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Encanto And Mitchells Vs. The Machines Have A Big Competitor In The Animated Movie Awards Race, Here's What You Need To Know

Katie from The Mitchells vs. Machines and Mirabel from Encanto, pictured side by side.
(Image credit: Sony Pictures Animation/Walt Disney Pictures)

Here we are, in the thick of awards season, and many key races are being run right under our noses. Best Animated Film is going to be a hotly watched category, especially this year as Disney’s magical musical Encanto and Sony/Netflix’s coming-of-age apocalypse comedy The Mitchells vs. The Machines are both vying for the hearts and minds of awards bodies and the internet. However, those movies have a big competitor in the animated movies awards race, as GKids and Studio Chizu’s semi-musical fairytale Belle has made its theatrical debut after generating a lot of buzz with critics at festivals. 

In honor of this anime spectacle that’s currently playing in theaters, I’d like to run through some things you should know about this formidable contender. Before we jump into the finer details, you should definitely take time to watch the trailer for one of 2021’s dark horse contenders in the animated space.

That’s just a taste of what to expect with Belle, which has already made an impressive debut on the domestic box office. So here’s some of the other information you should know about this new and exciting feature film!

Belle floating up close in Belle.

(Image credit: Studio Chizu)

What Exactly Is Belle About?

Belle’s story tells the tale of Suzu (Kaho Nakamura,) a young girl in high school who keeps to herself as much as possible. That is, until the social media network known as “U” comes into her life and allows her to reinvent herself as a beautiful and enigmatic singer. As she lives her double life, the world ponders over who the pop star known as “Belle” really is... until a “beast” known as Dragon (Takeru Satoh) starts to make a name for himself as a greater mystery. Drawn to this shadowy figure, Suzu tries to uncover the identity of Dragon while maintaining her own anonymity. 

Belle Suzu floating above a sea of lights in Belle.

(Image credit: Studio Chizu)

Belle Comes From Acclaimed Animation Director Mamoru Hosoda

Anime fans are already familiar with the name Mamoru Hosoda, but for the uninitiated, he is the director behind several prolific and acclaimed anime features. With a resume that includes Summer Wars, Wolf Children and The Boy and The Beast, Hosoda’s filmography is already pretty stocked with amazing credits. But, of course, there’s one more film that we’re about to mention that establishes his pedigree as an Academy Award contender. 

Kun and Mirai falling through the air in Mirai.

(Image credit: Studio Chizu)

Hosoda Previously Saw His Work Nominated In 2019 With The Film Mirai

As if the resume for Belle’s director wasn’t already impressive enough, Mamoru Hosoda’s previous film Mirai was actually a nominee for Best Animated Feature at 2019’s Academy Awards. Competing in a field that saw Incredibles 2 and Isle of Dogs also vying for the trophy that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse would eventually win, that’s quite a race to run. So naturally Mr. Hosoda’s name is already coming up in preliminary talks for this year’s competition, and Belle has caught the eye of some pretty major predictions. 

Belle standing in front of a flood of messages in Belle.

(Image credit: Studio Chizu)

The Film Is Already Being Discussed As A Contender For Best Animated Feature

Currently, Variety has Belle listed as a second tier contender, sitting in the publication’s “Next In Line” bracket as of the last update. Roughly in the same class as fellow animated notable Sing 2, Mamoru Hosoda’s latest opus is pretty high up in the running for a nomination, especially when looking at how voluminous the competition is through Variety’s own rankings. There’s still some time for those rankings to change, and Belle could find itself heading towards a nomination as an outside contender for 2022’s Academy Awards. 

Belle Dragon and Belle face off in a doorway in Belle.

(Image credit: Studio Chizu)

Belle Is A New Spin On Beauty And The Beast

It always helps when a movie like Belle has a creative pedigree of talent like Mamoru Hosoda behind its production. However, what could also help distinguish this tale of technology and kindness is the fact that it’s heavily influenced by that tale as old as time, Beauty and the Beast. Instead of spinning the same old story of a young woman trying to change a supernatural beast, Hosoda takes components of that tale and weaves them into brand new concepts.

As both beauty and beast happen to wear a mask in the virtual world of “U,” there's more to this story than just a simple transformation, with both sides uncertain about who they're really talking to. Familiar themes are presented in a brand new light, and with very different results from both the animated and live-action versions Disney produced, but Belle is just as spellbinding as your preferred version of those wildly successful interpretations.

A class photo being taken in Belle.

(Image credit: Studio Chizu)

Belle’s English Dub Has An Impressive Pedigree Of Well Known Actors

As with any anime movie heading to theaters on the domestic front, GKids has two different versions of Belle available. If you’re a fan of subbed content, then the original Japanese vocals are the way to go. But if you choose the English dub of the film, then you’ll hear some pretty familiar voices. Boasting talent like Euphoria’s Hunter Schafer, The Boys’ Chase Crawford and The Good Place’s Manny Jacinto in this variant, some may be tempted to either choose this version for their first encounter, or revisit the film a second time to see how the English dub plays out.

Belle dressed in red flowers during a performance in Belle.

(Image credit: Studio Chizu)

The Soundtrack To Belle Is Extremely Catchy In Either Language

The final reason you should be checking out Belle is one that, sadly, doesn’t seem to be up for awards consideration, though it absolutely deserves such attention. While not a full-on musical, Mamoru Hosoda’s film has quite a few songs that act as set pieces for the story overall. Lead voice actors Kaho Nakamura and Kylie McNeill actually sing Belle’s songs in the Japanese and English dubs, respectively, and both soundtracks have already found quite a following among fans of the movie. (And if you're someone who likes to listen before watching, both the Japanese and English versions of the soundtrack are currently streaming online!)

Based on the groundswell of support and buzz that Belle has found on the internet, the movie could have legs beyond its theatrical release. Much as Encanto and The Mitchells vs. The Machines have used their niches to propel themselves on the music charts and the awards circuit respectively, Mamoru Hosoda’s gorgeously animated fairy tale could find itself swimming in those very same circles in the weeks to come. Awards glory might still be a bit uncertain, but if it doesn’t pan out, Belle has one distinction that might serve it better in the end: it has the makings of a loyal fanbase that will never let its protagonist’s song remain unsung. 

If you want to catch Belle for yourself, check your local listings carefully and see which showings are in Japanese with subtitles or English dubbing. Better still, if you really want to immerse yourself in the world of U, there may still be some IMAX showings available at a theater near you. Finally, if you want to see Mamoru Hosoda’s previous Academy Award-nominated film Mirai, it's currently one of the many anime movies streaming in the Netflix library of titles.

Mike Reyes
Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.