Stunning animation couples with a story that clearly rips off Disney’s vision of Beauty and the Beast in GKIDS new feature, Belle. The movie seems strictly made for gamers, annoying inaccessible to those without at least a basic knowledge of the Internet’s endless functionality. Written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda (the acclaimed creator of Mirai and Wolf Children, among others), Belle may be deeply flawed, but it is admittedly one absolutely beautiful dive into a boundless virtual world.
Suzu is a shy outsider who has been going through the motions for years. All of that is about to change, as she decides to take the leap into the world of “U”—the ultimate virtual community compromised of millions of people. Suzu finds the perfect escape. Suzu’s avatar becomes Belle, a virtual ideal version of herself, complete with freckles and a gorgeous frame. This new persona quickly grows millions of followers and worldwide attention. Suzu is able to channel her singing talents through Belle. Eventually, this leads her to performing in a massive concert at U’s Spherical Stadium, with people waiting on the edge of their seats for what Belle will deliver.
This is where it leans into the Disney angle. A mysterious creature, known as The Beast, interrupts Belle’s concert, chased by a team of rogues. The world becomes obsessed with this Beast and uncovering his true identity. Suzu’s real life bleeds into her time as Belle, as she races to uncover the mysteries behind The Beast. Along with her friends, Suzu begins researching a bruise-tattooed weirdo who they suspect may have ties to sabotaging Belle’s concert.
While I found a plethora of interesting facets to the virtual world this creates, Belle stumbles out of the gate with a repetitive story and thinly-sketched character work. Strict adherence to the Disney film Beauty and the Beast is admirable, especially in a slavishly faithful ballroom dancing sequence, but clashes with its deeper story. When Belle becomes surprisingly emotional in the final act, it truly begins to soar. However, the disconnect between the virtual world and the dryness of the real world is too rigid. The sole focus on one landscape or another was the way to play this, and by attempting to commingle both, Belle practically slams its metaphorical fingers down on the “delete” button.
Belle enters the digital world when it premieres on IMAX screens on Wednesday, January 12th, and in theaters on Friday, January 14th.