Belle is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful Disney Princesses. Did you know, however, that she initially looked much different? In her book, Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara by Emily Zemler, she describes Belle’s original concept art as being extremely glamorous. The Princess was changed because animators , including James Baxter and Mark Hennquickly, decided she was “too beautiful.”
According to the book, “Original concept art for Belle shows her as a glamorous woman, but the animators adapted the character’s look to ensure viewers could connect to her.” Paige O’Hara, who voiced Belle, agreed, saying, “She kind of looked like Angelina Jolie — very beautiful. “I didn’t see how anybody would identify with that person,” O’Hara said of Belle’s original concept. “You’d look at her and put her on a pedestal. Mark and James changed the look of her. She was a little too perfect.”
The animation team wanted the character to be relatable and remain true to the tale’s source material. During the character’s redesign focused on giving Belle a more “European look with fuller lips, darker eyebrows and slightly smaller eyes than Ariel from The Little Mermaid,” according to Baxter.
Early sketches of Belle by Alyson Hamilton show the character in a pink gown with soft makeup and curled hair, tied up. It was all a bit too much for Disney’s first modern princess. The storyline impressed O’Hara, “I knew that this was going to change the view of Disney Princesses. Belle was the first one not looking for a man. She wanted to see the world and all the places she’d read about in books.”
This depth of character required a look with depth as well. We see this in the way Belle’s hair is never quite perfect. She always has that one strand that just will not behave and is constantly falling in her face. She is someone we can look at and recognize ourselves in. I know I, as a book-loving brunette of European descent, always loved Belle, though it’s only now that I’m considering that this is why I loved her so much.
That was precisely the purpose Disney animators evolved Belle’s look to what it is now to make sure that she was someone who viewers could connect with when they saw the film. According to the book, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Natalie Wood all inspired the look and feel of Belle in the 1991 film. O’Hara also served as an influence on Belle’s final look.