‘Belle’ Review: Beauty and the Beast and the Metaverse
Whether you’re ready or not, the future is here, and Mamoru Hosoda wants to remind you of that in his newest anime film Belle, a sci-fi adaptation of the classic story of Beauty and the Beast.
This film has already made waves at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, where it received a 14-minute standing ovation and has been affectionately talked about since. It also has received the most award nominations for an anime movie ever for the Annie Awards, quite an accomplishment against films like Spirited Away.
Navigating the worlds of VR social media and the effects of family trauma, Belle is a surprisingly emotional and introspective film on the hardships of growing up in modern times. Even for an anime, the fantastical design stands out and the scope of the world looms large and bright, especially when viewing in a theater.
Suzu, a shy high school student, never got over the death of her mother, who drowned in a surging river while rescuing a child. This traumatic event causes her to alienate herself from her father and her classmates. She finds it difficult to make friends and also loses her passion for singing.
That is, until she enters into the world of U, a sort of futuristic VR social media world where people make avatars and interact with each other in the digital world. In this world, Suzu is turned into Bell, a beautiful avatar that has a beautiful singing voice that people start to notice. The world becomes obsessed with Bell, and she quickly becomes a superstar that performs huge concerts in U that the whole world is watching.
During one of these concerts, an aggressive and mysterious avatar starts a fight with the online policing community. Bell becomes intrigued by his character, and tries to understand him and his actions better.
And that’s just the beginning of this grand tale combining classic literature with the youth’s internet culture.
The voice cast for “Belle” includes singer/songwriter Kaho Nakamura in the role of Suzu/Belle, and the English language dub includes notable actors such as Hunter Schafer (Euphoria) and Chace Crawford (The Boys).
This is not the first excellent animation film blending modern problems with a fantastical sci-fi premise for director Hosoda, who is becoming known as one of the best working anime filmmakers right now. Previously, he made Summer Wars, another movie about a young person living in the fantasy world of VR community.
Hosoda has also directed Wolf Children, the most emotional film about human-wolf hybrids you’ll ever watch. He also made the fantastic time travel film The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, which weaves sci-fi elements into a grounded, touching story.
His newest film feels like it pulls all the successful elements from his past endeavors. What stays consistent is his emotional and grand stories, and Belle is a prime example of that. While combining several layers of story, literally in the real world and the online world, the plot flows between these threads with ease and never feels messy or overly long.
From the beginning, the film puts you right into the head of the main character, understanding her mindset and feeling the effects of her trauma, even when her character acts out. This film also has a lot of coming-of-age connections, and feels very relatable with its depiction of a young girl struggling to connect with those around her and instead finding her community online, finding her voice so to speak.
This film also has a surprisingly positive view of technology as a point of connection between people, when it could have very well been negative. The cyber world is a fun landscape to take in and a unique interpretation of what our future in the metaverse may look like.
There are a lot of scenes that involve rapid fire text bubbles of different people all over the world talking, replicating the feeling of being on the internet and the fast pace at which it moves, and also is a very cool design choice for the film.
The technology aspect also make for an interesting interpretation of the Beauty and the Beast mythology. Instead of a beast hated for his looks, this beast is hated for disrupting the peace of the online community and is attacked by a group of superhero-wannabes who have formed their own independent group to maintain the peace.
Instead of turning into a love story, the relationship between Belle and the Beast is one of mutual respect and concern for how people are treated online and using your voice for good. It’s a strange adaptation, but refreshing.
The animation is truly what shines here. The online world is incredibly vast and colorful. All of Belle’s concerts are extravagantly designed in stage and her outfits, for instance her first of the film takes place on top of a gigantic what, floating through hyperspace and later on inside what seems like a giant disco ball.
Belle stands out as an emotionally gripping anime that stands neck-and-neck with the original Beauty and the Beast. The detail to the animation is vast and full of color, rendering the digital world into a strange fantastical landscape. Anyone looking for a beautiful film with a harrowing but ultimately uplifting story will find a lot to enjoy in Belle.
Belle is currently in select theaters with a VOD release date not yet announced, but seeing the buzz around the film should surely be soon.
Check out the trailer below!