Fairy tales are getting a modern day makeover, with Catherine Hardwicke sexing up Red Riding Hood with a Gothic treatment, and Cannes now getting all hot and heavy with Julia Leigh's Sleeping Beauty, which is getting a number of negative press for being much ado about nothing save for plenty of nudity. Beauty and the Beast gets the teenage romance treatment that stays in perfectly PG territory that deals with the superficiality of vanity and good looks, with the usual reminder that beauty comes from within and is more than just skin deep. Highly predictable, with hot actors of the moment in lead roles to carry this film through.
Based upon the novel by Alex Flinn, Daniel Barnz directs and writes the screenplay for what is firmly a tale for the teenage demographic, casting Alex Pettyfer, best known to date for his portrayal of John in I Am Number Four earlier this year, as the rich kid Kyle, introduced as an A-One jerk running for presidency of some green club that he has absolutely no concerns for, only to boost his CV and banging on his mean streak, arrogance, money and good looks to canvass for votes. He insults the weird dresser Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen), who turns out to be a witch that hexes him with a curse, turning him into a hideously looking bald guy complete with ugly scars and tattoos, that he becomes a walking freak show spurned by his dad (Peter Krause) even.
But with money comes the solution to a lot of things, such as buying a penthouse away from the city to house Kyle away from public scrutiny, with Ducati bikes and limos at his beck and call for use. If there's a single takeaway from the film, it is that money talks and solves problems, from hiring of a blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) to impart life values and to crack a joke or two, to that of a housekeeper Zola (Lisa Gay Hamilton) who sees the beauty beneath the extremely ugly facade put up by Kyle. The both of them form the nucleus of the new beastly household supporting Kyle in his quest to break the curse set upon him.
Before the curse gets permanently set in 12 months time, Kyle has to seek out true love in order to be rid of it, and to get the person to say those 3 sacred words. With absolutely no social graces or skills to talk about since everything about the teenager is money and manipulation through his appearance, he finds it terribly hard to try and connect with others, obliterating his past smug life, until he hatches a plan to try and seduce Lindy, played by Vanessa Hudgens, to make that goody two shoes fall in love with him, or at least that's how director Daniel Barnz made it seem like. You know you'd come to expect true love that will eventually take over, but somehow that rang quite hokey and convenient, since Alex Pettyfer made it seem like he's really the master manipulator, scheming and planning for sparks to fly and chemistry to be exploited in order to work toward Kyle's selfish objectives.
So the redemption didn't actually feel sincere, and that's why this film failed in its wanting to tell a moral story that all that matters is the beauty in one's heart and intention. After all, the Beast here did quite the unthinkable, in blackmailing Lindy's dad to send Lindy into his abode in order to stay safe since she's wanted by some thug, and of course to fall into his plan of slowly romancing the lass in order to be rid of his hex. Surprisingly though the household's tutor and housekeeper encourages and assists him in this dastardly plan, even though you're supposed to imagine that they see beyond his cruel facade into that heart of cold, which is quite a stretch in this story of convenience (such as having no other suitors readily available), especially in the final act.
Vanessa Hudgens ditches her recent bad girl turn in Sucker Punch for something a little more Disney-like, that damsel who is in distress crying out for someone to sweep her off her feet and the burden of looking after a drug junkie dad. It's a pretty lightweight Belle equivalent she plays here with little depth in her Lindy being quite impressed with the highly engineered efforts to woo her, hopeful that her crush on the biggest jerk in school would turn into something more meaningful, and possessing that requisite heart of gold.
It's a little ironic that a film that seeks to speak up against superficiality and vanity, would be nothing more than that what it wanted to speak up against. Not the strongest nor sharpest Beauty and the Beast retelling out there.