Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor
Deeply wounded by the loss of her mother at a young age, 17-year-old Suzu has become disconnected from the real world. One day, she decides to escape into the massive virtual world of “U,” creating her online persona “Belle,” a beautiful pink-haired singer. Not long after her arrival, the massive social media platform already has their eyes on Belle, and a mysterious dragon avatar suddenly shows up one day to interrupt her concert.
Our main character, Suzu, is poignantly relatable as well as sympathetic. From the beginning, she is an alienated and timid young woman. Her grief over losing her mother is so palpable that she can barely sing without vomiting out of stress. Suzu’s love of music and singing were stolen from her. It is only when she enters “U” and can sing again that she breaks out of that gloomy shell.
Suzu’s emotional struggles couldn’t feel any more real. Everyone grieves differently. We’ve all been through rough patches of mourning and we all know it takes time for us to move past it.Whether it’s playing an ever-growing open world role playing game or listening to your favorite album. Sometimes, we need a little escape out of our own lives to venture out into an otherworldly dimension.Therefore, I found myself empathizing with Suzu a great deal.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to notice that acclaimed director Mamoru Hosada's “Belle” takes a lot of inspiration from “Beauty and the Beast,” specifically the Disney adaptation from 1991. Surprisingly, those aspects are the least interesting parts of the film. Those elements felt tacked on to me. They are just there to be recognizable. They could’ve done a little more to make this stand out as its own entity. Unfortunately, it falls rather flat on impact. For such a vast online world, there’s not enough “U” to really get a good feel of what the avatars can’t or can do.
Apart from that, the film is a stunningly colorful pleasure to the eyes. The amount of work that was put into making “U” is extraordinary. The colors and details in both the real world and the virtual are like night and day. The mixture of 2D and 3D are very vibrantly put together, bringing the characters and landscapes to life.
Of course, it’s not all about the nice visuals. Kylie McNeil, the voice of Suzu/Belle, is a phenomenal singer with an outstanding vocal range. She surpasses Kaho Nakamura’s original vocals in my opinion. Unfortunately, there is very little variety in the track list. But these few songs display the emotion in the moment, driving the heart and soul. The combination of symphony and pop is wonderful and reflects the character of Suzu exceptionally.
Ultimately this is an emotional narrative anchored by love, grief, bravery, anxiety and compassion. It tells an important message about the masks we wear through social media use. The story is very condensed and hasty giving you some great meat for the main plot, while the subplots feel wilted and dried out. Buildup, character usage, world building and action are disappointingly lacking. Still, the movie hits deep and will warm your heart through its honesty and imaginative ambition.
Belle has been nationally released on Jan. 14and is in select theaters worldwide.