Belle Review

Belle Review

Ahh Belle, the movie that brought me back to theaters for the first time in two years since lockdown started in March of 2020. Interestingly enough the last movie I saw in theaters was also an Anime movie premier, Weathering With You. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hyped to see the movie long before it premiered. From the moment I saw the initial trailer and heard the phenomenal track by Millennium Parade and the Belle vocalist herself, I knew I needed to experience the movie in theaters and hear the soundtrack in a way you can only experience in a theater setting. I’m also a bit biased since I love the work of Mamoru Hosoda and have been waiting rather impatiently for his next film. Both Summer Wars and Wolf Children rank pretty high as some of my favorite anime movies, especially as starting points for newer anime fans to jump into. I may do a post in the future about some great starting anime to introduce people to this wonderful world we get lost in, but that’ll be for the future. For now though I will get on with the review!

World Building and Story

I’ll do my best to not spoil anything from the movie since I believe this should be experienced without spoilers. The overall story is loosely adapted from the story of Beauty and the Beast, with some Hosoda flair thrown in. Even though we’re all very familiar with the story of Beauty and the Beast, there is enough deviation to make the film feel fresh. The setting alone is enough to make it feel fresh, but tying that in with the overall story is what really brings it to life. Hosoda really likes virtual and digital worlds, as made apparent from his previous works of Summer Wars and his time Directing the second Digimon movie. The world they’ve built definitely feels like an evolution of the virtual world they built for Summer Wars, and is one that draws many similarities to current VR social games like VRChat in our world. Lots of colorful characters and avatars, all representing the personalities of the users controlling them, making the virtual world in the movie feel just as alive as the world the users live day to day in. There is a good blend of story telling across both worlds in the movie, neither taking away from the other in terms of setting a scene or revealing a major plot point. Moving on from the worlds in the movie, as mentioned above, the story is loosely based on the story of Beauty and the Beast, but really only takes the underlying plot from that and puts a creative spin on it. The story demonstrates the power of anonymity and how it can really bring out both the best in a person, as well as the worst. It also shows how anonymity can empower some people to break through the walls they’ve built around themselves to really shine in a way they may not be able to in the real world. Now this isn’t a topic that’s new, and there are plenty of stories out there covering it, but the way Hosoda has managed to bring this topic in to his story is refreshing. While I’m being fairly vague with all of this, I’m realizing how difficult it is to mention anything about the story without giving too much away, so why don’t we shift to the art style.

Art Style

Now, usually I’m not a very big fan of CGI in animated films and Anime, but I think the inclusion of CGI in this film makes a lot of sense. It’s only used while we’re joining the characters in the Virtual World of “U”, leaving a more traditional animation style for when the characters are in the real world. Both of the styles don’t feel out of place in the film and don’t fight for your attention either which is usually a big problem when trying to blend the two together. The art style in the real world is 100% in the style of Mamoru Hosoda, there’s such a huge emphasis on character expressions in his style and I absolutely love it. His character design is a stand out and doesn’t feel too out of this world in terms of believability, remaining grounded in reality as well as staying relatable. While the overall art style of the real world in the movie is very recognizable, it’s definitely been amped up from Hosoda’s previous works. There’s even more detail in the environments, maybe not on the extreme level of a Makoto Shinkai film, but it’s definitely a big jump from previous films. The locations animated for the film are gorgeous, represented by a rural area in Japan, with many tree covered mountain ranges with natural creeks and rivers that have been beautifully animated to really bring the real world to life around the characters.

It’s not just the environments either, things like trains and buildings have gotten the same love from the animators. Then there’s the virtual world, as I mentioned above, I’m not the biggest fan of CGI in animation but they managed to blend the two mediums in a very effective way. Keeping the CG elements and design for the Virtual World keeps the two worlds separate enough to distinguish the two, and the level of artistic work overall is top notch. It doesn’t feel out of place when compared to the traditionally animated scenes and still captures the overall look and feel the film was going for. If anything it actually helps keep you immersed into the story and helps you distinguish the different personality traits between the real world and the virtual world. The overall setting for the Virtual World is just as beautiful as the real one and has it’s own atmosphere to go along with it. Since the virtual world isn’t bound by the limitations of reality, the design of everything can be a lot more creative, similar to how everyone has a very unique avatar that goes along with their personality. No matter which style you’re seeing at any point throughout the movie, it still feels like a consistent setting even though the two worlds can appear very different. Each one lends itself to the other and feels like it’s all apart of the same universe, which is a major win in my book as other films and anime seem to struggle with this. Now onto one of my favorite portions of the movie, the musical score and sound design!

Music and Sound Design

Where do I even begin, the entire musical department assembled for this film did an amazing job conveying the emotion in each scene. Then there are the scenes that don’t use music at all and just use the ambient noises of the environments to convey things like how awkward a conversation is at that moment. This is my favorite thing in any kind of media, when you’re able to convey something as complicated as human emotions either through music, ambient sounds, or silence. When done correctly it adds so much to a scene for me and helps me get into the emotion they’re trying to present on screen. It’s all done with such a high degree of detail in this film that the music and sound design rank the film up there with some of the best for me. The music is composed beautifully, and that’s true for both the original Japanese dub as well as the English dub. The voice casting for the vocal work is perfect in my opinion. Both give so much emotion in their performances that I’d be happy listening to the soundtrack in either language. This is a huge deal for me since I’m never a fan of translated musical numbers since they generally lose the emotion and don’t feel quite right. Hell, I’m listening to the soundtrack while writing this and the song that stands out the most to me is Lend Me Your Voice. Both versions of this song are bursting at the seams with emotion from both vocalists so much so, that I get lost when a big orchestral swell hits and the vocalist brings out a powerful and emotional lyric. Even the sound design in scenes where there’s fighting, you can feel the emotion and brutality with every punch thrown by either character. That paired with the amazing orchestral work throughout the film brings so much to this film as a whole. Everything just works beautifully together and feels like a very complete package. Even if you haven’t watched the film, I highly recommend giving the soundtrack a listen anywhere that you can listen to it. Personally I’ll be listening to the high-res version that’s available for purchase through Qobuz. Now onto the conclusion!

Conclusion

This film overall is just beautiful, from the writing, the animation, and the soundtrack. It’s amazing on all fronts. I wasn’t sure about the animation choices before going to see the movie but they managed to blend the two styles perfectly in my opinion. Then the score took me straight into this world that Momaru Hosoda has built and left me wanting more from this universe, not wanting it to be over when the credits rolled. The total runtime for the film is right around 2 hours and I believe I would have been content watching this story and being immersed into the world for even longer. I’m not the first person nor will I be the last to praise the work of Hosoda, but this is absolutely my favorite work of his to date. Previously that spot was held by Summer Wars with Wolf Children being a very close second, but I have no problem putting this film above those two on my list, and that’s not to discredit those other two films. They are amazing in their own way, but this has been an example of a creator putting his all into a finished piece of media. By the end of the film, the few other people in the theater and I were definitely a little teary eyed and couldn’t help but voice how great the film was to one another. Now that it’s out on Blu-Ray and available through streaming services, I can absolutely say it’s worth buying and adding to your collection.

Thank you for reading my review of Belle, this one is definitely on the longer side compared to my last review, but hopefully it expresses how I felt about the film and gives you a good idea of what to expect when watching it for the first time. Until the next one, I hope you all have a wonderful day!

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