Anime Twist On Beauty & the Beast

Astonishing visuals and a magnificent soundtrack mark Belle as endearing anime with universal appeal, the latest film by accomplished director Mamoru Hosoda. The man behind such animated gems as Wolf Children and Mirai dips into musical territory this time, consciously pulling influences from Disney’s animated films. His newest movie provides a timely 21st century take on Beauty and the Beast with a focus on the growing importance of social media and what that means for everyone. Belle is the type of film Disney should be doing themselves instead of rehashing their beloved animated catalog in live-action versions.

Hosoda is quickly becoming one of the most important animators and filmmakers in Japan, one of the few who can credibly pick up the torch from Studio Ghibli’s legendary Hayao Miyazaki. The Academy Award-nominated director’s Belle is his most accessible film yet, a crowd-pleasing delight in the tradition of Disney brimming with depth and substance. He’s crafted a tender coming-of-age story which speaks to the unique pressures of social media placed on today’s youth, wrapped inside an engaging musical fairy tale with beautiful visuals.

Belle’s appeal lies in its marvelous visuals, wonderful soundtrack, and a charismatic avatar protagonist designed by Disney animator Jin Kim

Suzu (newcomer Kylie McNeill in the smooth English dub) is a reserved, ordinary high school student living in Japan. A tragedy in her family’s past has caused Suzu’s loss of singing ability. A virtual metaverse dubbed the “U” has five billion users across the planet, an incredibly popular community used by almost everyone. A user’s biometric data creates their uniquely personal avatar in the virtual world.

Suzu escapes the emotional struggles of her life with an online persona known as Belle. Suzu’s gorgeous singing as Belle quickly makes her a global icon, a huge celebrity on the “U” which spills over into real life. Almost no one in the world knows a regular teen girl is behind the new singing sensation. Suzu embarks on a journey of discovery after a mysterious user known as the Dragon disrupts her concert.

Hosoda’s sincere storytelling nicely meshes the dynamic taken from Beauty and the Beast without feeling grossly derivative. Hosoda’s earlier Summer Wars dabbled with the idea of virtual worlds. Belle represents a more mature and complete perspective on them, delivering a timely message of self discovery and identity as social media only grows more integral to daily living. It’s an uplifting story with a clear message, tempered by the personal challenges faced by Suzu and her supporting cast.

Belle’s appeal lies in its marvelous visuals, wonderful soundtrack, and a charismatic avatar protagonist designed by Disney animator Jin Kim (Frozen, Big Hero 6). The main character doesn’t fall far from the Disney princess mold and often serves as an intelligent deconstruction of their heroines. It’s Disney with an anime twist for today’s teenagers.

The film’s blend of traditional and CGI animation alternates between the sophisticated “U” world and a more mundane regular world. Belle isn’t Hosoda’s best film but it’s close, a smidgen behind The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and the touching Wolf Children.

Belle (2021) Blu-ray screen shot

Video

Belle is easily the best-looking film from director Mamoru Hosoda and Studio Chizu. The 2.39:1 presentation at 1080p resolution wonderfully combines hand-drawn animation with the fantastical CGI world found within the “U” metaverse. An assist from Disney animator and character designer Jin Kim, not to mention the good folks from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon, help create impressively realized anime visuals.

The rural town Suzu hails from is depicted in lushly rendered backgrounds packed with intricate art. Fluid details and solid character designs lay the groundwork for her home town. But it’s in the digital “U” community which offers fantastically inspired CGI worlds. The juxtaposition is almost ingenious, an intoxicating contrast.

GKIDS provides Belle with a clean digital transfer. The film was mastered in pristine 2K animation and has already been issued on 4K UHD with Dolby Vision in Japan. Belle runs 121 minutes on a BD-50. The AVC encode efficiently captures the stunning visuals in full clarity. A minor hint of banding creeps into the 1080P video. That will be wiped out on UHD.

Bright and colorful, Belle’s fantasy worlds produce jaw-dropping video. Primary colors are vividly saturated with deep black levels. The animated water effects are some of the most dazzling ever made for the screen. It is eye candy of the highest magnitude. Videophiles will likely want to hold off until the UHD is released in the States.

Audio

The anime movie’s soundtrack was written by lead composer and arranger Taisei Iwasaki (Blood Blockade Battlefront), Ludvig Forssell, and Yuta Bandoh. GKIDS has really outdone themselves with a fantastic English dub, matching Belle’s domestic Japanese soundtrack in musicality and emotional tone. One of the very best English dubs I’ve come across for an anime film, the English voice cast includes Chace Crawford, Kylie McNeill, Manny Jacinto, and Hunter Schafer.

Heard in a lively, immersive 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack, Belle’s soaring vocals float above an expansive soundstage in resounding clarity. Delicate, evocative singing by Kylie McNeill matches the acclaimed work by her Japanese counterpart Kaho Nakamura. Dialogue reproduction is perfect, nestled inside the dynamic mix.

The Japanese audio’s 5.1 DTS-HD MA is perfectly sublime as well, offering firm low-end and a pleasantly discrete mix with judicious channel separation. The film’s main theme “U” was performed by groundbreaking Japanese act Millennium Parade, led by the composer of the song Daiki Tsuneta.

The only shame here is that Belle’s UHD in Japan featured a Dolby Atmos mix. You’ll have to wait in North America for the planned UHD if you want that option.

Optional English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles play in a white font, always remaining inside the 2.39:1 scope presentation. Proper English subtitles for the Japanese dub are provided. A 5.1 Dolby Digital English descriptive video track is included.

Extras

An exclusive SteelBook edition is only available at Target. 4K users may want to hold off for the forthcoming Belle 4K UHD Collector’s Edition. Orders made from ShoutFactory.com include an 18” by 24” folded poster while supplies last. A glossy slipcover is available for the regular Blu-ray and DVD combo.

GKIDS has packed Belle with comprehensive bonus features which delve into the music and cast. It’s hard believing there will be anything left for the UHD release. Most are in Japanese with English subtitles. Director Hosoda talks at length about the differences making his first musical from his earlier films.

  • The Making of BELLE (44:05 in HD)
  • A Conversation with Director Mamoru Hosoda (29:13 in HD)
  • The Music of BELLE (15:32 in HD)
  • Hosoda Draws BELLE (08:50 in HD)
  • Scene Breakdown: The Station (10:37 in HD)
  • Scene Breakdown: The Ballroom (12:06 in HD)
  • Finding the Voice of Belle (11:49 in HD)
  • Mamoru Hosoda At Animation is Film (18:05 in HD)
  • Design Gallery (13:57 in HD)
  • Kylie McNeill Performs “Gales of Song” (02:37 in HD)
  • Belle Trailers (07:05 in HD) – English Dub, International Trailer #1, International Trailer #2, International Teaser #1, International Teaser #2, International Teaser #3

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Summary

Clearly inspired by Beauty and the Beast, Mamoru Hosoda creates a visually stunning anime tale made for the social media age.

Sending
User Review
5 (1 vote)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 77 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: