1991’s Beauty and the Beast is generally considered one of the finest animated movies Disney ever produced, featuring stunning hand-drawn animation, toe-tapping songs, and a witty script. The film has inspired a stage show, become a billion-dollar live-action movie, and heroine Belle is among the most popular Disney Princesses.
Over the years, Belle has picked up a lot of praise for breaking away from the traditional princess mold: she’s fiercely independent, self-educated, and the story subverts the “damsel in distress” mold by making Gaston the villain.
Now her voice actor, Paige O’Hara, has said she believes without Belle the state of Disney’s princesses might be very different. In an interview with THR to mark Beauty and the Beast‘s 30th anniversary, she said:
If it weren’t for Belle and Ariel, there wouldn’t have been a Mulan. Princesses just keep getting stronger and better, and they don’t have to have a man to find happiness. The Beast happened, but she wasn’t looking for him, that’s for sure.
It’s a fair statement, though many have already pointed out that ‘The Ballad of Mulan’ is believed to have originated around 400AD, so the character far predates Belle.
However, it’s difficult to argue that Belle didn’t mark a sea change in Disney’s treatment of their princesses. Almost everyone since Belle has subverted fairy tale expectations, with the best example being Merida from Brave, whose entire thing was rebelling against how a polite girl should behave.
In the meantime, Belle has had a life far beyond rural France. She’s at the core of the Disney Princesses franchise, regularly appears in new projects, and is still shifting a tonne of princess-themed merch for the Mouse House. She’s also proved exceedingly memetic, particularly in the raised eyebrow reaction GIF department.
Beauty and the Beast is available to stream on Disney Plus