Is Belle a Disney princess?
The case in favor
As is clearly established in the opening monologue, the male lead is a prince. Only his outward form is temporarily changed by the nasty enchantress who entraps him into refusing shelter (as if this was a crime.) Nevertheless, he retains property rights to his castle and the surrounding dominions - even were this not the case, Once a Prince, Always a Prince.
Throughout the movie Belle handles herself with princessly aplomb:
- She evades the unwanted attentions of Gaston without overtly hurting his feelings.
- She is able to find and rescue her father.
- She keeps her word not to leave the castle even when afforded an opportunity to escape by the Beast's injury.
- She wins the hearts of the castle servants.
- She civilizes the prince, taming his notorious temper and finding a modified set of table manners that are within the physical limitations imposed by his enchantment.
The enchantress's spell serves as a litmus test for true love. The restoring of the prince's human form is proof that Belle and the prince love one another; they then kiss, and are married. Thus Belle has the clear title of Princess by Marriage.
The case against
It is granted that the male lead is a prince during the opening monologue. Granted, too, is his status as a prince in the closing scenes. One might question the practical effect of his princely status in the interim, especially since no-one outside of his castle is apparently aware of his existence. Certainly his behavior at several points during the movie is extremely unbecoming of a prince, or even a decent commoner:
- He refuses shelter to an old woman, exposing both himself and the population of the castle to the wrath of an enchantress (who was admittedly overreacting a little.)
- He withdraws from society.
- He frequently loses his temper with his servants and others.
- He imprisons Maurice, whose only crime was seeking refuge from wolves.
- He imprisons Belle, whose only crime was looking for Maurice.
- His table manners are decidedly unroyal.
Belle's achievements as a young lady, though they do her credit (with the possible exception of passing up the opportunity to escape,) are irrelevant to her claim to the title of princess. Many a commoner has virtue; their lack of a princess title in no way diminishes that virtue.
It pains me to say this, but Belle displays consistently poor social abilities throughout the movie - she is established as a withdrawn, introverted character who prefers the company of books to that of people. It is small wonder that she is easy prey for the sociopathic Beast. It is clear to me that over a prolonged period in a captor/hostage relationship, she eventually succumbs to Stockholm syndrome.
The transformation is not necessarily indicative of true love between the Beast and Belle. It is true that the transformation was coincident with Belle's profession of love to the (as she perceived it) dying Beast. But it was also coincident with the falling of the last petal from the rose. Why believe that the former, rather than the latter, ended the enchantment? We have only the enchantress's word for this, and enchantresses are not known to be women of their words. In any case, Being a Prince's Girlfriend Does Not Suffice.
One might challenge the validity of a marriage contract entered into when one of the parties was not of sound mind. But is there a marriage contract at all to challenge? There is no direct evidence that Beauty and the Beast are married at all.
Belle has no claim to being a Princess by Birth; only to being a Princess by Marriage. It is clear that the Beast is a prince. What we have to decide is, was there a marriage?
The final scene is quite artistic in its ambiguity. The penultimate scene culminates in a fairly passionate kiss (by Disney standards.) This is followed up by a formal dance, with Belle and the prince wearing their best outfits. And yet... No Dress, No Kiss, No Wedding. It is almost as if the scene were crafted so that all the young ladies in the audience could watch the scene and come away with the firm impression that Belle and the prince were married, and all of their fathers could come away with the firm impression that there was still hope that Belle would come to her senses. Note especially Chip's question "are they going to live happily ever after, Mama?", and Ms. Potts' pat answer "of course".
In that critical final scene, Belle is wearing gloves, but the presence of a ring on the prince's finger would help Belle's case for princesshood significantly; I was unable to see one.