A review by Claire Ramsey (c) May 2011
“Everyone knows that story,” says Lindy to Kyle, still darting her head as she looks for Hunter, the boy with whom she has fallen in love. It takes another minute and a cell phone ringing in Kyle’s pocket for her to realize that Kyle and Hunter were, or are, one and the same.
Lindy is right. The story she and Kyle/Hunter share is better known as ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ In fact, Lindy’s comment could be used about several movies forming a new trend recently – no, not the vampire movie trend. I mean the trend of retelling fairy tales in new settings. Other examples: ‘Tangled,’ (Rapunzel) and the horror retelling of ‘Red Riding Hood.’ They were both in the theater with ‘Beastly.’
‘Beastly’ features Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer in the story’s title roles Beauty and Beast (Lindy and Kyle in the movie.) Lindy is an outsider who crushes on Kyle when he, in a rare generous moment, gives her the corsage that his cheerleader girlfriend rejected. That Kyle has a blond bombshell girlfriend that perfectly matches his persona is no surprise, since everyday Kyle is a selfish pretty-boy who believes, like his news-anchor father, that good looks and popularity can buy anything. After he chooses her for the butt of a practical joke, Goth witch Kendra (Mary Kate Olsen) sets out to show him otherwise and transforms him into what no doubt is Kyle’s idea of a beast. She gives him one year to find someone who will love him in his new guise, and gives him a rosebush tattoo that marks the passage of the time by its roses growing, fading, and wilting as real roses would do.
The movie is pleasant, the actors unexceptionable, and the story is what we could anticipate if we, like many, have read or seen more traditional retellings. What sets this retelling apart are the following features to look for, both positive and negative.
First, to elaborate on something I already touched on. Kyle must be transformed into his idea of a beast rather than everyone (i.e., teenage girls’) else’s, because as attractive as he is with his wavy blond hair, he is almost equally attractive as a ‘beast.’ Sharper, yes – scarred and tattooed, but he is by no means hideous. At least I give the director and makeup designers full marks for creativity – he could be said to be hard to recognize as the ‘beast.’ At least no one is just sticking on a pair of thick glasses, ala Clark Kent…
Also to do with Kyle/Hunter – I guess if you are suddenly changed from the center of social life at your school to being rejected by everyone, including your father, you might not know how to approach a girl. You never needed to – they swarmed all over you. That is the only excuse I can give him for what is in effect stalking Lindy. I was a little unnerved, since the stalking is treated as normal behavior, even understandable, for someone who is an outsider. Having been an outsider myself, I might find it understandable, yes, but I wish it had not been presented as quite so normal, even natural behavior. Kids are going to watch this movie, y’know…
Quite apart from things which I was not so fond of, there was Neil Patrick Harris as Kyle/Hunter’s witty blind tutor, Will. Kyle’s father wants him to continue his education but is terrified that anyone will see him. Hence, Will. There is not really much to say that wouldn’t give too much away, but if there is a reason to see this movie beyond a fun evening with friends and popcorn, his name is Will.
Lastly. That father. I am not sure whether it is just good story writing or political correctness run amok, but I am fairly sure that, whether it was in the book or not, Hollywood did not want to leave Kyle fully to blame for his terrible behavior. It was not quite as obvious as Roald Dahl’s poetic blaming of Veruca Salt’s parents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
“a girl can’t spoil herself, you know. …
They are (and this is very sad)
Her loving parents, MUM and DAD.”
But it is definitely there. When Kyle and his Dad are trying to talk in the kitchen – Kyle’s dad on his Bluetooth all the while – we get our first sympathetic glimpse of Kyle as he texts his dad to try to get a word in edgewise. The attempt succeeds – for approximately ten seconds, after which we hear Kyle mutter that they last time they really talked was when he told his father he was dying of brain cancer. A little humanizing, even before his ‘treatment’ as a beast, will help a young audience like Kyle enough to care about the story, but an adult audience might find it overdone. And just in case we didn’t catch it the first time, the last seconds of the movie imply that absentee, looks-obsessed Dad is about to get a witchy comeuppance…
A nice popcorn picture, good for middle schoolers or teens. For the younger set, rent Disney again or, better yet, READ them a good retelling (Robin McKinley’s Beauty is an excellent evening chapter-by-chapter read.) Or take them to a library storytelling program.
Claire Vera Ramsey discovered storytelling by drawing stories in pictures when she was still too young to write. Claire’s storytelling upgraded from hobby to her business Stories With Claire after she took a university storytelling class. The “premier storyteller” of Wake Forest and ex officio president of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild, Claire Ramsey believes storytelling help people value education and learn from one another. More information about Stories With Claire: www.storieswithclaire.com