Review: Belle

Belle is the first movie I had the pleasure of seeing in theaters since the lockdown, and it was absolutely worth it! This is an anime film that I watched in the original Japanese with English subtitles, so I can't comment on the dub, but the Japanese voices were great. Though it is not exactly a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," there are many references to the animated Disney version in particular, including several shots that looked like they were copied directly from the film. The story is still unique in its own way, however. It feels fresh and modern without forcing strong feminist stereotypes onto its audience. The animation is visually stunning and is accompanied by a beautiful soundtrack. The story incorporates modern technology in a way that doesn't demean it and shows how we can take advantage of the digital era to turn our own lives into a fairy tale.

Belle movie poster

Like many Magical Girl anime stories, Belle focuses on an ordinary schoolgirl named Suzu who gets wrapped up in an extraordinary situation. Though she is only a teenager, Suzu struggles with PTSD after seeing her mother sacrifice herself to save another child when she was young. Due to the emotional trauma of this experience, Suzu is not able to sing without crying because it reminds her too much of her mother. When her friend, Ruka, creates an avatar for her in a virtual reality universe called U, Suzu finds that her pink-haired avatar is able to sing everything she is feeling without being held back by her emotions. This creates a phenomenon for people inside the U and those watching it in the real world that turns Suzu's avatar, Bell, into a pop sensation overnight. Her adoring public later changes her name to "Belle," signifying her status as a pop princess icon.


One of my favorite things about this movie is the visuals. Suzu looks very different as Belle with long flowing pink hair and exotic makeup that gives a subtle nod to the freckles that make her plain in the real world. Yet, her dreamy-eyed expressions and awkward movements make it clear that this is still the same shy girl as opposed to a confident pop star. The world inside the U contains beautiful crisp CGI animation, while the "real" world looks more plain and uses traditional drawings. The "Dragon" or "Beast" character, who she encounters when he crashes one of her concerts, is quite different from the traditional Disney design. He has a large snout like a wolf, long scraggly hair, and odd patterns on his cape that represent bruises. Belle follows a series of mythical-looking pixies to find his castle in the U, but he is afraid to get close to her for the fear that she will discover his true identity. Self-acceptance and identity are the main themes of this film. While most girls would be thrilled to lead a double life as a pop star, Suzu hates attention and is terrified by the thought of so many eyes on her, which is a refreshingly humble perspective for a female role model. Her avatar as Belle serves as her armor.

Poster of Belle with the Beast

The final act of the movie is where it hits a home run. Instead of a twist villain, the movie introduces the concept of a twist hero by revealing the Beast's identity as someone the audience never would have guessed. Instead of focusing on the romance, the climax forces Suzu to embrace her inner princess by helping those in need. Her trials allow her to come to terms with her mother's final act of kindness and to accept herself for who she is. Once she does, she is able to truly embrace the fantasy world of the U along with the intimidating pressures of the real world and the importance of doing what is right. This is a princess story for the modern era that brushes upon both the positive and negative aspects of social media and internet culture. It shows us that technology does not need to be a roadblock to being a good person, and if used properly, it can actually help the process along. It is not until Suzu accepts herself for who she is that she can truly become the image that the public created in Belle.

Belle is a lovely movie with a lovely message. In some ways, the "Beauty and the Beast" imagery is a hindrance to its implicit originality, but other movies about VR like Ready Player One also incorporate pop culture properties in a less creative way, so the subtle nods here provide some fan service to hardcore fans of the 1991 Disney classic. The film is visually stunning, especially to those of us who miss the look of hand-drawn animation after seeing so many Disney remakes and CGI action movies. I would recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see something new and different with nostalgic undertones and stunning visuals. Suzu is a heroine for shy girls everywhere who don't have the confidence or physical prowess of modern warrior princesses.

Comments

PrincessContent said…
Wow, that was fast! Did not expect that you would see it that quickly after I told you about it xD
Im so glad that you had a great time watching it <3
Lisa Dawn said…
Hah, I know! We happened to be driving into the city last weekend and didn't have a lot to do. Plus, I already have plans to see The King's Daughter later this week, so I didn't want to see two movies so close together if I waited until this weekend!
PrincessContent said…
I see. I can't wait for your The King's Daughter review <3

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