Animated still of a woman with long pink hair and giant blue eyes. Her face adorned with red, pink, and white face paint in dot patterns under her eyes.

Belle: The Futuristic Retelling That Saved The Theater Experience

Film Reviews

Belle (2021)
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Studio Chizu
Released: 01.14.2022

Picture, if you will, the early days of 2021. COVID-19 was still ransacking the world by a fiery storm. Whereas some people were fear-stricken into their homes, most (like myself) were trying to adjust to the pending CDC guidelines and wishy-washy face mask laws. Because of these laws and guidelines, the movie industry took quite the blow while movie theaters began to dust off the projects and reopen their doors to the public. As predicted, theaters were still massively vacant, and streaming services surged in popularity. There had to be a real counterpunch to drive the audience back. That’s when Belle lended her voice to a nearly surrendered enterprise and raised her animated dukes up.

Belle is less of a remake and more of a modern retelling of Beauty and Beast. We meet our protagonist Suzu, a shy and socially awkward high school student who’s still grieving the death of her mother. She’s given up on almost everything at this point—making friends, finding love, mending the relationship with her widowed father, even completely throwing aside her sparked passion of singing and songwriting. That’s until U, the virtual reality platform similar to the Metaverse, comes into her life, and she takes on a musician persona and becomes a global sensation. Upon her rise to stardom, she encounters a mysterious beast who wreaks havoc across the entire platform. What ensues is a heartbreaking journey of self-discovery and true identity. Think of it as Beauty and the Beast and Ready Player One having an illuminated, subtitled offspring. 

The anime was about to be one of those limited released animes that would vanish to obscurity. However, releasing it into theaters was almost its saving grace. Belle is one of the few movies that can only be appreciated on the big screen, through its dazzling color palette and its emotionally charged soundtrack (that I had to grab on record immediately when it came out). Sitting in those reclined leather chairs and indulging in a multimedia orchestra of raw power, dubbed or subbed, really woke the sleeping giant of moviegoers. You can literally feel the excitement through every orchestrated bass drum and heightening trumpet crescendo—that’s a special thanks to Tokyo-based musical collective Millennium Parade. For me, Belle struck one of those teary chords that hasn’t been tested in a long while. I remember holding back tears, especially when “A Million Miles Away” began with those tinkling droplet, lullaby piano chords. 

Now, with all the praise I give it, Belle still is a slight “remastering” of the timeless story of Beauty and The Beast. The classic beats of the fairy tale are present: a true-beauty archetype who discovers a brutish creature that society despises, only to figure out that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” There is also a glamorized ballroom dance scene that almost resembles the 1991 Disney animated film. Completely ripping off its source material is one thing (like how many films nowadays recreate the infamous bike slide from Akira), but this film adds more in subject matter than repeated nostalgia bait. I also don’t agree with the social media messaging that’s strictly apparent throughout its runtime. Yes, social media is now the driving force to get your name across the digital landscape, but viewing all media through these rose-tinted lenses seems dangerous for younger audiences. Maybe they could’ve had a parallel darkness behind social media near the climax, showing the gravity of what’s just a mouse click away.

Nowadays, our local Cinemarks and Regal Theaters are hustling once again, quieting the deserted pandemic past. For me, however, we needed something cinematic. Something colorful and bright. Something that could inspire future filmmakers again, and I think Belle was that movie. Although the overall message of looking on the bright side of VR is a little exaggerated, it was that extended arm of warmth and love to pull us out of those dark times. While the last couple of years told us to survive, Belle was telling us to live again. –Alton Barnhart

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