Beauty and the Beast
Early concept art of Belle and the Beast
; often considered the magnum opus of the Walt Disney company was released on November 13, 1991. As most people know, it is the only traditionally animated film to date to have garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Picture
. This may have been due to the approach to this film. It was so unusual for an animated film; having a screen writer, acting director, flawless score, elements that were typically reserved for high-budget live-action films. So much care and detail was put into this film that entire books could be written about it. However, like my previous two articles I shall focus solely on the creation of the film’s heroine, Belle
Illustrations from 'Little Women' & 'Pride and Prejudice'
The story of Beauty and the Beast had been abandoned by the original Disney creative team in the 1950's. One of their many problems was they felt that in the classical story written by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumonte
, Belle (who had two selfish sisters) was too boring and too reminiscent of Cinderella. When the second generation of Disney writers picked it up again, efforts were made to set Belle apart from her previous princesses and so they turned to leading ladies from novels written in the midst of the Romantic Era
such as Little Women
and Pride and Prejudice
Katharine Hepburn in Little Women (1933)
A common false notion is that Belle was artistically modeled after a younger Katharine Hepburn
. Unfortunately, this is NOT true. Linda Woolverton
, the screen writer says Belle's "personality
" was largely based off the character of Jo
from Little Women played
by Katherine Hepburn. Katherine Hepburn herself was never used as a physical reference for Belle but undoubtedly some of her essence seeped into the character.
Overseeing the visual design of Belle was assigned to animators Mark Henn
(who also had supervised the designs of Mulan and Jasmine), & James Baxter
who animated characters like Rafiki and Quazimodo and who would later cross over to Dreamworks and animate such characters as Sinbad (Sinbad the Sailor
), Tulio (Road to Eldorado
), and Moses (Prince of Egypt
). While both animators focused on the look of Belle, Baxter contributed most to her mannerisms and dancing scenes.
Hepburn & Bernini vs. Belle
The two animators figured they'd take a new approach to Belle and try to make her more “European” looking. In order to find what that entailed they turned to European models and actresses like Vivien Leigh and Audrey Hepburn
. Audrey Hepburn was also used for Aurora but her rounded features were lost to the angular style of the film but now ideal for Belle. Actress Sherri Stoner
who had modeled for Ariel returned as the life action reference.
Henn and Baxter even turned to classical artworks by artists like Bernini
. Unbeknownst to most, Belle’s look is quite indicative of classical Baroque style, a period mentioned in the film that coincided with America’s Colonial Era
, hence all the ponytails.
works by Edgar Degas
As for Belle's mannerisms, Baxter found his inspiration in the artwork of one of the fathers of Impressionism Edgar Degas
. Degas was a French artist who is particularly known for his subject matter of dancers. This sparked Baxter to observe how trained ballerinas naturally walked and carried themselves and incorporated that into Belle. Throughout the film she walks with a dancer's turnout.
conept art by Brian McEntee
It was proposed by Art Director Brian McEntee
that color was to play an important role in the film as well as the seasons and weather. The seasons would be a metaphorical reflection of the characters emotional journeys much like in Bambi
. In everyone's lowest emotional point it is winter or raining and as they grow it becomes spring. In regards to Belle's wardrobe, McEntee opted to utilize the psychological impacts of colors to suggest Belle's mood.
In the first half of the film, Belle is dressed in blue. Blue
is often associated with discontentment, loneliness, sorrow and it is no accident that these coincide with Belle’s feelings whenever she wears that dress. As Belle and the Beast's relationship progresses, Belle is seen in a Green
dress, a color that incites calmness and relaxation. Then, during the song "Something There
" she wears Pink
which is popularly known for its association with young love.
Belle vs. Audrey Hepburn
, however, is the color of happiness and joy which brings us to her iconic gown. This dress has been seen before. It was directly inspired by the royal gown worn by Audrey Hepburn
in Roman Holiday
. While the film was shot in black and white, publicity and editorial shots reveal that Miss Hepburn's dress was a golden yellow. Belle's gown was given the rippled skirt since the original design was deamed 'too plain'.
In addition to Audrey Hepburn, Beauty and the Beast share several similarities with Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty was made due to the success of Cinderella which had more or less saved the Disney Company from bankruptcy in the 1950's. The case was very much the same with Beauty and the Beast and the Little Mermaid in the late 80's early 90's. It is only fitting that both films end with the same dance sequence.
(Though most likely due to Beauty and the Beast's pressuring deadline.)
Belle has become undoubtedly one of the most popular of Disney Princesses and rightfully so. She's a well written three-dimensional character. Probably the easiest to relate to, she is just a misunderstood girl living a humdrum life who wants more, and like so many people, she doesn't entirely know what 'more' was until it finds her. In the end, Belle's character is an ideal role model for girls everywhere teaching us an invaluable lesson to look beyond a physical exterior and see the beauty within; that true love knows no boundaries.