frozen and popularity of one of its heroines Elsa, Belle became the lowest-selling Disney Princess on eBay in 2013, with sales of less than $7,000 despite the fact that she is often cited as a favorite among customers.
|“||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 animated heroine to be nominated for the American Film Institute's ranking of the greatest heroes in film history. CNN ranked Belle among "Merida and other animated heroines", a list in which author Stephanie Goldberg recognized Disney's most heroic and independent heroines. The Daily Mirror ranked Belle Disney's second most iconic character, behind Mickey and Minnie Mouse, describing her as a "portrait of bravery, teaching us to look beyond appearances and stand up for what we believe in." Meanwhile, PopMatters ranked Belle Disney's second greatest hero. Both a sex symbol and a fashion icon, Belle has garnered significant attention for both her appearance and costumes. The character was ranked 64th on UGO's list of the most attractive animated heroines, while being ranked fourth on Complex's "25 Hottest Cartoon Women of All Time" list. E! ranked Belle the second best-dressed Disney Princess, referring to her as "the most couture of all the Disney princesses." Author Emily Popp went on to applaud the character's ballgown for being "off the Oscar de la Renta runway," while Vogue included it among the "Most Famous Dresses", with author Sarah Karmali deeming it "One of the most instantly recognisable dresses in Disney history." Belle appeared on BuzzFeed's "Definitive Ranking Of 72 Disney Princess Outfits" a total of four times, ranking the character's green, blue, pink and yellow dresses 51st, 37th, 31st and 15th, respectively. Similarly, Belle's blue, purple, yellow and green costumes were ranked 18th, 10th, ninth and fourth by Official Disney Blogs, whose author determined that Belle's 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 again for her ponytail. Entertainment Weekly ranked Belle's hair fifth in the magazine's "Disney Princesses: Ranking Their Hairdos – and Don'ts!"
Woolverton herself has been commended for her creation of Belle, writing Beauty and the Beast's feminist conscious screenplay, and overall contributions made to women in film as a screenwriter. 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, the majority of Woolverton's female characters have been strong and independent women, namely Nala in The Lion King (1994), Mulan in Mulan (1998), Alice in Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Maleficent in Maleficent (2014), in turn paving the way for heroic female characters such as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games film series,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 and various contributions to Disney, O'Hara was honored with a Disney Legends award on August 19, 2011. Disney hired Spanish actress Penélope Cruz to pose as Belle in photographer Annie Leibovitz's Disney Dream Portrait Series, while actor Jeff Bridges posed as the Beast. The Daily Mail described the image 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."
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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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