Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage
March 18, 2017 at 12:34 PM EDT

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
G
performer
Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers
director
Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
author
Linda Woolverton
genre
Sci-fi and Fantasy, Animation

This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.com.

A tale as old as time is getting a new spin, but for the past 25 years Paige O’Hara has been the definitive voice behind Beauty and the Beast’s Belle.

Now, at 60, she’s been happy to pass the candelabra to Emma Watson, and was even on hand to celebrate at the film’s premiere.

“I made sure I wore blue. I wore blue to audition for Belle. I wore blue for both premieres, and she ended up in blue in the movie, so it’s kind of a lucky color,” O’Hara told PEOPLE at the film’s Los Angeles premiere.

O’Hara’s been there all along through the remarkable history of Disney’s take on the classic fairy tale. Following the success of 1989’s The Little Mermaid, Beast was the second film that returned Disney animation to its classic roots.

Back when O’Hara first heard about the role, she was a rising star on Broadway best known for her performance in Showboat. The film’s acclaimed lyricist Howard Ashman – hot off the success of The Little Mermaid – had his eye on her for Belle early on. “He was already an established genius,” she recalls, “and the stardust that he sprinkled on the Disney animated franchise resonates still today.” Almost immediately she felt she was destined to play the part.

“She’s so much like me, it’s crazy,” she says. “I felt like it was almost written for me. That’s how I felt in my heart, because so much of my childhood was like Belle: the oddball, the bookworm, all of it, and wanting adventure – I wanted adventure as an actress in New York, so I moved to New York at 17.

Today, her voice has aged just beyond Belle’s more girlish tones, but she does stay connected to the character through her artwork. An artist since childhood, who bolstered her early acting career selling her art on the streets of New York, she began painting her character “just for fun.”

But after a painting commanded a hefty price, she was recruited by Disney Fine Art to create a series of limited edition “Belles By Belle” originals which became instantly in-demand collector’s items. She is currently the only Disney Princess who is also a Disney Fine Artist.

RELATED: See 9 Enchanting, Exclusive Beauty and the Beast Photos

The fan connection also endures, especially with her youngest admirers, who are often downright enchanted when they hear Belle’s voice coming out of her mouth.

“The parents will be hugging me, like, ‘Oh, I grew up with you!’ And the little kids are trying to figure it out,” she says. “They’ll look at me, and I’ll say, ‘Okay, close your eyes,’ and I’ll say, ‘Gaston, you are positively primeval!’ And they’re like, ‘Belle!’ ”

Beauty and the Beast is now in theaters.

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