It also went on to become the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
Today, Disney re-releases the movie in theaters... in 3-D.
“I knew it was going to be a great Disney film but I didn’t realize until I went to New York for the film festival when [the movie] was 70% completed," Paige O'Hara, who voiced the role of Belle, told CNN.
"Coming from the Broadway world," she continued, "I know how tough the critics are in New York. They laughed and applauded throughout the film, and [at the end], stood up and applauded it. And I realized then, that this had the chance to be a classic."
O'Hara talked about what has kept the movie popular all these years. “It’s really timeless in terms of what it really means: don’t judge a book by its cover, beauty comes from within. The story will be meaningful 50 years from now."
And as Angela Lansbury, who played Mrs. Potts, put it, “It’s a simple story. It’s a visualization of a story that children have been reading for years, come to life. And in 3-D? My goodness gracious. I think every generation of children should get to see it. I hope they will always get to see these lovely stories."
Lansbury said the movie holds a special place in her heart, in more ways than one. "I cherish [it] because it’s one of the last great hand-drawn cartoon movies. I hope it’s not the last. I hope they do some more," she said. "I think there’s a quality to [those] movies that is irreplaceable. It’s all done by hand and I think that’s what makes it so extraordinarily special."
O'Hara admires her character, because, "She sacrificed her life without hesitating for her father. Her goal [unlike] the other princesses, was not to find a man."
O'Hara – who now works as a painter for Disney (her current project is based on the "Something There" scene from the movie, her favorite) – is recognized as the voice of Belle to this day. “I was in London and went to meet with a bunch of little kids, and one little girl asked, ‘Belle where’s your ball gown?’ I realized I need to sit down on the floor, read the book and do the Belle voice, and they accepted me and loved me.”
Lansbury, whose career stretches back to Hollywood's golden age, is recognized for Beauty and the Beast as well: “My voice gives me away, and kids and people will turn around when they hear me speaking, at the supermarket or someplace and say, ‘You’re Mrs. Potts!’"
Both actresses hope to travel to Walt Disney World this year, as the theme park is opening a replica of the Beast's castle.
O'Hara also noted that, this year, she and Disney decided that "I was sounding a little too old" to voice Belle, something she has done on DVDs and video games in the years since. Another actress will be taking over the role, though some of the talking Belle dolls still use her recordings.
Lansbury, who considers herself "lucky" for having such a lengthy career (which also included the Disney cult classic Bedknobs & Broomsticks, another film she loves), hopes to start work on a stalled film project entitled Adaline, and was recently seen in Mr. Popper's Penguins.
But, more than anything else connected with Beauty and the Beast, Lansbury is known for singing the Oscar-winning song of the same name.
"I will always be connected with that song, thank goodness, and I do sing it occasionally. [I even sang it] once with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."