It’s been almost 20 years since Walt Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” made cinematic history in 1991 when it became the first animated film ever to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Since then, singer/actress Paige O’Hara has helped create a timeless classic by lending her voice to Belle, a character she was happy to portray in the original as well as other video releases.
During a phone interview to promote the Oct. 5 release of the new “Beauty and the Beast” Diamond Edition DVD and Blu-ray, O’Hara talked to me about the changes she’s seen in animated films over the last two decades and how she feels about being part of the Disney princess culture.
Casting a major celebrity for an animated film seems more important today than it did in 1991. What changed?
When we went to the Oscars some people snubbed us like we shouldn’t be there. But with our success more and more actors wanted to get involved in animation. They realized they wanted to be heroes to their kids. Every parent wants to do that.
Doesn’t that hurt the industry when a studio cares more about the name than they do about which actor will be the best voice for the part?
I don’t believe so. I mean, Robin Williams was just amazing with what he did as the Genie in “Aladdin.” I don’t think you can picture anyone else doing James Earl Jones’ role in “The Lion King.” I also loved what Ellen DeGeneres did in “Finding Nemo.” I think they are all great actors. They’re hired because they are great actors.
Does watching “Beauty and the Beast” now affect you the same as it did 20 years ago?
Yes, it does and I’ve seen it a few times. (Laughs) I just saw it on Blu-ray and it’s a whole new experience. It was like watching it for the first time again. There is just so much detail that comes out of the film.
Disney princesses have become a major part of pop culture over the last decade. Do you think it’s healthy for a little girl to aspire to be a princess?
I think so. It gives little girls someone to look up to and give them hope. Belle was a different kind of princess. She was the first princess to have brown eyes. So many little girls have written me letters because they could identify with Belle just because of her eye color. She was also bookish, smart, kind of an outcast.
Do you think voice actors should get more attention for what they do? What about an Oscar for Best Voice Actor and Actress?
It would be great if they recognized voice actors like that. They wouldn’t even have to put it in the telecast, but I think definitely that should be added to the categories. They have smaller awards than that so I think voice actors should get more attention. I think if there was a category like that, last year Anika Noni Rose (“The Princess and the Frog”) would have won the Oscar. She did a fantastic job.
Whenever talk about shortening the Oscar telecast comes up the first thing you hear people say they’d like to see cut are the musical numbers. You sung during the show in 1992, what do you think about eliminating the performances to make the show shorter?
They would be eliminating my favorite part! I know a lot of people who feel the same way. Some people don’t like it, but I feel a majority of them do.