NOTE: This article is NOT meant to say which one is better. It is a comparison piece and highlights certain similarities and differences between the two films. Both films are great and deserve a watch.
So with Studio Chizu’s latest film Belle releasing in North American theaters, for a limited time thanks to GKids, things are looking great so far with $2 Million opening weekend (which is good for most foreign films,) and has gained praise from both critics and fans alike.
The film, directed by Studio Ghibli alumni Mamoru Hosoda, known for films such as The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Wolf Children and The Boy and his Beast, and developed by his production company Studio Chizu with some assistance from Cartoon Saloon for the backgrounds. The best way to experience the film arguably is in theaters as it gives more emphasis on the visuals and sound.
The film is a modern day interpretation of the classic French fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Our main character Shozu Naito, is an awkward Japanese high school girl who used to sing but lost her confidence when her mother died. In a new virtual world called “U” and creates an alter ego named Bell, later renamed to Belle.
In this reality she is able to sing again and instantly becomes an internet sensation. While holding a concert it is interrupted by a user known as “Dragon”, sometimes called Beast, as he is fleeing a group of salt appointed moderators known as Justices who want to expose his true identity as they see him as a threat. Belle sympathizes with him and seeks to find out who he really is.
I have seen this film multiple times. I love the music and visuals and it has a very unique take on the classic fairy tale. I personally prefer the Japanese language with English subtitles but that’s just me.
But after repeat viewing I noticed some striking similarities to a personal favorite of mine, the 1991 Disney version of Beauty and the Beast and I felt like sharing them here.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS. PLEASE WATCH BOTH FILMS BEFORE READING OR CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION.
So one thins I definitely noticed was some of the character designs for the Avatars in U were very Disney-like. This is most likely due to South Korean character designer and Disney veteran, Jin Kim, designed the main character as well as a few others.
His work on films like Frozen, Moana and Tangled can’t be understated, but the similarities to his past work are present here since Belle sometimes resembles a pink haired Elsa or Anna.
Next are some similarities with the story. I am a huge fan of the original fairy tale. I have read it multiple times and have seen dozens of different versions. Yet Belle has a number of elements that are distinctly associated with the 1991 Disney film.
The female lead is somewhat of a social outsider compared to her peers, her mother has passed away, The Beast has a number of non-humanoid servants who call him master, the beast has a secret room with a broken portrait hanging on the wall, the beast scares the heroine away only to rescue her from danger and brings her back to his castle, there is a main antagonist who wants to “slay the beast”, there is an assault on the Beast’s castle and the main heroine helps rescue the Beast near the end.
But one other major similarity, and the most apparent to me at least, was a number of shots greatly resembled the 1991 film. I was unable to gather every shot since the film is still in theaters but below are a handful of examples I was able to put together. If you watch the film you can definitely notice some scenes took inspiration from the Disney classic:
But this isn’t necessarily “stealing” as some might call it. It is clearly meant to be paying homage to the cinematic landmark with its inspiration. The film CLEARLY has many differences.
The film is set in modern day and the main character is a high school student. She has an alter ego who is a famous singer, she has multiple friends and a crush. The main villain is an internet moderator, the beast is actually a 14 year old boy who lives with his younger brother and abusive father. Our main heroine doesn’t end up with the Beast, at least in a romantic way, and presumably starts dating her crush. But the BIGGEST difference is the setting. We spend a lot of time in the virtual world with different visuals styles and interest with various characters in there all while trying to figure out who the Beast’s secret identity is. This film is a great retelling of the classic story and further cements Mamoru Hosoda as one of Japan’s leading directors.
But this does bring up a good question. What is the difference between paying homage to something or blatant theft?
Disney of course has been accused of theft for decades with controversies like Kimba the White Lion/The Lion King, The Thief and the Cobbler/Aladdin and Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water/Atlantis: The Lost Empire, though there is plenty of evidence to suggest the contrary. But we also of course have the Pixar-Dreamworks Rivalry. It’s a topic that’s with discussing but I won’t elaborate on it any further.
Belle is a fantastic film with amazing music and visuals with a Virtual Reality world and suspenseful mystery story. It is definitely a great reinterpretation of Beauty and the Beast. I highly recommend seeing it before it leaves theaters.
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