An unseen narrator tells the story of a young, spoiled prince who lived “once upon a time” in a magnificent castle. One cold winter night, an old beggar woman knocked at the castle door and asked to be sheltered for the night in exchange for a single red rose. Repulsed, the prince turned her away, despite her warning "not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within." Suddenly, the haggard old woman transformed into a beautiful enchantress. Shocked, the prince tried to apologize for his behavior, but she had seen the ugliness in his heart. As a punishment, she cast a spell over him and his castle. He was transformed into a hideous beast, and she left him with a magic mirror as his only connection to the outside world. She also left him with the rose she had offered, and warned that if he did not learn to love another and be loved in return before the last petal fell, the spell, and his hideous new form, would remain forever.
Not far from the castle, the scene opens on a quaint, provincial French village, full of very ordinary people going through the motions of their daily lives. One of the exceptions is the beautiful, intelligent Belle, who is headed into town to get a book from the local bookseller. Along the way, she expresses her desire to live an adventurous life like the ones she has read about in books, while the villagers watch her and comment on how beautiful—yet how very odd—she is (“Belle”). Gaston, widely seen as the most handsome and heroic man in the village and with an ego even bigger than his biceps, has set his eye on Belle for his future bride. However, he is only interested in her for her beauty, and he has no interest in her intelligence. Gaston tries to get a moment alone with Belle to propose, but she avoids him and goes home. There, she finds her eccentric but loving father, Maurice, working on one of his latest bizarre inventions. A little shaken by the events of the morning, she asks her father if