After the great success of The Little Mermaid in 1989, the 1990s saw the rise of a new kind of Disney Princess. She wasn’t just pretty or sang well. She was a woman of substance. Enter Belle from Beauty and the Beast, daughter of Maurice the inventor and resident weirdo of her little French village. “Belle” is French for beauty, and this young woman is the very definition.
Belle is the object of the town’s attention, mostly because she’s too beautiful to be weird. More so, she rejects the affections of the town’s alpha-male, Gaston (“What’s wrong with her?” “She’s crazy!” “He’s gorgeous!”).
Beauty and the Beast is my favorite movie of all time, as a result, I’ve grown up admiring Belle, so much so that she’s always been a kind of big sisterly role model for me. Growing up, we’ve all felt a little out of place, like we don’t belong and that everyone’s talking (or singing a big opening number) about you and your strangeness. But Belle showed us that it’s okay to be a little odd. It’s okay to be stuck in a book all day and sing to sheep.
Much of Belle’s bravery and selflessness can be seen within the first half hour of the movie. When Maurice’s horse returns home without him, Belle instantly mounts and sets off into the darkness to find her father. Even braver is her heartwrenching decision to take her father’s place as prisoner in the Beast’s castle. (Would you have done that?)
Belle has a gift–she can see the true beauty of people; what they really are on the inside. Any girl would collapse at sight of the Beast, but Belle has a retort for everything the Beast says. Consider the following exchange:
Beast: THAT HURT!
Belle: If you’d hold still, it wouldn’t hurt as much!
Beast: If you hadn’t run away, none of this would have happened.
Belle: If you hadn’t frightened me, I wouldn’t have run away!
Beast: Well, you shouldn’t have been in the West Wing!
Belle: Well, you should learn to control your temper!
A brilliant plot point of the movie is that the inhabitants of the castle actually wait for Belle to come and change their fate. Belle was the one who changed the Beast. Had it not been for her, the spell would never have broken. Not the other way around.In other words, Belle was the one who everyone depended on in the first place!
Just as her bright blue dress stands out among the browns and reds of her village, Belle defies the norms of her society at the time. She rejects the most eligible bachelor of the town. She decides not to be tied down by marriage. She reads. For fun!
Belle isn’t perfect, and that is what makes her so incredibly relatable. She’s stubborn (“I don’t want to have anything to do with him!”), headstrong (“I can’t stay here another minute!”), and way too bookish (“She won’t discover that it’s him till chapter three!”). She’s got her head “up in some cloud”, as some villagers comment, and that’s very true. And she’s totally okay with that.
By making Belle a well-rounded woman, one who is smart as well as pretty, Disney changed the state of women in animation. The princesses that followed, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan- were all strong, independent and fierce, standing up for themselves and defying societal norms.
I think that Belle is hands down the BEST Disney princess among all thirteen. Why? Well, she’s mature, independent and brainy. She doesn’t judge based on looks. She has character flaws (stubborn and headstrong) so she’s not perfect.
Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan did a lot to change the face of female characters in animation during the 90’s. Would we have had someone like Anastasia (not a Disney princess, we know) had it not been for the trailblazers of the early 90s? In short, Disney in the early 90’s did a lot more for women’s portrayal than we’d care to think about. Standing tall among these brilliant animated women is Belle. Fierce, independent and non-judgmental, she’s hands down one of the best Disney princesses and one of the greatest female characters to grace the big screen.