The final vision of Belle used characteristics from Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Natalie Wood for a more relatable appearance.
The 1991 Disney film was released the same year Jolie appeared in Lenny Kravitz’s “Stand by My Woman” music video and four years before Jolie’s big screen debut in 1995 film “Hackers.” Yet Jolie’s looks were the easiest point of comparison when describing the original concept art for Belle in “Beauty in the Beast,” according to voice actress Paige O’Hara.
“She kind of looked like Angelina Jolie — very beautiful,” O’Hara said in the book “Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara,” as excerpted by Insider. “I didn’t see how anybody would identify with that person. You’d look at her and put her on a pedestal. [Animators] changed the look of her. She was a little too perfect.”
Disney animator James Baxter explained that they tried to give Belle a more “European look with fuller lips, a little bit darker eyebrows, and slightly smaller eyes,” compared to “The Little Mermaid” princess Ariel from 1989. The result was a Jolie-esque figure, of course, decades before Jolie made her own Disney debut in “Maleficent.”
“Original concept art for Belle shows her as a glamorous woman, but the animators quickly adapted the character’s look to ensure viewers could connect to her,” the book said. The inspirations included Aubrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Natalie Wood, as well as voice actress O’Hara herself.
“I knew that this was going to change the view of Disney Princesses,” O’Hara said of the film. “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.”
The debates over the appearance of Disney Princesses have most recently culminated in the racist backlash to colorblind casting for the live-action rendition of “The Little Mermaid,” starring singer-actress Halle Bailey as Ariel.
Bailey told The Hollywood Reporter, “The fact that I get to represent all of these little young Black and brown boys and girls who are to come is really special to me because I know that if I had that when I was younger, it would have changed my whole perspective on life.”
Original “Little Mermaid” voice actress Jodi Benson defended Bailey’s casting, telling ComicBook.com, “I think that the spirit of a character is what really matters. We need to be storytellers. And no matter what we look like on the outside, no matter our race, our nation, the color of our skin, our dialect, whether I’m tall or thin, whether I’m overweight or underweight, or my hair is whatever color, we really need to tell the story.”