Beastly, for all its name implies, is harmless. It is rated PG-13 mostly for a scene with a gun and several uses of crummy, potty-mouthed insults. What is most surprising about Beastly is that it tries to retell the Beauty and the Beast fairytale with all its magic intact, while still trying to make it urbane, filled with teenage wit, and street smart. Not that Beastly isn’t charming -- it really is. In the same way Disney original programming is blandly charming. It’s too bad Beastly had to toss in a little too much Bret Easton Ellis to make it PG. If director Daniel Barnz had managed to cut the PG-13 rating down to a much easier for parents of the young to swallow PG, Beastly might have actually found an audience.
One of Beastly’s most arduous scenes is also its first, and once we get past the inevitable setup, the rest is fairly smooth sailing. Beastly opens as a high school population gathers around in an excessively nice school building to watch the election of Kyle (Alex Pettyfer), a popular douche bag who has learned his behavior from his sports-anchor dad (Peter Krause). After winning the election and treating the local school witch, Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), with contempt at an after-party, she turns him into a tattooed, metallic Beast and tells him he has two years to fall in love or he will never get his able, blonde look back.
Before Kyle can properly deal with his new ghastliness, his disgusted father secludes him away in a tall penthouse with only his caretaker, Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton), and blind tutor, Will (Neil Patrick Harris), to hang with. At some point, Kyle begins secretly stalking fellow high school elected person, Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens). He learns she is a scholarship student with a troubled parent. Kyle realizes this is totally O.K. He’ll just blackmail the horrible parent, kidnap the girl, and force her to fall in love with him. It’s the only logical thing he can do…
This plot, for all its magic, is decidedly not enchanting. When Kyle snags Lindy, it is not cute, but rather outlandish. On the same token, why dress Kendra the witch in designer clothing and heels more dangerous than a steel-toed boot? There are no rules being followed in this script, only dabbling. Daniel Barnz takes a bit of fairytale logic and mixes it with teen sentimentality and worldly problems and then tries to harmonize with a romantic setting and Neil Patrick Harris.
It shouldn’t work. Beastly should be unwatchable. Which is why it is surprising when the film is so easy to get through. Beastly, in all its oddity, is easy to follow, and doesn’t make us work too hard to root for many of its characters. In its best moments, Beastly cuts away from its fairytale baseline. Kyle and Will play golf on the roof of their building or shoot the shit about girls. Kyle and Lindy sneak into a zoo and he opens up like a real teenager would. Lindy falls for a “Having a Coke With You” trick. These moments are sanguine, and sometimes perfect. But they don’t hit the tone of the rest of the film at all.
At the end of the day, Beastly never finds an identity in fairytale or reality. It’s too sophisticated for kids, and not polished enough for savvy teens. Even though it promises a happy ending, the film as a whole remains as confused as its titular character throughout the hour and a half it takes to play out. Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t watch Beastly if we are sick with the flu or have kids. If we head in with low expectations, I’m sure we will leave pleasantly surprised.
There are plenty of extras with the film, especially for a DVD release. I guess pre-teens aren’t really down with Blu-ray yet. The first is an alternate ending which is way worse than the one Barnz stuck with. There are also three superfluous scenes that aren’t really worth watching and are basically continuations of things that did occur in the film.
Once you get into the documentary segments, “A Classic Tale Retold” and “Creating the Perfect Beast” are much more watchable. Both bits feature all the main actors, as well as Barnz and the author of the novel Beastly was based on, Alex Flinn. “Creating the Perfect Beast” has merit because it pretty much step-by-step explains the make-up process for getting Alex Pettyfer ready for a day of filming.
The final extra is a music video for Kristina and the Dolls. If I’ve ever recommended anything you take to heart, I’d highly suggest skipping it. Overall we’ve got a disc that has positive moments, but mostly never really works as something special. Just like its sister film.