Hey! Hallie here!
‘Belle’ was one of the biggest anime movie releases from last year. There weren’t many places you could go on the internet without hearing one of the songs from this film or seeing someone cosplay the title character. I really wanted to watch ‘Belle’ when it came out, but for various reasons I wasn’t able to see it. And then it completely slipped my mind until I saw it pop up in my recommended list on HBO Max. I had really high expectations. This has excellent reviews on most websites and was given a very long standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. And the songs drew me in long before I was able to watch the whole movie. But, to be honest, this didn’t live up to my expectations. In fact, I thought this movie was extremely messy. I have a lot of mixed thoughts about ‘Belle’, so let’s just get into it! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
The Songs: The music in this movie is incredible. As a disclaimer for this section, though, I did watch the English dub of ‘Belle’. So when I talk about the voice of Suzu/Belle, I’ll be referring to the angelic voice of Kylie McNeill, who was only around eighteen when she voiced the character of Suzu. You would never guess the voice behind these songs belonged to a teenager. The amount of control she has is enviable. She switches easily between light, sweet notes and strong belting. The dynamic nature of her voice works extremely well in fast-paced, fun songs like “U”, but even better in slower, more heartfelt pieces like “Gales of Song”. I will never get over how amazing “Gales of Song” is. Beyond just the singing though, the soundtrack of this movie is gorgeous. It really does transport you to another world and embraces more of a fairytale feel than I expected. I highly recommend the soundtrack for this movie. It’s addictive and excellently crafted. I also want to note that it fits well with the movie itself. Moments where the main character breaks out into song are made natural by the fact that she’s well, a singer. And the songs serve to move forward the plot by reflecting the inner turmoil and thoughts of Suzu. I don’t really have anything negative to say about the music here.
Animation: Visually, this is a near perfect movie. The 2D animation style is aesthetically pleasing, especially when it comes to the scenery. The bright colors are gorgeous between the green of the forests and the blue of the frosty bridge. But the seamless transition into 3D animation is where the movie really shines. The online world of U is not only just as colorful as the 2D locations, but is also complicated and vast in its design. It really feels like another world that’s worth exploring. The character design in ‘Belle’ is also mind-blowing. The title character herself is absolutely stunning. Her soft pink hair, bright blue eyes, and facial markings all lend themselves to a unique and unforgettable look for the character, and the 3D animation embraces the fluidity of the 2D animation while also breathing more life into her. Another design I love belongs to the Beast, who manages to look like a traditional Japanese painting and a lifelike creature all at the same time. I don’t blame cosplayers for jumping at the chance to tackle the designs from this movie. It’s hard not to love the characters when their designs are so gorgeous.
The Story: It’s really unfortunate that something so influential to the movie failed almost entirely. Especially when the setup was so good. Suzu is a character that’s extremely easy to relate to. She’s insecure about herself, can barely talk to other people, and doesn’t feel that she’s able to accomplish much. All of this is tied to past trauma concerning her mother, who died attempting to save someone else’s child right in front of Suzu. Because of that, Suzu feels both a pressure to live up to her mother’s kindness, and an anger for being essentially abandoned. Also tied to this trauma is her inability to sing, which was one of her favorite things to do with her mother when she was alive. You really feel for Suzu and share her happiness when she realizes that in U, because she can hide behind her avatar, she can sing. But just when it starts getting into the juiciness of her hiding behind her persona, the Beast plot line gets dropped on the story. And that’s where it goes off the rails. For those who don’t know, ‘Belle’ is based off of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, specifically Disney’s version. So when the Beast came in I thought he was a love interest, likely her childhood friend who might be able to tie more directly into Suzu’s storyline and help her heal more of her trauma. But instead the Beast takes over the entire plot, including Suzu’s character development. They spend half the movie trying to figure out who the Beast is while Belle protects him from the internet cops, Belle forms a bond with him so quickly that you as the audience don’t understand what her obsession is with him, and then the story ends with the reveal that he’s a random kid who’s abused by his father.
I suppose the final sequence, where Suzu sings a song dedicated to the Beast without her avatar as a means to convince him to trust her, is supposed to demonstrate that she’s developed the self confidence to stop hiding. Except it doesn’t do that. Instead of revealing her true self because she’s grown more confident, she does it out of an obligation to get the Beast out of his abusive situation. And her confidence doesn’t actually seem to grow before or even after this event. She feels like the same character at the end of the movie as she was at the beginning of it. Not to mention that the whole way she and her friends go about trying to help this abused kid is ridiculous. Really? She and her teenage friends are able to guess his location because of the placement of two buildings and some quick googling? And then her friends, some of whom are adult women, send her off to deal with this abusive father on her own? The whole finale is so ridiculous that it takes you out of the story entirely. I really wanted to see Suzu learn to love and accept herself. I wanted to see her come to terms with what her mother did instead of deciding, unprompted, that she was done talking about her mother halfway through the movie. I didn’t want the movie to pivot to a random, unrelated character who’s storyline was resolved by Suzu’s friend group briefly turning into Mystery Incorporated.
Overall this movie couldn’t make up for its faults. It matched gorgeous music and jaw-dropping animation with a lacking story that just got worse as the movie continued. I so badly wanted to walk away from ‘Belle’ with a new obsession, but honestly, I’ll probably forget about it in a few weeks. I won’t forget about the music though. I’ll still be listening to “Gales of Song” after I’ve forgotten ‘Belle’s plot, and it will probably be better for it.
Don’t do anything fun until I get back!