The One Thing You Didn't Know About 'Beauty And The Beast'

There's no denying that Belle of Disney's Beauty and the Beast was a game changer. Before the character's appearance in the 1991 hit animated film, Disney princesses were, for the most part, little predictable. Their actions were done mostly to impress men, and while some of them were brave, none of them were that fiercely independent. But Belle was a totally different type of princess, one who was savvy, bold, and self-sufficient. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton is the one to thank for this change — but one thing that Beauty and the Beast fans may not know is from where Wolverton drew inspiration for her iconic character. As it turns out, another iconic fictional woman, Jo March from Little Women, had a huge influence on who Belle turned out to be in the end of the film.

When Woolverton was first brought aboard to write the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast, a number of male screenwriters had already taken a stab at it, she tells Bustle. But their vision of Belle, Woolverton says, was way too traditional. "I just was coming out of the women's movement. I just didn't think that we as women and girls would accept that sort of throwback heroine who is symbolic of her time," Woolverton says. "[There's] nothing wrong with that, but that was no longer who we were as women and girls and it wouldn't feel true. It would just feel like a throwback." Woolverton pushed hard to show Disney that Belle could be different. "We decided we weren't going to do the old heroine. We were going to do a thinker and a reader and a bit of a brave courageous young woman who is different than the other people in her little town."

Belle's uniqueness was shown, in part, by her love of reading, which is why it's just perfectly appropriate that Belle, the young woman who loves to read, was inspired by a character from a book. Woolverton told Entertainment Weekly that Belle's personality was modeled on that of Jo March, from Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel Little Women. More specifically, Woolverton took inspiration from Katherine Hepburn's portrayal of the character in the 1933 film adaptation. "That was a real depiction of womanhood," Woolverton told EW. "I think you can take on current issues of today through fairy tales or the mythic. And so that was my fight, always saying, “The audience is just not gonna buy this anymore.”

Anyone who has ever seen Little Women, be it the Hepburn version or the 1994 version with Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, and Kirsten Dunst, knows that Jo is a truly great role model. Proud of her intellect rather than her looks or marriage potential, Jo stomps around in nature, reads, writes, and does everything generally thought of as uncouth for a 19th-century woman. She's a feminist at heart, and today, a total icon. So in that sense, she and Belle have a lot in common.

It's amazing news to any fan of both Beauty and the Beast and Little Women that one character inspired the other. After all, thanks to their strength, their charisma, their independence and their love of the written world, both Jo and Belle have been inspirations for countless women over the years.

Images: Disney, MGM