Paige O'Hara (born Donna Paige Helmintoller) is an American actress, singer, and painter from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Her best known role was voicing the romantic heroine Belle in Disney's animated film "Beauty and the Beast" (1991). She voiced the same role in the direct-to-video productions "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" (1997) and "Belle's Magical World" (1998). She resumed the role for a cameo in "Ralph Breaks the Internet" (2018). In 2011, O'Hara received a Disney Legend Award for her integral contribution to The Walt Disney Company.
In 1956, O'Hara was born in the coastal city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Miami. The city has been nicknamed as the "Venice of America" for its inland waterways, and its seaport is considered one of the busiest cruise homeports in the world. O'Hara's father was from Ireland, but his family had British, Dutch, German, and Irish ancestry. O'Hara's mother was of Irish ancestry.
O'Hara started receiving acting lessons c. 1960, when only 4-years-old. She started receiving singing lessons c. 1968, at the age of 12. She enrolled at a performing arts high school. aspiring to a professional career as an actor and singer. She has cited American actress and singer Judy Garland (1922-1969) as an inspiration for her career choice.
O'Hara started out as a theatrical actress, and made her Broadway debut in 1983. She played the role of singer and dancer Ellie May Chipley in a revival of the classical musical "Show Boat" (1927) by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical depicts the life of fictional show-woman Magnolia "Nolie" Hawks over a 40-years period, from her first performances to her retirement. It was an adaptation of a 1926 novel by Edna Ferber.
In 1985, O'Hara played the triple role of actress Alice Nutting, disappearance victim Edwin Drood, and private investigator Dick Datchery in the then-new musical "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" by Rupert Holmes. The musical was based on the unfinished gothic novel "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" (1870) by Charles Dickens. In the novel, young heir Edwin Drood disappears mysteriously during a wind storm, and several characters are suspected of having murdered him. Dickens died before writing a conclusion to the mystery. The musical offers multiple endings, giving different resolutions to Edwin's disappearance. In a happy ending, Edwin has simply been hiding after surviving a murder attempt.
O'Hara continued to perform "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" on Broadway from 1985 to 1987. In 1988, she appeared on the musical's first national tour. Her only other notable role in this period was portraying the flirtatious Ado Annie Carnes in a 1986 revival of the classical musical "Oklahoma!" by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. A subplot in the musical is that Ado Annie has simultaneously fallen in love with two different boyfriends.
In 1989, Walt Disney Animation Studios started production of the animated feature film "Beauty and the Beast" (1991). It was an adaptation of a version of the French fairy tale which had been written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont (1711-1780). O'Hara learned about the upcoming film production from a newspaper article and applied for a voice role. She competed against 500 other applicants, and was chosen for the lead role of Belle. The design team of the film had modeled Belle's appearance on Judy Garland, and the casting crew wanted an actress and singer whose tone was "reminiscent" of Garland. O'Hara was thought to offer a decent pastiche of Garland's style, and had considerable experience in stage musicals. Making her ideal for the role.
The film was finally completed and released in 1991. It was Disney's second film to use a digital ink and paint process, cutting edge for its time. The film had a worldwide box-office gross of 331.9 million dollars, becoming the most successful animated Disney film released up to that point. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, becoming the first animated film ever to be nominated for Best Picture. O'Hara gained worldwide fame for her voice acting.
In 1993, O'Hara joined the cast of the animated television series "The Legend of Prince Valiant" (1991-1993), which was based on the comic strip "Prince Valiant" by Hal Foster. She voiced Princess Aleta of the Misty Isles, a warrior woman who serves as a love interest for Valiant. This was O'Hara's first television role.
In 1995, O'Hara played single mother Fantine in productions of the hit musical "Les Misérables" (1980) by Claude-Michel Schönberg. The musical was based on a 1862 novel by Victor Hugo, the lives of several lower-class characters in 19th-century France. Fantine is the mother of the female lead Cosette, and works herself to death in order to provide for her daughter. She is considered an archetype of devoted motherhood.
In 1996, O'Hara played protagonist Peter Pan in a revival of the classical musical "Peter Pan" (1954) by Moose Charlap. The musical was an adaptation of the 1904 play and 1911 novel by J. M. Barrie, and it is traditional for the lead role to be played by a woman. In most versions of the tale, Pan is a free-spirited boy who never ages and seems destined for immortality. He first interacts with his would-be girlfriend Wendy Darling, and then has adventures with Wendy's daughter and granddaughter. Barrie implied that Pan would introduce himself to every generation of Wendy's descendants.
In 1997, O'Hara voiced Belle again in the direct-to-video film "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas". It was an original story, set between scenes of the original film. The film was produced by Disney Television Animation, with most of its animators working in Canadian facilities located in Toronto and Vancouver. It was nominated for 5 Annie Awards, without ever winning.
In 1998, O'Hara voiced Belle in the direct-to-video anthology film "Belle's Magical World". The film's consisted of three different episodes created for an unproduced television series that would be be based on the original film. An expanded edition of the film was released in 2003, adding a fourth segment to the anthology film. The film was nominated for two Annie Awards, without ever winning.
In 1999, Disney released the compilation film "Belle's Tales of Friendship", which had a live-action Belle presenting animated tales. The live-action Belle was played Lynsey McLeod, but O'Hara voiced an animated version of Belle for an animated segment featuring a brand new story. This was the last major Disney production featuring the original cast of "Beauty and the Beast".
In 2000, O'Hara voiced Belle in the video game "Disney's Beauty and the Beast Magical Ballroom". It was O'Hara's first credited role in a video game. She voiced Belle again in the video games "Kingdom Hearts II" (2005) and "Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix" (2007). Like other games in the "Kingdom Hearts" series, the games feature interactions between multiple worlds, with each world based on Disney films.
In 2007, O'Hara played the soap opera character Angela in a story-within-a-story featured in the film "Enchanted". The scene where she appeared featured re-arranged music from "Beauty and the Beast". Enchanted was primarily a live-action production for Disney, but featured allusions to several of their animated films.
In 2011, O'Hara received a Disney Legend Award, honoring her for her contributions to Disney productions over the past 20 years. That same year, O'Hara stepped down from her role as the official voice of Belle. Her voice had changed considerably over these two decades, and she could no longer match her original performance. It was announced that she would continue to work as a painter for Disney Fine Art, and to make promotional appearances for Disney.
In 2018, O'Hara resumed the role of Belle for minor scenes in the animated comedy film "Ralph Breaks the Internet". In the film, the female lead Vanellope von Schweetz befriends the Disney Princesses, who are depicted as a group. The film included voice performances by most of the original voice actresses for each respective princess. So far, this has been O'Hara's last film role.
As of 2022, O'Hara is 65-years-old. She has mostly retired from acting, though she continues to enjoy fame from her voice acting in popular productions. She lives with her husband Michael Piontek (a theatrical actor), and neither of them has children. Whether this Disney Legend will remain out of the spotlight is uncertain.