When an audience applauds at the end of a movie, you can be assured the story touched their hearts. That's what happened last Saturday when the curtain rang down on Beastly. I went to see the move with a group of teens and teen writers and found the experience uplifting.
The movie is based on the book of the same name by author Alexandra Flinn. Flinn took the familiar Beauty-and-the-Beast Story and brought it up to date, setting it in modern-day New York City. The story moves from Manhattan to Brooklyn, with one sequence outside the city at a lakeside estate. An enjoyable advantage of movie versus book is the dazzling visuals of New York City at night and the bridges lit up like strings of diamonds.
Flinn's main characters are high school students Kyle and Lindy. And to assure us that this is truly a fairy tale, there's a real witch who sets the plot in motion. Kyle (played by Alex Pettyfer) has been taught by his mostly-absent father that looks count for everything. He is a vain boy who offends the witch, played by Mary-Kate Olsen--gothly strange looking.
The witch curses Kyle to be ugly until someone loves him for himself. The trouble is, Kyle is not lovable. That is, until he, now calling himself Hunter, rescues Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) from harm and brings her to live with him in the house his father has stuck him in in Brooklyn. Gradually, Lindy brings out the lovable Kyle inside the Beast he appears to be. The two teens share the house with Kyle's long-time housekeeper (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and blind tutor (Neal Patrick Harris).
The essence of the story deals with appearance and seeing. What does it take to "see" a person as he/she really is? The theme is reinforced by symbols and images. The name Kyle indicates narrow-mindedness; one sidedness, and the name Lindy represents sweetness and prettiness. The tutor, being blind, sees a different side of Kyle, and the housekeeper has always seen Kyle's inner beauty. Kyle's father is totally blind to his son. Kyle/Hunter roams the city at night, hiding inside a hoodie, ashamed of his appearance, trying not to be seen at all.
And what would Beauty and the Beast be without roses? As Kyle begins to realize looks are not everything, his heart opens to the plight and needs of others. He knows Lindy loves roses, so he builds her a greenhouse on the roof and fills it with roses. There's comic relief in Kyle's construction mishaps.
The witch's curse includes a rose bush tattoo on Kyle's arm that changes with the seasons. This symbolizes another aspect of the story, transformation. By the time the rose bush fills out with roses in the Spring, Kyle must have become lovable, OR ELSE remain ugly forever.
All this might give the appearance of a fairy tale. But perhaps it is the truth of the story that grips the audience and elicits emotions. What do you think? Do we put too much emphasis on looks and expensive clothes and not enough on actions and motives? Would you go out of your way to be nice to someone you consider ugly? Have you ever overlooked someone's ugliness and made friends with that person? Have you ever ridiculed someone for his appearanc? Is transformation possible? Let us know what you think.
I think you would applaud the movie, Beastly, but for a slightly different experience, check out the book by Alexandra Flinn.