This ain’t your ordinary Beauty and the Beast tale.

“Belle” is a Japanese anime feature that plays like a “Matrix” version of “Beauty and the Beast.” The virtual reality world is known as “U,” which allows users to be anyone and do anything. You just have to put on headphones with the U logo, log on to your U app, and anything is possible.

The visual world, presented by writer/director Mamoru Hosoda (“Mirai,” “The Boy and the Beast”), is a marvelous and dazzling world. Taking its traditional animation and combining it with CGI in various parts, you’re able to see how his views of VR can open up many possibilities without seeming so commercialized.

Besides that, “Belle” also tells a complex story about kindness and sadness, and it also doesn’t play like the romantic “Beauty and the Beast” story you’re used to. Granted there’s a dance sequence that nearly resembles the famous Disney sequence, but there’s also something different inside that really sets things in motion.

We meet Suzu, a shy high school girl, whose life enters sadness after the death of her mother, who rescued a little girl in a raging river. In the U, she’s known as the music sensation Belle, who has pink hair and a voice like hers. In fact, she looks and sings like an Angel, but no one knows her true identity.

When she begins to assume the A.S. role, she’s gets a polarizing reaction from users, who either think she’s a beauty with a heart of gold or a show off trying to get attention, and they don’t like her freckles. To make absolute certain that her identity remains a secret, her computer friend Hiroka makes sure her funds go to charity.

But then, users learn to appreciate her and, thus, Belle becomes the sensation, while Hiroka’s A.S. is in the form of a cute white and aqua bird-like creature.

Threatening Belle’s concert is the ruthless champion fighter known as the Dragon, who takes no prisoners in his fights. The one willing to expose him is Justin, the self-righteous leader of a vigilante group, while the one who wants to see his true form is Belle. Note the difference in how I describe the same topic.

Justin is the movie’s Gaston, because he’s the sadistic monster, who believes in order and power, while Suzu as Belle is more willing to protect his identity than hers. The Beast is more concerned about the bruises on his back and his facial appearance, which leaves angrier and sadder every time, more appear. And BTW, the title of the story would also be known as “The Dragon and the Freckled Princess.”

I didn’t like some childhood flashbacks, because of how loud some of the crying was (and I told you about my issue in “The Lost Daughter”), but I still admired “Belle” for its inner and outer beauty. It tackles on some serious subjects for a PG rating, and allows anime fans to delve deep inside both worlds for their human qualities and visual appeal. Mamoru Hosoda has been inspired by Hayao Miyazaki for all his works, and both Japanese animators know how to express human emotions and move the animation with the greatest of ease.

The English dub cast is also uniformly excellent. They consist of 19-year-old Kylie McNeill as Suzu and Belle, Paul Castro, Jr. (“The Skeleton Twins) as the Dragon, Hunter Schafer (“Euphoria”) as the popular, but kind-hearted Ruka, Chace Crawford as the controlling Justin, Manny Jacinto (“The Good Place,” “Nine Perfect Strangers”) as Suzu’s childhood friend and later crush Shinobu, Brandon Engman as the only member of a kayak club, and Jessica DiCicco (“The Loud House,” “The Emperor’s New School”) as the brainy Hiroka.

“Belle” is an absorbing experience, and takes its time to prove to us that it’s more than meets the eye. See for yourselves.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Beginning Today in Select IMAX Locations

Expands This Friday

Categories: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Fantasy, Foreign, Music, Musical, Sci Fi

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