Release Date: March 4, 2011
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169/171 Max Braden Apparently kidnapping is the way to a girl's heart. Neil Patrick Harris provides a tiny bit of much needed levity.

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In case you were worried about the lack of teen romances involving a girl falling in love with a hideous monster, CBS films brings you Beastly, starring Vanessa Hudgens. Beastly showcases Hudgens in her first role in a film not brought to you by the people of High School Musical. Granted, Hudgens gave it a run in last year’s Bandslam, but that film was poorly marketed. As a result, it’s difficult to gauge the potential draw of Hudgens in a non-Disney movie. Unlike Bandslam, Beastly allows Hudgens to try and headline a movie not involving music, and one with the proper marketing slant.

One of the many films delayed by the writers' strike, Beastly represents one of CBS Films’ first attempts at the big screen. CBS’s first attempt at the big screen came in January 2010’s disappointing Extraordinary Measures. In order to prove themselves as a respectable studio, CBS must hope this more teen-inspired Beast will be a hit with the teen set this summer. Given the low budget of around $20 million, CBS shouldn’t have any problem recouping that budget regardless of the film’s success.

Following the mold of every Hollywood product these days, Beastly updates a classic tale, this time transplanting Beauty and the Beast to Brooklyn. Hudgens has been cast as the “beauty”, while young British actor and former model Alex Pettyfer has been cast as the “beast”. Apparently it helps the ladies if the boy behind that ugly face has chiseled abs and can rock a pair of Calvin Kleins. Focusing on Pettyfer’s character, the story starts with your average douchebag teen ditching a goth classmate (Mary-Kate Olsen) at a school environmental bash. In a fit of retaliation she casts a spell on him, turning him into a beast. Naturally, the curse can only be broken when someone falls in love with him despite his looks. Upon seeing his beastly son, Kyle’s equally douchey father bans him to Brooklyn, where he falls in love with Hudgens. Rounding out the supporting cast are Neil Patrick Harris and Peter Krause.

Daniel Barnz will be helming Beastly from his own script he adapted from the novel by Alex Flinn. Barnz's previous foray into directing was the little-seen Phoebe in Wonderland, a film loosely connected to Alice in Wonderland. Phoebe received a limited theatrical run in March 2009 and debuted at Sundance a year earlier to tepid critical response. While Phoebe was directed with more than teenagers in mind, Beastly seems directly aimed at the teen crowd. However, considering this cast of varying talents, I’m questioning what overall effect Barnz is aiming for. With the two headliners and the material that has been released, the movie already has a strong Twilight vibe. Yet, in one of the most critical roles, Vanessa Hudgens has been cast. How sincere she’ll be able to play off a more dramatic role is debatable, something her core group of fans isn’t concerned with. Hudgens is certainly popular with the High School Musical crowd, but she hasn’t carried any other project yet. Given the mishandling of Bandslam, it’s difficult to gauge whether she can carry a picture on her name. Alex Pettyfer seems an even more unlikely choice to play the beast, someone who was picked more upon his looks than his acting range. Pettyfer might drive some girls to see this movie, but since his name is less well known in the states, his influence on the movie’s success is less certain

The supporting cast seems more to fill out the cast than anything else. Neil Patrick Harris (he of the song and dance while conquering vulnerable females of New York) is an odd choice for a movie centered on moody teens. Whether Harris possesses the same following with teens as he does with the 20- and 30-something set is doubtful. The inclusion of Olsen also screams of catering to the older siblings of High School Musical fans than a group of kids whose only exposure to Full House has been on Nick at Nite.

Regardless of casting choices, this movie got moved into production based on its similarity to Twilight. Twilight has a strong set of ardent supporters that could help drive the success of this project. Hudgens has plenty of fans that may or may not cross over with the former. Plenty of girls will surely be excited the see Hudgens take on a role in a movie similar to Twilight. Whether Beastly can equal Twilight’s popularity is questionable. Unlike Twilight, Beastly’s promotional department doesn’t seem as strong. Twilight had the added advantage of an already dedicated following to overcome any deficiencies in the trailer or promotional material, whereas Beastly is based on a less beloved book. To gain an additional audience, Beastly needs to rely on a strong advertising campaign. So far, the promotional results for Beastly are a bit spotty. On the positive side the movie has gained a considerable following on Facebook. Considering the growing popularity of social sites, the proper use of Facebook and other similar sites could be a crucial selling point for teen-oriented movies. Additionally, the movie seems to be accurately associating the story with Twilight to gain that additional following. On the negative side, the stills featuring Pettyfer in his beast makeup are awful. That’s not to mention the atrocious teaser that seems better fitted for a CBS drama series than a CBS film. Featuring a generic voiceover and ending with Pettyfer standing on a bridge as if he were Batman, the trailer just falls flat.

In the end, all the marketing campaign needs to do is persuade a female audience that Beastly is a worthy Twilight imitator. As shown in recent years, Hollywood does have a place for female centric movies not based on Nicholas Sparks novels, New Moon’s opening day performance proved this. New Moon’s fan base reached beyond those who shop at Hot Topic by gaining a female audience that was well past their high school graduation. Beastly needs to hope it can tap into this demographic as well if it wishes to be successful. Since Twilight has a larger fan base; expectations to match those movies are unrealistic. However, CBS can’t be disappointed if Twilight even reaches half of Twilight’s audience. Given the merchandise associated with the film, there has to be hopes the movie takes hold to make room for a potential franchise. (Anthony Daquano/BOP)

Vital statistics for Beastly
Main Cast Vanessa Hudgens, Alex Pettyfer
Supporting Cast Mary-Kate Olsen, Neil Patrick Harris, Peter Krause
Director Daniel Barnz
Screenwriter Daniel Barnz
Distributor CBS Films
Official Site
Rating PG-13
Running Time 95 minutes
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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