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Original Voice of Beauty and the Beast's Belle on 'Passing the Baton' to Emma Watson: 'She’s Going to Be Fantastic'

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It’s been 25 years since Paige O’Hara’s voiced Belle in the original animated version of Beauty and the Beast, and she says the new film’s arrival brings her nostalgia and excitement.

“[At] our 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 recently told PEOPLE at the film’s Los Angeles premiere. 

O’Hara anticipates fans will adore Emma Watson, who plays a more modern version of Belle.

“I feel like I’m sort of passing the baton to Emma Watson, and I think she’s going to be astounded,” O’Hara says. “She’s got millions of fans already. She’s going to have millions more after this.”

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The actress and painter even reveals that Watson, who went full-on Belle in a gorgeous yellow dress while promoting the film in New York, was her first preference for the role.

“I was thrilled to find out that she loved the original, and she loved the way I played Belle, and we saw her the same way,” O’Hara says. “And I just think with her old-soul quality about her as an actress, and she’s incredibly intelligent and beautiful, it doesn’t hurt, and she’s going to be fantastic.”

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O’Hara has also found another connection to Belle these days: She paints the character for Disney full-time.

“It’s all in the family!”

Beauty and the Beast — also starring Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen and Audra McDonald — hits theaters Friday.