FIRST LOOK: ‘Beastly’ is for the teenies, but a captivating new take on the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale for all

Alex Pettyfer plays a popular student leader whose good looks disappear after a supernatural spell and Vanessa Hudgens plays the classmate who sees the beauty through his ugliness in 'Beastly,' the film adaptation of the Alex Flinn novel.

I feel like now that lit-based franchises popular with the young crowd—read: the Harry Potter and Twilight sagas—are soon meeting their ends on the big screen, Hollywood is adapting more young adult fantasy novels for the cinema in order to fill that void. It also appears that they’re trying to prop up a new pin-up boy, as the likes of Robert Pattinson and Zac Efron branch out into the real world. Meet 20-year-old British import Alex Pettyfer, who has another big film in theaters right now, I Am Number Four, coincidentally also based on a fictional novel targeted at teens. Pair him up with a former (Or maybe she still is) teen queen, Vanessa Hudgens of the High School Musical films, and you’ve got one magical saga that will most likely please your 13 or 14-year-old sister.

But there is a universal appeal to Beastly, based on the 2007 fantasy novel by Alex Flinn. It isn’t necessarily in its pretty and young leads or that Neil Patrick Harris outshines everyone in the movie—it’s in the way it brings a modern and different type of enchantment to one of the world’s most beloved tales. It’s a little bit dark and quite shallow, yet it manages to amuse and bring an unexpected sentimentality for some of the most skeptical of viewers out of the targeted demographic.

Instead of the countryside that always serves as the setting in Beauty and the Beast retellings of the past, Beastly is set in present-day New York City, where Kyle (Pettyfer) is considered the charismatic but arrogant king of his high school society. He treats everyone decently as long as they’re in the same caliber of good-looking, rich, and popular like himself—so naturally, he treats the new freaky girl Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), clad in wigs, heavy eye makeup, and black clothes, like an inanimate object. Little does he know that she’s a beautiful witch in disguise, and she casts a spell on him for her revenge. Under the spell, Kyle loses his good looks and gets covered by tattoos, grotesque scars, and a bald head and Kendra tells him that he’ll stay that way unless someone can love him by next year. He gets sent away by his news anchor father to live in obscurity with their maid Magda (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and a blind tutor named Will (Harris). Though he can’t attend school anymore, fate brings him back to a shy but smart and beautiful classmate, Lindy (Hudgens), whom he develops a friendship that’s as stronger as ever with. But Kyle must earn back the love he falls into before time is up, or he’ll remain beastly on the outside despite his newfound compassionate attitude.

The extremely out-there and unlikely scenarios, such as Kyle’s majorly insensitive attitude at the beginning of the movie and the way he and Lindy reunite outside of school after his transformation, are imaginative and essential to moving the narrative forward, but come off as ridiculous. Then there’s the script, which is inane and cheesy for a good deal of the time for unintentional laughs. And while Pettyfer and Hudgens shared good chemistry, the way their friendship was paced and portrayed felt too rushed. At least one or two scenes with more conflict could have made the story more real in spite of its supernatural fantasy.

Even so, the two leads are sweet and charming in their scenes together and following the journey of how they go from merely high school green committee co-officers to unlikely friends and lovebirds is enjoyable. However, there’s even more substance in the relationships between Kyle, Magda, and Will. Magda and Will don’t replace Kyle’s father, but rather have roles similar to the household objects of the Beast in the 1991 Disney adaptation, serving as guides and advisors to Kyle’s Beast. In one of the film’s most delightful and funniest scenes, their sometimes simple but wise words are especially important when Kyle tries to woo Lindy with expensive gifts at her bedroom door. “It’s like you’re trying to buy her…you are,” Magda tells him. So instead, Kyle does something for her from the heart, which has to do with a mutual interest from their time in school. The snark and sass from Magda and Will give Beastly its most hilarious and entertaining streak, and Harris especially does a wonderful job at portraying an eternal optimist withstanding his disability.

Also impressive is the performance of Pettyfer and his creation of a character to feel a connection with. I Am Number Four showed that he could be a good action hero, but Beastly shows that he can be multidimensional. Pettyfer’s Kyle made us scoff with his asinine personality, initially. As the story progressed, he became one to root for through and through by opening his heart, and he also showed he could be humorous without being a jerk. Pettyfer has a comedic side that peeked through close to largely, and on-and-off, conveyed the sensitivity that most people thought his character would be incapable of. While it’s a role that won’t win him golden statuettes, it will certainly win him some hearts.

The never-overdone but beautiful visuals—such as the cinematography of New York City, Kyle’s transformations, and the significant greenhouse set—was another accomplishment within Beastly‘s reach, but it’s not the only aspect that makes it attractive. While marketed to young adults and flawed in some of its simplicities, the ultra-contemporary landscape, retelling, and dynamic characters all make this new film a potentially pleasant and heart-tugging surprise for everyone.

OVERALL SCORE: 7/10

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