How 'Beauty & the Beast' Brilliantly Makes Belle a Girl Power Hero for Our Kids

Beauty and the Beast live action
Disney
If you grew up loving the animated version of Beauty and the Beast and are unsure if the live-action adaptation -- in theaters today -- could possibly live up to your expectations (or you've been questioning why we even need a live-action adaptation at all!), you are not alone. Thanks to a memorable score by Alan Menken, a charming story line, heartwarming romance, and a strong-willed, intellectually curious leading lady, the 1991 classic was truly a masterpiece. But take heart: With their new iteration, Disney's treating old and new audiences to the same charming story, and they've given it a boldly empowering makeover.

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Thanks to early buzz and interviews, we knew we could anticipate Emma Watson's portraying a feminist Belle. What we didn't realize is that the film would make our hearts swell with a variety of scenes that so beautifully illustrate what a strong, empowered woman looks like.

Right off the bat, Emma Watson's Belle is the most confident Disney princess you've ever seen. She's dreamily sauntering around that "poor provincial town," off to borrow another book (that she's already read twice!), but she's also on a mission.

From the stirring opening number on, we're treated to a mélange of magical, girl-powerful moments. Here are nine of the standouts you won't want to miss. Sure, some feel familiar, but they are badass nonetheless.

1. When Belle's megalomaniacal suitor and the story's villain, Gaston, attempts to woo her.

Belle and Gaston
Disney

She not only dismisses him but flat-out rejects and then mocks him, explicitly stating that not only does she want anything but to marry and have children with Gaston, she's not quite ready for motherhood. Cheers for choice!

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2. When she knows exactly what her dear old dad Maurice (played oh-so-endearingly by Kevin Kline) needs for his art project before even he does. Not only is this a heartwarming moment, but it shows audiences just how cool it is to be a whip-smart young woman.  

3. When she flaunts her inventing chops. She creates a washing machine! Well, an 18th century version, involving a donkey! But it works, and it's awesome seeing her innovate and create. (Fairy tale STEM!) As Emma Watson revealed a while back, Belle's as much or more of an inventor than her father in this version. Later, during her first evening in the castle, she comes up with a second invention -- made of piles of frilly dress material she escapes out from under. Seriously cool symbolism! 

4. When she teaches a little girl how to read ... and faces backlash for it. Belle doesn't only devour novel after novel herself -- something the townsfolk are already tsk, tsk-ing. No, she also takes the time, while her donkey is doing his thing, to help a young, female villager learn how to read, too! But the scene quickly goes from sweet to underlining just how antiquated and outrageous it is for girls to be relegated to laundry duty while boys go study.

Seeing Belle teach "a girl!" how to read, the close-minded people of her town punish her by trashing her invention and laundry. (Back in February, Watson told EW of the scene: "They're deeply suspicious of intelligence and at anyone who is going beyond that. Breaking the washing machine is symbolic of not just them breaking something she spent hours working on, they're trying to break her spirit.")

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5. When she bravely heads into the forest and the enchanted castle to rescue her father.

She's as headstrong as ever, taking her dad's place (despite his protestation) in the Beast's castle jail cell, reassuring him in a whisper that she'll figure out a way to escape. Hell yeah!  

6. When Lumière gives Belle props. Although Belle's beauty is mentioned throughout the film, it's far from the only quality she receives praise for. When the conversation in the castle turns to the fact that Belle is standing up to the Beast, Lumière heaps praise on her for being "strong," noting that it's a "wonderful quality." Yes!

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7. When Belle takes after her mom. In a particularly heartstring-pulling scene, Belle asks her father to tell her more about her late mother. (It's always been too painful for him to talk about her, but Belle hopefully requests details on occasion.) He tells her that her mother was, in a word, "fearless." (Cue grabbing your tissue!) Seeing Belle follow in her mom's footsteps and be exactly that becomes a cheer-worthy recurring theme. Underlining the point, she even emphatically states to the castle's colorful cast of characters, "I'm not afraid!" 

8. When Belle protests the label "princess." When the Beast's waitstaff assumes that she's royalty, the lady doth protest! Of course, she technically ends up becoming a princess in the end, but she proves she doesn't need the title to be a badass hero.

9. When she falls in love with the Beast over their shared interest. 

Literature! In the animated version, the Beast offers Belle his library, knowing she'll love it, but otherwise, he doesn't seem too invested in his many tomes. Here, he gives her the library and then revels in it with her. This makes their relationship, based on an intellectual connection and mutual admiration, much more believable and aspirational -- not to mention romantic.

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While not exactly surprising, it's still fantastic to see that Emma Watson was able to take an already strong, brilliant Disney leading lady to a whole new level of empowerment for girls and boys of the next generation. This version proves that feminism and a fairy tale not only can but should go hand-in-hand. And that paired with the nonstop, vivid eye candy that live-action and CGI allow for, this new iteration is beyond satisfying.

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