By: Belle Caney
Still mourning a great loss from her childhood, a high schooler named Suzu joins a global virtual reality app called “U.” As her new persona, Belle, Suzu regains her passion for singing and becomes an instant virtual celebrity. But after a mysterious monster interrupts one of her shows, the question on the entire world’s mind is: “Who is the Beast?”
While the English dub stars familiar names Chase Crawford (Gossip Girl, The Boys), Manny Jacinto (The Good Place), and Hunter Schafer (Euphoria), the stand-out English actress is Kylie McNeill as Suzu/Belle. McNeill’s voice is perfect for balancing the shy, raspy speaking voice of Suzu and the powerful, haunting singing voice of Belle. Surprisingly, this is McNeill’s first credited role in a film, which makes her performance all the more impressive.
Belle is the sixth feature length film from Studio Chizu, known for previous works Wolf Children (2012) and Summer Wars (2009), and like their previous films, the animation for Belle did not disappoint. This film used a mixture of animation styles, the “real world” was animated traditionally and the “U” was animated with CGI made to imitate traditional animation. This contrast really helps the transition from one world to the other, and both styles are visually stunning. If I had to nitpick, my one gripe with the film is the poor lip synching to English, but it is ultimately forgivable and becomes less and less noticeable as you are enveloped in the plot and beautiful visuals.
This film feels like a musical, even if it’s not categorized as one. There are recurring melodies that return at key points, connecting you to earlier events in the story. The songs are a mixture of upbeat anthems and soulful ballads. Each song feels necessary and well-tailored to the scene it’s in and usually furthers the emotional plot. Also, these songs are incredibly easy to get stuck in your head. I saw the film twice, once in Japanese with subtitles and then a week later in English. Both times, I left with portions of the songs running in my mind, even if I couldn’t remember the exact words…a few might have been added to my playlists.
This film is based on the Beauty and the Beast story but it definitely subverted my expectations. My description of the plot is intentionally sparse because I think the less you know going in, the better. But I will say, there were a lot of things I didn’t expect, but greatly appreciated. The foreshadowing is incredible and I think the movie did an exemplary job marrying comedic moments with the more dramatic ones.
I may have only initially taken interest in this movie because we share a name, but I’m ultimately glad I gave this international film a try. On whether you should see it in Japanese or English, I preferred it in English, but either way, I would highly recommend you give this one a watch.
My Rating: 4 and ½ Peppers
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%