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Movie Review: Belle (2021)

This anime film completely exceeded my expectations! Here I was, thinking it would be a fun, futuristic(ish) metaverse vibe retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Which it kind of was, but then it went way beyond that.

Plot

Belle is the most popular influencer/singer in the digital world of U (aka the metaverse of the film). As a hit newcomer, of course she has everyone wondering who she is in the real world. Enter Suzu, a completely ordinary high-schooler on the shy, clumsy side of life. Suzu learned singing from her deceased mother, and as much as she loves it, Suzu finds she can only sing in the digital world using her avatar identity, Belle. Whenever Suzu tries to sing in real life, post traumatic symptoms set in to block Suzu’s voice.

Suzu feels like she’s all alone, but she actually has a great best friend named Hiro, a tech-savvy genius physicist who helps with all of Belle’s music productions and digital effects in the U. Basically, Belle would not have been that popular without Hiro’s skill. The two girls are the only ones who know of Belle’s true identity.

Since it is a teen drama, there is high school drama in Suzu and Hiro’s lives which they have to deal with, in addition to a threat in the U named the Beast. The Beast causes problems where ever he goes, but Belle takes a liking to him. When Beast gets into deep trouble with the Justices in the U, Belle thinks she is the only one that can help him. But how can she help him if she doesn’t even know who he really is?

Thus Suzu and Hiro begin their search for Beast’s identity in the real world, and what they find out will change Suzu’s life.

Thoughts

My gods, the plot twist of who the Beast was really got to me. It was completely unexpected, suspenseful, and emotionally gut wrenching. Writer and director Mamoru Hosoda did an excellent job superimposing the digital and physical realities of our times to show how both are real, both interactions on digital and physical platforms can really change people’s circumstances and lives. The side characters: Suzu’s dad, the community choir older ladies, and Suzu’s high school friends Shinobu, Ruka, and Kamishin, are also precious, especially as the film eventually reveals their relationships to each other.

The ending deeply moved me, and yes, I did cry in several climactic moments. As a plus, the animation and soundtrack (Belle’s songs) are beautiful. I highly recommend this anime film!

PS: the premise of this film reminds me of If I Stay, a novel by Sherry.

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Movie Review: Cruella

What a doll of a movie! This retelling of one of Disney’s creepiest villains Cruella Devil, is a party vibe fun watch. I mean, as if two Emmas (Emma Stone and Emma Thompson) is not enough star blinking power, we get a Devil Wears Prada high fashion mixed with Six of Crows thievery mood. This review has mild spoilers, so continue at your discretion.

The Hair

Yes, Cruella’s signature is her half black half white hair which you can tell from miles away. This hair got a lot of symbolic attention which was frankly quite brilliant. When Cruella was younger (under her birth name of Estella), she was already wild. The little girl got into trouble in school for defending her friend Anita, and beating up the guys who bullied them.

However, after her mother’s tragic death, Estella had to go into hiding (or risk living in orphanages). She ran into two thug boys Jasper and Horace, and they become a team. Estella hides her identity by dying her hair red. When the three grow up, Jasper helps Estella land a job in the fashion industry, something Estella had always dreamed of.

Her dreams become nightmarish however when Estella discovers horrible truths behind her boss, the Baroness. Bent on revenge, Estella goes back to her true self and this is symbolized with the return of the black and white hair. She renames herself Cruella and upstages the London fashion world with her daring antics and wild sense of style.

The Family Card

At one point in the movie, Cruella gets carried away and becomes a bit manic. I really liked this part because I agree that any extreme is dangerous. Moderate is the new cool. It’s great to discover (or rediscover) your true self, and to show that to the world, but it’s not cool if it happens at the cost of the relationships which matter most to you.

When Cruella comes to her senses (shout out to Emma Stone’s fabulous acting) she finds a moderate middle between Cruella and Estella and rallies her thug family back together.

Cruella makes it the second Disney movie this year which gets 5 stars from me- the first was Raya and the Last Dragon.

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Book Review: Heartless

My fellow co-founders of the Mad Tea Book Club Sherry from The Cozy Library and Krisandryka Wijaya recommended Heartless. In fact, Marissa Meyer is Sherry’s favorite author! With such high recommendations, I thought I had to check it out. Spoiler Alerts!

Synopsis

Heartless is a delicious, flirtatious, and absolutely MAD retelling of how the Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland) became so angry, vengeful, and well…heartless all the time. Given the title and the subject of choice, we all know where the ending is going right?

Obviously, the relationship between the protagonist Lady Cath and the mysterious court Joker Jest was not going to go well, even before those two characters were ever conceived. Alas, a sad destiny. But oh, the build-up! Marissa Meyer is great at building up the chemistry between the two of them, and slow cooking them into each other’s lives.

All our favorite characters from Wonderland are here. The Hatter (who is not yet mad!), Cheshire the invisible-invincible-infuriating cat, and even the monster we all love to slay: the Jabberwock. Thinking about it, I wonder why no one has made a retelling of the Jabberwock’s story…a little ugly beast dejected by the other creatures, his environment destroyed as a result of the ever-pressing humans into his natural environment…okay there’s an idea for you writers!

Too Long?

As much as I enjoy Wonderland and all its loony characters, I felt like this book was rambling on a bit too long. Lady Cath is extremely indecisive in choosing her dreams over the expectations of her parents. She is equally as flimsy in choosing between the mysterious Jest or the silly but kind King. Several of the back and forth scenes also did not add anything to the plot, nor to the characters’ developments.

The ending still packed a punch despite being obvious (the creepy Three Sisters even prophesied it). However, I was so impatient that by the time I got to the ending, I was not as heart-broken as Cath.

All in all, 3 stars. Would I venture to read more Marissa Meyer’s stuff? YES, because I do love fairy tale retellings. I just hope the other protagonists are more decisive than this one!