Belle (2021): Beauty and the Beast Meets Ready Player One

“Belle” is directed by Mamoru Hosada (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Mirai) and stars Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, and Takeru Satoh in a film about a girl who joins a popular social media platform called U, basically think of it as what Meta is trying to do, but sexier. While Suzu copes with everyday life in academics and living in a village, she often escapes to U, where she displays the persona of a singer.

Social media is one of the best and worst inventions of the past few decades. Think of it like “Saturday Night Live.” The cold open is usually okay, the monologue may still have you on your toes, but it just takes one sketch to topple it all apart. I like going on Facebook and feeling good about myself about the likes some photo gets that I actually put on Instagram and transported it over for my grandparents to see, but I can only go through so many comments sections on the news feeds. To see a film that shows the ups and downs of social media is quite lovely. Because it has become such an important part of our lives in such a short amount of time. I am not one who constantly watches anime, but I approve seeing a story like this regardless of the medium. There are a lot of lessons that can be provided and mistakes that can turn into tense moments.

Having seen “Belle” last week, I think it is a topical, charming, and euphoric piece of animation. As far as other pieces of anime go, I do not have much to compare this film to, I do not tend to dive into that medium partially because I don’t have time, and there are not as many opportunities to watch anime for review purposes compared to some other genres and mediums. I went to see Belle because I saw someone talk about it online as the best IMAX experience they’ve ever had. So I thought I’d make it a priority to go watch the film on the biggest screen I could. Unfortunately, I could not find any IMAX screenings for “Belle,” so regular 2D was the next best thing. I can confirm that the film is not my favorite theatrical experience, in fact there are certain animated films like “Over the Moon” that have been more immersive in the theater than this, although I was stuck to the screen like glue at times.

If anything this film is kind of like “The Matrix,” maybe even “Ready Player One.” while not a concrete remake, the films share numerous concepts. Both films have a digital world that is supposedly better than its real life counterpart, but inside this world, there is a threat both to the hero’s life and the lives of others who spend all their time in this world. And much like how the OASIS is crucial to everyone’s lives in “Ready Player One,” “Belle” does a great job at showing the marked necessity of its U platform. When everyone is not busy enjoying their everyday, mundane lives, it seems that they turn to U. This film nails the horrors of social media by tackling trolls, popularity, and in some cases, maybe living a significantly different life than the one you’re already going through. I mean, on Scene Before, I often call myself the Movie Reviewing Moron, but if I had to spend my time on Twitter with that exact persona, I’d probably getting a lot more hate messages. In this film, Suzu’s social media persona is Belle, which is not only appropriate because a lot of the movie is spent going through her journey as a digital singer, and of course, every other popular singer goes by one name. But this movie also spends its time as a partial redo of “Beauty and the Beast,” there is one character Belle finds, meets, and falls in love with, and they’re literally sometimes referred to as “The Beast.”

As much as it may be a retread in some ways of a tale some already know, it kind of added to the enchanting vibe this movie has at times. I highly praise “Belle” for being a mostly original and unique animated tale that captures all the emotions, but there are also times where it relies on something we already know to get its point across. As good as this movie is, it may make the film eventually feel not as ageless as it could be. And continuing my Disney story comparisons, this film takes a trademark of that company, but it is one I would rather leave unmentioned because it could be a spoiler. I watched a couple trailers and there is a clip of the film I did not see in either of them.

I feel like Suzu is a solid protagonist for this film, and if I watched this at a certain age, I probably would have related to her completely. After all, she’s not that popular, kind of dorky, arguably a bit of a wuss at times. While it is not everyone’s dream to be super popular online, especially if you live in Florida, the film tinkers with the fantasy of restarting your life and possibly building a better life than the one you’ve got. I joined Twitter when I was a teen to make friends in addition those I already had, and admittedly maybe care more about getting followers than I should have… And I stayed on because while I did have friends in real life, I have made some of my best friends over the years on that platform. And I owe it to Twitter for in some way improving my life. Conceptually, the U platform could evoke the same positive vibes for someone like Suzu, although the platforms are structurally different.

If I had to say anything else about “Belle,” I would have to point out that it has some really good music that fits the material that is written for the screen while also being decent enough to be played on its own. There is a song towards the end of the film that captures the spirit of the story, its characters, and the very idea of imagination. It’s quite a joy to hear with surround sound. I honestly felt more moved by the music in “Belle” than I did for anything in “Encanto,” which for a few of my readers, may be saying something. I should note that these two movies are completely different in terms of story and vibe, but I figured with how often people are talking about the film where we don’t talk about Bruno, this is something worth talking about.

In the end, “Belle” is an imaginative capturing of emotions, thrills, and wonderous music. The film is marvelously crafted and a perfect story for a 21st century audience. When I saw “Ron’s Gone Wrong” a few months back, which also occasionally comes off as a warning for those living in an age of popularity aspirations and social media, I was delighted by its premise, but not with its execution. “Belle” on the other hand, is not only a delight, but an escape that makes it one of the better animations of 2021. I’m going to give “Belle” an 8/10.

“Belle” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for last year’s critically acclaimed film “Belfast,” directed by Kenneth Branagh. That review will be up soon, hopefully it’s worth the hype. But if you want to see more of my content, be sure to check out my picks for the BEST and WORST movies of 2021! Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Belle?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite social media platform? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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