As the marketing surrounding the new live-action Beauty and the Beast remake has made very clear, there’s a new generation of Disney princesses and they’re not taking any prisoners. Thanks to writers like Linda Woolverton, who helped carefully craft princesses like Belle and Mulan for their original animation debuts, Disney has adopted stronger, more intelligent females to helm their hits. More recently, we’ve seen films like Frozen, Moana, Tangled, and Brave giving young girls the role models they need in order to hopefully choose a life dedicated to the pursuit of serving the greater good.
Emma Watson herself has been tearing up the feminism scene since her renowned speech in 2014 at the UN’s HeForShe event saying: “You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN?…I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better.”
In the new live-action film, Disney made sure Belle was even stronger and more independent than ever. Here are 15 Reasons Emma Watson’s Belle Is Inspiring.
15. CHARACTER > CONTOUR
The theme of Beauty and the Beast itself is a parable warning its listeners about the value of character over appearance. At the beginning of the film, The Enchantress, a glowing being of light, disguises herself as a haggard old woman and crashes a tres chic French royal soirée. When the young and highly decorated Prince dismisses her, she reveals her true form, cursing the French uppity-ups and warning: “Beauty is Found Within.”
The curse also extends to the Prince’s royal staff, because they watched the boy grow up sour and did nothing to stop it, as Mrs. Potts explains. Thus, to the Enchantress, silence when seeing injustice is just as ugly.
The visual transformations in the live-action remake truly tell the story from the opulence of the characters in the first scene to the slightly more down-to-earth dress post-transformation, helping the audience see the beauty within the characters, without all the froof and frills of early French fashion.
14. SHE’S GOT SWAGGER
Belle found herself some swagger this year. It might simply be Emma Watson’s natural cadence, but this Princess has some sass to her step. Unlike her fellow bachelorettes, Belle neglects to walk like she’s on display for potential suitors (like Gaston). She’s just a girl trying to get some laundry done. She saunters through the marketplace, minding her own business, dreaming of somewhere, anywhere else. She sings to herself in dismay, “Ev’ry morning just the same, Since the morning that we came, To this poor provincial town….”
The irony here is that by being herself, she draws the attention of everyone. Maybe it’s her “I don’t care” swagger that draws everyone’s eye, or maybe it’s the fact that she’s singing to herself… either way, Belle is walking with an air of confidence and it is awesome to watch. The townsfolk may see her as “odd” now, but wait until they see what adventure lies ahead for this “funny girl”.
13. NO IS ENOUGH
When Gaston asks Belle to dinner she politely refuses with, “Sorry, not this evening.” He asks, “Busy?” She simply replies, “No,” and walks off.
Wait, so she didn’t just agree to have dinner to avoid conflict and then ghost when he texted to follow up? Correct. That’s because Belle is a class act, and she has the decency to decline an offer without feeling the need to come up with a false excuse.
Belle seems unfazed by Gaston’s popularity as she sings to herself: “Madame Gaston!/ Can’t you just see it?/ Madame Gaston! His “little wife”, ugh! No sir! Not me! I guarantee it! I want much more than this provincial life!/ I want adventure in the great wide somewhere/ I want it more than I can tell.”
12. DIGNITY UNDER PRESSURE
Following Belle’s decline, Gaston is baffled. He gawks to his main wingman, LeFou, about how Belle is the only girl in town who doesn’t fawn over him: “What would you call that?” He asks. “Dignity,” LeFou responds. Gaston muses, “It’s outrageously attractive.”
Yes it is, Gaston. Yes it is.
Belle is a stark contrast to other maidens in town, particularly the “Bimbettes”, the unnamed, undeveloped groupies who follow Gaston around like he’s a rockstar. They may have a fun chorus or two to sing, but unfortunately the trio is overlooked by their idol. LeFou, who is fruitlessly pining after Gaston himself, promptly tells them, “Never gonna happen, ladies.”
Though Belle continues to decline Gaston’s unwavering pursuit of making her his wife, the alpha male is only stirred more. Perhaps the chase is more thrilling to Gaston, who seems to have not had to chase many things in his life other than deer (according to his household decor).
11. TRENDSETTING BEFORE IT WAS COOL
Belle leaves Gaston and returns to her father’s workshop. She confides in her father (Maurice) that she believes the town thinks she’s odd. Her father seems unconcerned, reminiscing on her late mother, saying, “Even in Paris, they mocked her, until they found themselves imitating her.”
The saying is true for most trendsetters, as defying the norm is usually an unpopular choice at the beginning. Think of artists like Vincent Van Gogh, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Emily Dickinson. None of these artists’ work was popular until after their deaths. Now, they are considered some of the greatest creative minds in history.
It is never quite clear exactly what Belle’s mother did for her trade, but by the way her father speaks about her, she must have been something special. Belle is comforted knowing that she is not merely a “funny girl.” In fact, her ability to defy social norms may be her superpower.
10. DANGER! GIRL READING
In the village, Belle rigs an ingenious contraption to do her laundry for her while she reads. A young girl asks her what she is doing, and Belle proceeds to teach the child to read. The villagers are offended at the sight and thwart her efforts by spilling her laundry. Belle proclaims: “I was only trying to teach a child to read!”
Gaston responds, “The only children you should be thinking about is your own.”
(A thousand eye rolls.)
The scene is not only funny because of Gaston’s shortsightedness; it also aptly portrays the ridiculousness of a society frightened by the idea of an intellectual woman. Here, Belle clearly finds a better, more efficient way to do an everyday task, but the townsfolk are threatened by her potential, worrying that her new way of thinking will disrupt the status quo. And we can’t have that, now can we? Not while there are children to raise!
9. LOOK YOUR OPPONENT IN THE EYE
In the classic animated movie, Belle is startled by the Beast upon first glance, and falls to her knees in tears watching her father as the Beast tears him away. In this new updated version, Belle is unshaken upon looking at the Beast. She whispers to her father “I am not afraid” and then throws herself into the cell, promising him she’ll escape. Both versions show an active hero, but this new Belle has just a dash more oomph.
Instead of looking away from something upsetting, Watson’s Belle stares it down, not allowing one ounce of fear to control her body. She is mad. She is on a mission. Not even a Beast can get in the way of her resolve to save her beloved father. As Belle puts into practice the very lessons her father taught her for, perhaps the first time, she proves that she will not back down under pressure.
8. FIGHT, NOT FLIGHT
Taking a cue from Hermione Granger, Watson’s Belle is always at the ready. Wand up, or, in this case, random blunt object up; this girl won’t be taken down easily. In almost every scene where Belle feels threatened, she is holding some makeshift weapon, fashioned from whatever is near her at the moment. As anyone can in from self-defense class, hard objects vs soft body parts is the best defense.
Though she never has to strike, Belle once again proves that she won’t go out without a fight. The reflex is surely instinct, as it’s doubtful that she would have learned fight tactics in a village that won’t even approve of her reading. Perhaps those books she read held some tips and tricks, readying her for battle. Romeo and Juliet, which she was reading in her opening song, has some violence – maybe she’s channelling Mercutio and Tybalt’s epic fight scene!
7. ALWAYS ONE STEP AHEAD
Belle is upgraded to her own room, thanks to the help of Lumiere and Cogsworth, the ultimate wingmen. Lumiere resolves to treat Belle with decency and respect as a proper guest, hoping she will warm up to the castle and stay. The Beast, however, is not happy. Lumiere explains that Belle could be the one to break the spell, and with that, the Beast is reluctantly on board. The only problem is, he doesn’t get the whole “decency and respect” thing.
When Belle refuses his invitation to dinner (a recurring theme here), the Beast throws a fit outside her door, demanding Belle change her mind. Lumiere and Cogsworth try to calm him by saying, “The poor thing is probably in there, scared to death!” Cut to Belle in the room, planning her escape by tying clothes from the wardrobe together to use as a rope to throw out the window.
The scene is hilarious, as Lumiere and Cogsworth implore the Beast to treat the guest more delicately, when all along, Belle has a one-track mind to get out of there as fast as she can. This trait relates back to the earlier scene, where Belle’s father sits working on a clock, and before he can name the item he’s asking for, Belle hands him the exact tool he needs. She has an ability to anticipate what’s needed, which will come in handy later.
6. SHARED INTERESTS ARE SEXY
When Belle and the Beast finally do connect, it is first on an intellectual level. The first glimpse of true compatibility is seen when the Beast shows Belle his library. Of course, she is astounded at the breadth of opportunity that lies within. When she asks if he’s read all of the books, the Beast jokes, “Not all of them. Some of them are in Greek.”
Belle is pleasantly surprised by the joke, and intrigued by her captor’s education. Different from the animated version, the Beast continues to read on his own throughout their “Something There” montage, as the two share a mutual love of learning (rather than Belle teaching him how to read).
There’s even a scene where Belle catches the Beast reading King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, which she promptly informs him is a love story. Beast is embarrassed at first, but this little insight shows that his tough exterior is just a facade.
5. FREEDOM TO CHOOSE
Just as the last petal is set to fall, the Beast asks Belle if she could be happy staying at the castle with him. Regardless of the gifts and luxury surrounding her, she responds, “Can anyone be happy if they aren’t free?”
In addition to inner beauty, freedom is another theme in the film. Whether it be freedom from physical captivity, or freedom from social expectations, Belle is all about it. Watson herself equated feminism with freedom in her previously mentioned UN Speech, saying: “It’s about freedom. I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice, but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.”
Is this not another big lesson learned through the story? The characters aim to become a true and complete version of themselves – especially the Beast, whose innocence and kindness was thwarted by his father’s cruelty as a child.
4. A PRINCE IN A TOWER
Consequently, Belle, is set free, and the “Princess in a Tower” trope is reversed, with the Beast now awaiting in his lonely tower, pining away for Belle to come back and rescue him from his curse. In a new addition from the original animated Beauty and the Beast, the Beast himself has a solo song, an ode to his love for Belle and his unending, longing devotion as she rides away from him, possibly forever. The Beast sings to himself: “Now I know she’ll never leave me/ Even as she runs away/ She will still torment me/ Calm me, hurt me/ Move me, come what may.”
The imagery here is a stark juxtaposition of stories like Rapunzel, where the Princess is locked away under a spell, awaiting her prince to save her. It’s nice to see the equality on display, allowing a male character to show some heartbreak and helplessness. Because… it happens to everyone! It’s okay, Beast, true love usually wins.
3. INNOVATION SAVES THE DAY
Belle returns to the town, only to find Gaston leading a mob against her father. Belle bravely declares that her father is not crazy, revealing the Beast through the magical mirror he gifted to her when he set her free. Regardless of the opposition she faces, Belle gathers the inner strength she has uncovered to stand up to her village.
Unfortunately, Gaston quickly is distracted from his obsession with Belle in the wake of a new challenge (the Beast). He throws Belle into the loony bin carriage alongside her father, and leads the village in a rage-fueled charge toward the castle.
Inside the carriage, Belle and her father reason they can pick the lock. Cleverly nodding back to her tendency for invention at the beginning for the film, Belle pulls out a hairpin, transforming it into the key to their freedom. They escape, thanks to their father-daughter quick thinking skills.
2. DRESS FOR SUCCESS
There’s no time to waste and Belle jumps on her horse, promptly ditching the shimmery yellow overdress. She rides back to the castle, determined to save her love, sans glitter and glitz. Throughout the film, Belle primarily wears sturdy leather boots rather than little blue heels her animated counterpart sported, and the skirts of her dress are easily tucked aside for practicality’s sake.
Pants and sneakers might have been the better outfit option, but given the time period, it’s doubtful those would have been available in the local dress shop. Can you imagine? “Some Nikes and yoga pants, please. I have injustice to fight.”
The wardrobe change here is small, but appreciated. In the original animation, Belle did not wear the iconic yellow dress outside of the castle, but due to a slight rearranging of events in the live-action, the immediacy of the plot required Belle to ride off into the night to aide her father in less-than-comfortable attire. Big thanks to the filmmakers for not making Belle scale the rooftops in the full glittery ballgown.
1. KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE
In the end, of course, the curse is lifted and the Beast is turned back into the Prince, thanks to the magic of true love. Everyone is back to their old selves, giving us a lovely reveal of the special actors behind the household objects. Several characters reunite, like Lumière and Plumette, and Mrs. Potts and Mr. Jean Potts (who, under the spell, had returned to the village). Many find love, including LeFou, who left Gaston’s side during the final battle to fight alongside the castle staff.
As the Prince and Belle dance joyously together at their presumed wedding, the color is back in the air and the eternal winter is lifted. Love blooms through every frame, and we see Belle and the Prince together as a human couple for the first time. As Belle gazes upon her handsome new Prince, she asks, “How would you feel about growing a beard?” She’s a girl who knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to ask for it.
What else about the new Belle from Beauty and the Beast do you find inspiring? Let us know in the comments!