Step into the enchanting world of Princess Belle, a character who redefined the essence of a Disney Princess with her intelligence, bravery, and unyielding spirit. Since her debut in Disney’s 1991 masterpiece, “Beauty and the Beast,” Belle has captivated audiences with her love for books, her sense of adventure, and her compassionate heart.
Far from being just another character in a fairy tale, Belle’s story is woven with layers of depth, history, and cultural significance. In this exploration, we’ll delve into the fascinating aspects of Princess Belle, from the inspirations behind her creation to the impact she has had both on and off the screen.
The Classic Fairy Tale – Beauty and the Beast
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is actually based on a fairy tale that was written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, who published it in 1740 for the collection of fairy tales titled La Jeune Américaine et les contes marins or “The Young American and Marine Tales.” Here is an overview of the original story of Beauty and the Beast.
- The Inspiration for the Fairy Tale – Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve created the story with inspiration from Ancient Greek stories that included “Cupid and Psyche,” which was taken from the ancient novel titled “The Golden Ass.” Barbot de Villeneuve was also inspired by another fairy tale called “The Pig King,” and this one was written and published by Italian writer Giovanni Francesco Straparola in his collection of fairy tales, “The Facetious Nights of Straparola,” in 1550.
- Various Versions of the Fairy Tale – different versions of the fairy tale have been published over the years, although the two known variants of the story were written by French novelist Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont and Scottish poet and novelist Andrew Land. These two versions of the fairy tales are shorter and have fewer plot points than the original.
The story of the original fairy tale has many plot points that weren’t shown in Disney’s animated film of the same name. However, these plot points were most likely removed in order to make the film shorter and more concise. Below are the key events that took place in the original fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve.
- Wealthy Merchant’s Downfall: The story begins with a wealthy merchant who loses his fortune and must move to the countryside with his six children, including his youngest and most beautiful daughter, Beauty.
- Rose Request and the Beast’s Castle: Upon returning from a trip, the merchant seeks shelter in a mysterious castle. He remembers Beauty’s request for a rose and picks one from the garden, angering the castle’s master, the Beast.
- Beast’s Proposal: The Beast agrees to let the merchant go if one of his daughters will take his place. Beauty volunteers, arriving at the castle to find it enchanted, with the Beast proposing marriage to her every night.
- Magic Mirror and Family Visit: Beauty finds a magic mirror in the castle, which allows her to see her family. She becomes homesick, and the Beast allows her to visit them for two months, giving her a ring to return her to the castle.
- Overstaying and Beast’s Near Death: Beauty overstays her visit and, upon her return to the mirror, finds the Beast near death from heartbreak.
- Love and Transformation: Beauty confesses her love just in time, and the Beast transforms into a handsome prince. He reveals that a fairy had cursed him to live as a beast until a woman loved him despite his appearance.
- Revelation of True Identity: The prince tells Beauty that she is actually the daughter of a king and that their marriage will restore her to her rightful status.
- Wedding and Happy Ending: The story concludes with Beauty and the prince’s wedding, attended by fairies and other enchanted beings, leading to a happily ever after.
This version of “Beauty and the Beast” by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve is notable for its complexity and length, containing many subplots and detailed characterizations not present in later abridged versions.
Crafting a Timeless Heroine: The Background and Creation of Princess Belle
The creation of Princess Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” marked a significant departure from the traditional Disney princess archetype. Born from a desire to craft a modern and relatable heroine, Belle’s character development was a meticulous process that intertwined innovative storytelling with a fresh approach to character design.
The Disney team, led by directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, along with producer Don Hahn, set out to create a protagonist who was markedly different from her predecessors. They envisioned Belle as intelligent, strong-willed, and independent, qualities that would resonate with contemporary audiences.
Belle’s character drew inspiration from the strong, literate women of 18th-century French literature. Unlike the more passive princesses of previous Disney films, Belle was a proactive character, driven by her love for books, her sense of curiosity, and her desire for adventure.
Belle’s visual design was crucial in defining her character. Animator James Baxter, who was responsible for Belle’s animation, worked to combine an air of elegance with a sense of strength and assertiveness. Belle’s appearance was kept simple yet graceful, avoiding overly elaborate designs to make her more relatable and timeless.
American actress and singer Paige O’Hara was cast as Belle’s voice. Her performance imbued with warmth, intelligence, and a hint of nonconformity, perfectly captured the essence of the character. O’Hara’s background in musical theater also contributed to bringing depth to Belle’s singing voice, crucial for the film’s musical narrative.
Upon the film’s release, Belle quickly became an iconic character, celebrated for breaking the mold of the traditional Disney princess. She resonated with audiences who sought a more modern and active female lead, influencing the direction of future Disney heroines.
The creation of Princess Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” represents a pivotal moment in Disney’s storytelling evolution. Belle is not just a character in a fairy tale; she is a testament to the changing perceptions of heroines in animation and a reflection of the growing desire for characters who embody depth, intelligence, and agency.
Fascinating Facts About Princess Belle
Princess Belle, the intellectual and courageous heroine of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” has enchanted viewers since her debut in 1991. Alongside the film’s groundbreaking achievements, Belle’s character offers a trove of fascinating facts. Here are twelve interesting insights into Princess Belle and the world of “Beauty and the Beast”:
- First Brunette Disney Princess: Belle is the first Disney princess to have brown hair.
- Inspiration from Classic Literature: Belle’s character was inspired by Jo March from “Little Women” and Elizabeth Bennet from “Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”
- Animating Belle: Belle’s animator, James Baxter, sought to create a character that exuded both intelligence and elegance, incorporating elements from actresses like Judy Garland and Grace Kelly.
- Award-Winning Film: “Beauty and the Beast” was the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
- Belle’s Love for Books: Belle’s passion for reading was a deliberate move to showcase her intelligence and open-mindedness, setting her apart from other Disney princesses at the time.
- Groundbreaking Animation: The film’s famous ballroom scene was one of the first to use CGI, particularly in creating the ballroom’s 3D background.
- Musical Masterpieces: The film’s soundtrack, composed by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman, won the Academy Award for Best Original Score.
- Live-Action Adaptation: In 2017, a live-action adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast” was released, starring Emma Watson as Belle.
- Belle’s Golden Gown: Belle’s iconic yellow ball gown was designed to be reminiscent of golden, sunlit ballrooms and to symbolize her warmth and openness.
- Unique Animal Friends: Unlike many Disney princesses, Belle does not have animal friends in the traditional sense; instead, she interacts with the enchanted objects in the Beast’s castle.
These facts about Princess Belle and “Beauty and the Beast” not only highlight the uniqueness of her character but also underscore the film’s significant role in the evolution of animated storytelling.
A Tale As Old As Time
It is evident that Belle’s character represents much more than a traditional fairy tale heroine. She embodies a progressive shift in the portrayal of Disney princesses, characterized by her intellect, independence, and depth. The various facets of Belle, from her love for literature to her iconic golden gown, contribute to a richly layered character who has resonated with audiences for decades.
Moreover, the groundbreaking achievements of “Beauty and the Beast” in animation and storytelling have cemented the film’s status as a timeless classic in the Disney pantheon. Belle’s enduring popularity is a testament to her appeal as a symbol of empowerment, compassion, and the transformative power of love and understanding.