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Submitted by on Oct 3, 2021

Belle is a fictitious character in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the 30th animated feature film (1991). Belle is the non-conforming daughter of an inventor who yearns to leave her traditional village life in exchange for adventure, originally portrayed by American actress and singer Paige O’Hara. When her father Maurice is imprisoned by a cold-hearted beast, Belle offers him her freedom in return for her father’s, and she grows to love the Beast despite his ugly looks.

Beauty and the Beast was commissioned as an animated musical with a strong heroine by Walt Disney Studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, who engaged first-time screenwriter Linda Woolverton to create it. Adapting Belle into a stronger and less passive figure for the film, Woolverton based her on the protagonist of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 1756 fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.” Inspired by the women’s rights movement, Woolverton wanted Belle to be a different kind of Disney heroine than Ariel from The Little Mermaid, so she created her as a feminist to escape the criticism Disney had long faced for portraying its female characters as victims.

Belle’s strength and love of reading were inspired by Katharine Hepburn’s portrayal of Jo March in the 1933 film Little Women, while the writers implanted in the adventure-seeking heroine ambitions and aspirations beyond romance. The narrative artists and animators, on the other hand, frequently disputed Woolverton’s emancipated vision for the character. Belle’s European face characteristics were influenced by those of British actresses Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn, and was animated by James Baxter and Mark Henn, who modeled the character’s elegant walk on that of impressionist Edgar Degas’ ballerinas. Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly were among the other Hollywood women that influenced Belle’s look.

The character’s bravery, intellect, and independence have been praised by film reviewers. However, reactions to her feminism have been varied, with some critics condemning the character’s acts of being romance-driven. Belle, the fifth Disney Princess, is frequently regarded as one of the greatest in the franchise. Belle was Disney’s only European princess for the following 20 years after the debut of Beauty and the Beast in 1991, until Rapunzel from Tangled (2010) was introduced to the Disney Princess roster in 2011.

Belle is widely considered as one of Disney’s most powerful feminist characters, with reviewers agreeing that she paved the way for a new generation of autonomous cinematic heroines while also altering the image of a Disney princess. Belle was the only animated heroine selected for the American Film Institute’s best heroes in film list. She is also one of Disney’s most recognizable characters.

The character also has her own live-action television series, as well as many sequels and spin-offs from the film. Susan Egan, an American actress, played Belle in the Broadway musical version of the film, for which she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. In the 2017 live-action adaptation of the 1991 film, Emma Watson plays a live-action version of the role.

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