Quality of Character
Based on popular opinion (in other words, asking my Facebook friends who they thought would be #1), Belle would be the obvious choice for the top of this list. So I'm expecting a bit of "OH NO YOU DIDN'T" with her being #2. Bear with me, though, because HONESTLY...
When I started this list, I thought she was going to be #1, too!
You're scoffing, but I swear to you it is the truth. Especially when you consider that Belle was the immediate release to follow Ariel, she's a total rock star. I have VERY little negative to say about her, she just gets outscored in a few categories by #1. I was shocked!
Belle is a Disney Wonder. My husband says she's also the hottest of the DHs. She's a totally approachable Brown Hair/Brown Eyed girl-next-door. She has humble roots, an eccentric single father, and she's woefully misunderstood by the plebeian cohabitants of her hometown (ohhhh how I sympathize).
Belle wants more from life, but unlike Tiana, she doesn't really have a plan for how to get there, she just kind of resents what's around for her. She is, however, a BIG reader (the perfect gift for her is access to a massive library, how can you fault that?). She is also not even remotely moved by the attentions of the hottest guy in town. You know, because he's a stupid jerk and, unlike other ladies on this countdown (cough Wendy cough) she actually notices it and doesn't find it remotely attractive.
Belle defends her horse from wolves. Even though the scary Beast has imprisoned her in his home, when he comes to her defense against the wolves then collapses from his injuries, she sticks around (let's not focus on the physics of how she somehow got his massive body up onto that horse while he was unconscious), and helps get him back to the castle to recuperate. Belle also takes it upon herself to help teach Beast better manners and how to do the waltz. She's practically a saint, no?
Also, just like Mulan, Belle sacrifices herself for the sake of her father. Family martyrdom always scores big with me.
Now it has to be said, because there's been a lot of discussion about it in the realm of public opinion: Stockholm Syndrome. Belle falls in love with a guy who takes her prisoner. That's... not... so great... and the only reason I docked any (just a couple! I swear!) points in this category.
Overall Film Quality
Beauty and the Beast was the first animated picture nominated for Best Picture (and since the only other two to achieve that did it AFTER the nominations were expanded to 10, it's far less impressive). It's really pretty spectacular from start to finish. Many would argue it's the best of Disney's renaissance period (I'm still partial to Lion King, but that's a whole other countdown). The message in the film about not judging others by their appearance and having an open mind is wonderful. The enchanted castle and its inhabitants are unique and fun. The real anchor of the film and the reason it's so spectacular is Belle.
Here's the category that causes the biggest scoring gap between Belle and our #1 place holder. Beast/Prince Adam is a jerk. So big a jerk is he, that his bratty behavior gets him turned into a Beast. He's still a total raging turd when he meets Belle, even though he's had years locked up in his castle in time-out to think about what he's done. If you think about it, it's only the fact that a hot girl offers to be his prisoner and he HAS to get somebody to love him in, like, 2 weeks or risk being Beast forever that prompts him to finally be less of a poopoo face. He grows to be a decent guy, but it really takes a while, so it's just a good score and not a great one.
Gaston is one of the best villains ever, and he might have the best villain song ever. He is brilliantly written to be strangely charming yet repulsive at the same time. Lefou is a great villain sidekick. All the inhabitants of the enchanted castle are fun and wonderful. The only negative for me is Belle's dad. He's pretty dopey and useless. I mean, really? An invention that chops wood, but takes longer to do it than a person would? How is that helpful?
Awe inspiring. Honestly. You can tell by the fact that I've already used two songs in this scoring breakdown. There's an incredible range of moods, exquisitely witty lyrics, and Be Our Guest is nothing less than spectacular.
Belle's yellow confection is lovely. Like a big urine-colored cupcake. Ouch. Ok, I'm being harsh because I'm not personally a big yellow fan, and the dress still scores very high (I just had to get one little dig in, forgive me). It does kind of look like curtains, though, with all those pickups. That's what I thought when I was a kid! I also love Belle's around town dress, and she does character meetings at Epcot wearing that Ensemble.
**DISCLAIMER** I do not own any of the likenesses of these heroines. All characters/likenesses are the property of Disney, and are not being used here for financial gain ****