Beastly Made Better



From the age we learn to read, we are told a book is always best. If for some reason, a movie production team got its hands on it—well, it just can’t compare. After all, it was first conceived in the author’s mind and penned with their original intent. While films can do their utmost to do the author justice, it is rare when the feat is achieved.

I have been disappointed with several of my favorite books turned into movie adaptations. Jane Eyre was one of my favorite reads in high school but I have yet to see a film that fully captures the essence of Charlotte Bronte’s classic. Pride and Prejudice had to go through many different versions before something worthy of Jane Austen’s beloved novel came to fruition. I have only seen one version of The Scarlet Pimpernel but it strays from the book that gave me hours of enjoyment. One could call me a snob, but I prefer the term “Purist.”

Maybe this prejudice is because in words we have the pleasure of painting our own mental pictures. While actors and actresses are great, they don’t always fit our imagination! Or maybe we like novels because of the length offered. Charles Dickens was famously paid by the word so he used twenty when ten would do. Yet it is the lengthiness that makes Dickens as widely remembered as he is. If all screenwriters condensed every Dickens novel into a two hour time slot, there’d be multiple and important details missed. That is one of my biggest pet peeves. I usually fall in love with one of the lesser known scenes in a book and for time purposes, they often get left on the cutting room floor. Why go through that when I can curl up with the book in all its unblemished glory?

On occasion a film does meet our expectations and we see it as something the author would be proud of. It might not be one hundred percent what we would hope it to be, but it is still enjoyable and entertaining. The BBC has done very well with its adaptations of British authors Elizabeth Gaskell and Charles Dickens. Yes, what does help is the fact that they are miniseries, thus getting rid of the time impediment. A miniseries causes the vividness of Cranford, North and South, and Little Dorrit to come alive. Sometimes, in those lucky moments, even the casting choices are ones that resemble our imagination.

It is rare indeed when a movie makes the book better, but for Beastly, such a thing happened.

In Alex Flinn’s teen bestseller, Beastly seems to take a monotonous tone. Written in first person, we see the story from Kyle’s point of view: what he was thinking and feeling when Magda, his school mate (and a witch in disguise) turned him into a full blown beast—fur, claws, the works. He is outfitted with the tools needed to have him live his new life, even a magic mirror. No more does he look like Mr. GQ yet he is tasked with finding a true love who will love him, not his image.

For a while, Kyle just buries himself away in a chat room, chatting with the likes of the Frog Prince and a woman that bears a strong resemblance to the Little Mermaid. Yet when a man comes and attempts to rob his home Kyle strikes a deal with him. His daughter Lindy (Kyle’s classmate)  must come and live with him or else he will go to the police. Lindy does and Kyle becomes Adrian; after all, he does not want his true identity to be known. With the help of Lindy, a blind tutor, and the housemaid that Kyle’s father has hired to care for him, Kyle begins to soften towards people and sees them in a whole new light. He also falls in love with Lindy and does nice things for her, from building her a green house to taking a bullet for her. It is that bullet that causes Lindy to admit her love… and the spell is broken. No longer a beast, Kyle has learned his lesson—beauty is only skin deep.

The book has a great message but the characters seem to lack depth. There is not much description given to anyone, it doesn’t go into great detail about any event, and the book is written quite lamely. The movie is, in my opinion, much, much better.

For starters, the casting is good. Alex Pettyfer seems to fit the role of the “teen heartthrob” rather well. Girls are not going to object to his sandy hair and toned figure. Yet he also is easily hated in the school scenes where he is so self-serving and snobby. As a vivid contrast, Vanessa Hudgens stays in a form much like her character in High School Musical. She is sweet and unpretentious; you truly believe her performance as Lindy falls in love with Kyle. Mary Kate Olsen was an equally superb choice as Kendra, the witch. It’s hard to describe why I feel this way. Perhaps it is because her dress choice is so unique, much like it is in real life. Or maybe because of her long tenure in the industry, she can just take on this role in a believable way. But my favorite choice was Neil Patrick Harris as the blind tutor, Will. He is positively hilarious and the scene stealer every time he is on screen. I loved every time his character interacted with someone.

The screenwriters’ actions of making Kyle a more realistic beast was quite brilliant. Realistically, you couldn’t have a guy wandering around the streets of NYC in a lion costume, even if he did try to wear sweatshirts to cover it up. It just would be ridiculous. Instead, Kyle is given a shaved head, deep scars and lacerations as well as some of his most vile words ever slung at fellow students branded onto his own flesh. To quote Kendra “You now look as you are on the inside.” It’s a version of ugliness we believe. Hadn’t we been taught as children that we are what we say? For Kyle, it becomes a living, active fact yet it is also an ugliness we are not grossed out by. We are drawn to Kyle and hope for a return to his normal self, albeit a less egotistical, self serving one.

Beastly’s successes also lie in the little things. Doing away with Kyle using a message board is a good thing. It didn’t add anything to the book anyway. Having Lindy come to Kyle in the form of Kyle playing a protector lends an old fashioned charm. In the film, Lindy’s father is a drug addict who kills his dealer. Kyle vows to not tell the police as long as Lindy lives with him, since one dealer did get away. Thus, “Hunter” rather than “Adrian” is born. Also, the emphasis placed on both the letter Kyle writes to Lindy and the green house he builds are truly magical. All of this wrapped together invokes the Beauty and the Beast qualities the story was going for but in a far more sophisticated way.

Beastly could have shied away from the book and added junk of some sort. Yet it did not. It remained true to the modern retelling of the Disney tale I grew up with and relatively true to the book it is based on. The ending, however, I thought was vastly different until I discovered the alternate ending on the DVD. While some only prefer the alternative ending, I like them both. Equally, they cause me to smile and be glad. For once the movie did not let me down; in fact, for once my expectations were defied.

A rare quality to be found, to be sure, which is why Beastly has found its way into my heart. ■



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