Title: Belle: The Dragon and the Freckled Princess (2021) Teaser Trailer #2 | Anime
By: Peggy Sue Wood | @pswediting
Friday night I watched Belle in theaters. As I expected, Studio Chizu has come out with another fantastic feature that is sure to be yet another favorite on many people’s lists.
Now, I’d been avoiding any news, reviews, and talk of Belle since it came out last April (2021).
Part of the reason I held off on it was that I that I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it as much as I had other works from the Studio Chizu. Their first production Wolf Children and The Boy and the Beast are probably my two in my top 10 favorite animated movies from the last 10 years and certainly better than what I’ve seen from CoMix Wave Films Story Inc. in movies like Weathering with You or The Garden of Words.
That’s not to say that CoMix Wave Films Story Inc.’s productions aren’t as good–simply that they don’t hit me in the same way or as consistently in my re-watches that Studio Chizu’s works have.
I’d go so far as to say that Studio Chizu’s works have surpassed all of my favorite Ghibli film with the exception of Howl’s Moving Castle because– in terms of emotional storytelling, connect-ability, and depth–Studio Chizu’s works happen to check all my boxes.
Mirai (2018) was probably this first of Studio Chizu’s works that didn’t check those boxes for me… like, at all. Was it a good movie? Sure, but it also wasn’t something I’d write home about, or be so inspired by that I catch myself doodling fan art in my planner, or try talking my mom (not the biggest watcher of anime though supportive) into watching with me like I had with Wolf Children and The Boy and the Beast.
However, when I saw that it would be playing at a local theater, I figured that my hesitation period needed to end. So, off I went.
We open on a fast paced song that I had heard parts of via trailers and an explanation of the “U” app that’s got everyone so excited. It reminds me a bit of Summer Wars in terms of world design for the digital space and some character functions (like Hiro) in the story, but still pretty original concept-wise.
(By the way, you can listen to the whole soundtrack here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XIqJue35DE&list=PLdSqv_ealr2na1_QHUrmGE3CQ-ohN8ShN&ab_channel=millenniumparade-Topic)
Honestly, I could see this becoming the way that Facebook Meta works at some point in the future if we get closer to SAO’s level of biometric scanning only with iPhones and bluetooth headset instead of a helmet, but I digress.
Over the course of the movie, every single song hits home. The emotional moments are often highlighted by the music, particularly singing, as we watch the main character, Suzu, overcome the pain of loosing her mother through song.
That overcoming is especially difficult as Suzu found herself unable to sing in front of people after her death. This is likely because singing was something very important to the relationship she had with her mother. Interestingly, water or swimming doesn’t bring about the same issues for Suzu, which surprises me as her mother died in front of her, likely sucked under by the rapid waters, while swimming the child back over to safety.
It’s brutal to watch–made more impactful by Suzu’s adolescent screams for her mother to stay, and then, for her mother to come back.
Seeing her die, watching her swept out–alone–into those rapid waters and sucked under was definitely traumatic for Suzu, and witnessed by several tens of people who looked on. However, swimming or being around water is not a problem for Suzu. We see her walk by the water several times and also see her avatar, Belle, swimming in the virtual world once or twice. Along with ocean imagery as giant wales carry Belle’s speakers around the virtual world of U.
Since water is not really the problem, theoretically, the reason Suzu has trouble singing and not swimming, and by that I mean that the reason her trauma response has linked to her singing rather than the water, has to do the recurring message of “being heard.”
“Being heard” is something that’s thematic in this movie. We see it in Kei/Dragon, the central lead in this Beauty and the Beast adaptation, who wants to be stronger when his cries for help are left unheard. Of course, this too is a cry for help but because he’s a child and every attempt thus far to ask for help has been met with further abuse, so he’s caught between hiding and fighting.
Suzu’s whole at-school story is about this too, as she tries to stay unnoticed. Meanwhile, her Belle persona let’s her show her previous self–the person she was as a kid: active, playful, obsessed with music, and a little attention grabbing.
For Kei, Suzu’s appearance is enough in the moment to make him feel like he and his brother’s struggles have finally been heard, because the abuse is what was traumatizing them and what people looked past. (Obviously, this is not actually enough as Kei and his brother are in an abusive household where they need intervention and help, but being heard is a step in that direction and probably a major relief for the two children in that moment.)
However, for Suzu–it’s a bit more complicated. Her “being heard” moment was when her mom pushed her off and went to save another child. She was left behind as she screamed out for her mother and no one went to help her mother or help Suzu save for Shinobu, another child and Suzu’s love interest who was also there.
A huge group of people witness this event, and they didn’t go help. Maybe they felt they couldn’t or feared they’d be sucked under by the currents and drown too. Who knows?
Her death is then followed by reports from the news in which people, some of whom may have witnessed the event first hand, even criticized Suzu’s mother for going out to save the child and leaving her own child behind.
It’s something that the movie addresses in a really interesting way, and I find this adaptation of Beauty and the Beast to be a very unique in its approach to grief.
(Also, I love the Peggy Sue of this story. I love how mean she is only to immediately flip at the end. She’s adorable.)
Okay, now that I talked about the good–let’s get into the not so good.
While the animation quality was great for a largely CG movie, I couldn’t help but keep comparing things to other anime’s I’ve seen. I mean, as a few examples that jump out the most: we have the ballroom scene that seemed to jump right out of Disney; almost half of Justin’s team looks like they jumped right out of Beastars; the AIs that look like they came from Madoka Magica; and Dragon looks like a monster version of the Count from The Count of Monte Cristo most of the movie:
Source (Count): https://duo.fandom.com/wiki/The_Count_Of_Monte_Cristo
As a further detriment to the movie, I’m pretty sure that some serious censorship has been enacted in the movie’s travels to the US as moments like Suzu’s mother’s death and the depictions of child abuse are left showing either a black screen or some very bad editing.
Bad, as in, the father pushes a vase onto the floor, the child falls over “from shock” (?) or the abusing father’s hand is never shown hitting the child/children, but the child covers his brother on the floor and flinches heavily at their father just saying some cruel words.
Essentially, they took it out but didn’t really take it out, if you know what I mean.
I guess, other than that, it was good movie. It checked more boxes than Mirai (2018), and though I could see where a lot of the imagery was taking inspiration from (or, at least, caused overlap in my mind), the approach to the idea of Beauty and the Beast was original. An obstacle that is not easy to overcome but is done really well in this movie considering how I didn’t make the connection until Dragon’s appearance in the film. (Actually, I think I didn’t make the connection until Justin calls Dragon a “beast,” but moving on.)
In all, I liked it. It’s not my favorite of Studio Chizu, but the music sure is and I’m happy to have added it to my “completed watching” list.
Recommendations: Stream it rather than watch it in theaters. I’d say the movie get’s a 7/10 Would-Watch-Again, while the music gets 10/10.