Belle holding a book Beauty and the Beast Disney Disney

"Beauty and the Beast" made history as the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the 1992 Academy Awards, but the movie was revolutionary for Disney in others ways, too. 

INSIDER sat down with Paige O'Hara, the actress who voiced Belle in the original movie. The way O'Hara sees it, Belle was the starting point for Disney's new wave of progressive princesses.

"She was revolutionary," O'Hara says. "[Belle] was the first princess that was intellectual and loved books. She was quirky and kind of odd. She wasn't looking for a prince — she wanted to experience the adventures and all the places she reads about."

Belle and sheep Beauty and the Beast Disney

Though Belle becomes a princess in the end, she starts as a common girl who rejects male advances, preferring her independence and following a desire to create her own path. Plus, Belle a bit older than previous princesses — she was meant to be in her 20s, versus teens.

"I just think it's amazing, the response that I've had over these 25 years," O'Hara continues. "With kids telling me, 'I always felt so out of place [...] I'm a geek and now it's okay to be a geek because Belle's a geek!'"

O'Hara is proud of Belle's legacy, and the change "Beauty and the Beast" sparked in Disney movies. We've come a long way from Snow White needing a prince to awaken from a poisoned slumber. 

Snow White RKO Radio Pictures

" After that Disney has taken all other directions," O'Hara explains. "I love Mulan, the relationship with her father and the strength that she has. That's why I took up kickboxing!"

She's not joking — 25 years later O'Hara still trains in various martial arts. The actress still follows along with new Disney movies, and believes the progression of female characters has only gotten better. 

"I absolutely loved the ending of 'Frozen' with the two sisters," she says. "I love that the 'love story' was between the two of them, because I was fortunate enough to have that in life with my sisters."

Disney's next animated feature is "Moana," and the title character is another female lead who won't have a prince or love interest at all. As the company continues exploring new ways of storytelling, Disney fans can look back and mark the change that all began with "Beauty and the Beast."

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