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‘Belle’ review: Anime adaptation of classic fairy tale filled with emotion

Belle is a modern take on the famous French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. Directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the animated film is about a high school student named Suzu who enters a virtual world called U. There, she becomes a popular idol named Belle. It is not long before she crosses paths with a mysterious beast. When she sets out to discover the beast’s identity, she learns about herself.

The film may be inspired by a famous story, but it is not handcuffed by its source material. Belle does a great job of modernizing the classic tale. Suzu is withdrawn and traumatized by the death of her mother and enters the U to be herself. She is unable to sing in the real world, and feels her full beauty can only be seen in a virtual world. It is a common and popular premise in anime.

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The beast (who has named himself “The Dragon”) is no prince. While he does reside in a castle, there is no curse on him and the character is akin to a very good gamer. He has only lost three times in almost four hundred fights. The characters are familiar, but enough changes have been made to where some may not see the Beauty and the Beast influence immediately.

This fresh take makes Belle very engaging. The film hits many familiar story beats, and there are some neat allusions to the 1991 Disney classic, but the story is able to stand on its own. It goes in directions that will surprise the audience. Instead of being a straightforward love story, it is more about self confidence and modern technology. Though some of the supporting characters lack depth, none of them hinder the film’s enjoyment.

As engrossing as the plot can get, it does not prevent things from getting convoluted. Jumping back and forth between the real and virtual worlds, Belle juggles a number of different subplots. It can be difficult to keep everything straight, especially when things take a dark twist towards the end. It is an odd case where the overall story is easy to follow, but there are moments within it that are hard to follow.

This never takes away from the enjoyment of Belle. The music will stick with anyone who watches the film. The climactic number that includes a number of mysteries solved and Belle singing on a flying whale is emotionally powerful. The animation is a mix of hand drawn and computer animated scenes. This pulls viewers even deeper into both of the movie’s worlds.

Belle has select IMAX preview screenings January 12 and opens nationwide January 14

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