The film's prologue shows that the Beast, formerly a young prince, and his entire household had been transformed by a spell cast by an enchantress as punishment for his insensitive behavior. An enchanted rose, which the enchantress previously offered to the prince in exchange for shelter while disguised as a beggar woman, serves as an hourglass for the prince; it would bloom until the prince's twenty-first year, and he would remain a beast unless he learned to love and is loved in return before the rose's last petal fell.
Years later, a beautiful young woman named Belle lives in a nearby village with her father, Maurice, who is an inventor. Belle is seen as "odd" by the other townsfolk because of her love for reading, and is the object of unwanted attention from the local hero, Gaston, whom she perceives as "rude and conceited". Belle reveals her feelings of loneliness to her father, who promises her that his next invention, a wood-chopping machine, will be the start of a new life for both of them.
Maurice rides off to a fair with his invention, but gets lost and loses his horse as night falls. While being pursued by hungry wolves, he stumbles upon a castle and enters. Enchanted household items - Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and her son, Chip - welcome him despite the disapproval of Cogsworth, the castle majordomo. The Beast is enraged when he discovers Maurice in the castle and locks him in a dungeon in the castle tower. Belle is taken to the castle by her father's horse and offers to take the place of her father and the Beast agrees and sends Maurice back. Maurice tries to tell people back in the town what has happened to Belle, but they think he is insane, so he decides to set off to get her back on his own.