Disney's Beauty and the Beast means different things to different people. Some think it is a standard case of Stokhome Syndrome (I mean...she does slowly change her mind about her captor after being locked in a spooky castle...or maybe it was just the library). Others believe it is a classic love story of a smart, headstrong woman finding her one true love (because he's a good guy...with an amazing library).
Or maybe I'm just biased about the library. But can you blame me?
But in all fairness, the Beast/Prince Adam changed a lot, too. I mean, besides the fact we never see his parents and he's ruling this castle by himself (and doesn't appear to age at all), he starts out as a spoiled brat. The sorceress (who we never see again) curses him to find true love or die. That seems a little harsh, but okay.
Enter Belle, that amazingly smart and headstrong woman I mentioned before – you know, the one who fell in love with the prince's library. Not only does she save her father from a life of rotting away in Prince Adam's dungeon, but she refuses to be crushed under Adam's demands. Because she is, 1) a guest in his house, despite his temper and, 2) is amazing. She stands up to him after he yells at her for running away – and still helps patch him up after his fight with the wolves!
She also helps him adapt his eating habits (because who needs to use utensils, really?). From Lumiere and Cogsworth's reactions, we know other women have come and gone from Adam's castle in the time he was cursed. We can also gather things did not go very well, hence Adam's unchanged state. But Belle is different. Belle is smart. She can see beyond Adam's brutish exterior – she sees that it is simply an armor he wears to keep people from getting close to him.
Through her natural character and desire to help him (and make their time together a bit more amiable), his armor slowly peels away. While this may open their relationship up to be something more than Master and guest, it also opens Adam up to being hurt by other people. Belle has taught him to see the good in others, and so it hurts him more when she chooses to go be with her father than stay with him.
But she comes back! Personally, I think she should have tried a bit harder to keep Gaston occupied (and maybe not shown him the power of the mirror...just saying).
For a woman who reads as many books as Belle, her vocabulary is a tad limited. What about teaching through the power of film? But at the end of the day, Belle comes back, stopping Adam from reverting back to his brutish ways through the power of love (and good peripheral vision).
Sure, Gaston ends up falling from the top of the castle to his death, but we never see his body, so it doesn't count, right? Kind of like the Evil Queen in Snow White. We didn't see her body after she fell from the cliff, so who's to say?
Whatever you may think of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, Belle is an amazing example of a strong heroine. She sacrifices her own freedom for someone she loves, refuses to back down from Adam's temper, and uses her natural affinity for kindness to make him see the good in the world. While she may not be my favorite Disney princess, Belle definitely earns her keep among some of the stronger role models.
And she loves books. Have I said that already?