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Princess Belle is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 30th animated feature film Beauty and the Beast (1991). Originally voiced by American actress and singer Paige O'Hara, Belle is the non-conforming daughter of an inventor. Belle yearns to abandon her predictable village life in return for adventure. When her father Maurice is imprisoned by a cold-hearted beast, Belle offers him her own freedom in exchange for her father's, and eventually learns to love the Beast despite his unsightly outward appearance.
Walt Disney Studios 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. Basing her on the heroine of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont's fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast", Woolverton adapted Belle into a stronger and less passive character for the film. Inspired by the women's rights movement, Woolverton wanted Belle to be a unique Disney heroine different from The Little Mermaid's popular Ariel, and thus deliberately conceived the character as a feminist in an effort to avoid the criticism Disney had long been receiving due to the studio's reputation of depicting its female characters as victims.
Belle's strength and love of reading was inspired by American actress Katharine Hepburn's performance as Jo March in the film Little Women (1933), while the writers instilled the adventure-seeking heroine with goals and aspirations beyond romance. However, the story artists and animators often disagreed with Woolverton's liberated vision for the character. Animated by James Baxter and Mark Henn, the former of whom based the character's graceful gait on those of impressionist Edgar Degas' ballerinas, Belle's European facial features were inspired by those of British actresses Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn. Several additional Hollywood actresses inspired Belle's appearance, including Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and Grace Kelly.
Belle has garnered widespread acclaim from film critics who appreciated the character's bravery, intelligence and independence. Reception towards her feminism, however, has been more mixed, with commentators accusing the character's actions of being romance-oriented. The fifth Disney Princess, Belle is often ranked among the franchise's best. Highly regarded as one of Disney's strongest examples of a feminist character, critics agree that Belle helped spearhead a generation of independent film heroines while changing the reputation of a Disney princess. Also one of Disney's most iconic characters, Belle was the only animated heroine nominated for the American Film Institute's greatest heroes in film ranking. The character also appears in the film's several sequels and spin-offs, as well as her own live-action television series. American 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. Emma Watson plays a live-action version of the character in a 2017 live action adaptation of the original 1991 film.