Don’t you wish that you could start over and live the life you want? Well, now you can! Welcome to the world of U! You may not be able to start over in the real world, but in the world of U, anything is possible. Writer/director Mamoru Hosoda’s movie Belle is a whole new level of Beauty and the Beast where everything is mainly set in virtual reality; a world in which the main character Suzu can spread her wings and sing until her heart’s content.
In the movie, 17-year-old Suzu lost her mother at a young age, and even though it has been years since her mother’s death, Suzu is still heartbroken by the events. Since losing her mother, she has chosen to shut out the world by isolating herself from those around her. Not only that, but she can’t sing as she used to; singing was one of her favorite activities she would do with her mother, but now it makes her feel sick to her stomach. With the help of her best friend, Hiroka, Suzu decides to join “U,” where she can feel comfortable singing again. She becomes popular within one day and the whole world of the U wants to hear her sing again. Using the avatar that she created named Belle, she goes on to sing. But soon, her whole world starts to fall apart when she and Hiroka meet a troublesome player, The Dragon, whom the other players in U refer to as The Beast.
Belle first came out in Japan on July 16, 2021, and was going to be shown in North America in 2022. When the movie needed voice actors for the English-dub version, a creator from TikTok named Kylie McNeil was lucky to get to voice the main protagonist, Suzu/Belle. In an interview with McNeil, she discussed that this was her first ever major film role. Out of the 250 people that auditioned, she was the one to get the part. Despite it being her first time getting a role, she wowed the audience with her beautiful singing voice and putting her spin on the songs that she sang. Along the way, she got to work with other amazing voice actors, such as Paul Castro Jr., who voiced The Dragon/Beast. This would not be Castro’s only time voice acting. He voices in anime and in video games such as NEO: The World Ends with You, where he voices the character Rindo Kanade. While he was interviewed he explained that this was the first time where he had to make his voice sound scary and menacing during his audition. He was trying to go for a different outcome than Takeru Satoh, who voices The Dragon in the original version. But during the whole process of the film, both McNeil and Castro did an amazing job voice acting in Belle.
Belle is not only a recreation of Beauty and the Beast, but it also shares a compelling and complex story of love, forgiveness, hope, and family. From the protagonist dealing with losing her mother, and isolating herself, the audience just wants to see Suzu finally find happiness and let those around her help her. Not only that but the “antagonist,” The Beast, also might have the audience think differently about him as the movie progresses. What is interesting about these two characters is that they each have something they are dealing with that is haunting them. This is why Suzu and The Beast have good chemistry with each other as the movie moves forwards. Like in Beauty and the Beast, Belle tries to understand why The Beast acts the way he does while The Beast is confused about why Belle is so nice to him. In the end, it’s all about helping and understanding each other.
Let’s just take a moment and talk about how fantastic the movie’s visuals look and how the music in this movie has listeners awestruck. It has a nice 3D layout regarding the scene in the U, from how each avatar in the game looks, to how fight scenes take place, to finally how Belle/Suzu rides in on a whale with a ton of speakers on its back. The colors also stand out and are so vibrant that it changes the movie’s tone with each scene. Then comes the songs from the movie. Popular songs that stand out the most are “Lend Me Your Voice” and “A Million Miles Away.” But these are just two of the songs within the movie; the music itself will have people bobbing their heads to the rhythm and having them hum the songs after watching the movie. The songs themselves even have meanings behind them, to get out of that shadow you are always hiding in or to feel hopeful towards yourself and others.
Belle came out on January 14, 2022, in North America and has gotten a review on Metacritic with an 83 and has made over $60 million. This is an improvement from Mamoru Hosoda since his last movie Summer Wars, got a 63 on Metacritic. Truly, this is one of his greatest pieces in years. It is an experience that the audience will love. It teaches the viewers about what the characters, like Suzu, are going through. It goes from Suzu being depressed and upset with the world to her finally showing her true colors, overcoming her fears, and coming to terms with her mother’s death. In U, they can be who they are and fill that void in their heart.
You can watch Belle on HBO Max, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV.