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Review: “Beastly” and “Red Riding Hood”

Twilight Fairy Tales

The fairy tale family of Amanda Seyfried, Billy Burke, and Virginia Madsen in...

Credit: Warner Brothers

Above: The fairy tale family of Amanda Seyfried, Billy Burke, and Virginia Madsen in "Red Riding Hood."

Fairy tales have long been a source of inspiration for movies. "Beastly" (opened March 4 throughout San Diego) and "Red Hiding Hood" (opening March 11 throughout San Diego) are two of the latest.

Both "Beastly" and "Red Riding Hood" try to tap into the fan base that's made "Twilight" such a financial hit. These films are targeted at younger audiences, have a romantic tone, hot guys with abs, young female protagonists, and no threat of real sex.

Credit: CBS

Alex Pettyfer, before and after, in "Beastly."

"Beauty and the Beast/La Belle et la Bete" was a traditional French fairy tale written in the 1700s. "Beastly" draws on that tale or more accurately draws on the Walt Disney cartoon based on that story. "Beastly" updates the story to modern times and turns it into a teen soap opera. Kyle (Alex Pettyfer of "I Am Number Four") plays one of those obnoxious teens who has money, looks, and enough ego for two. He rules the school until he crosses a Disney-style Goth chick (Mary-Kate Olsen) who casts a spell on him and makes him hideous... on the outside. The spell will only be broken if he can find someone who will love him. The girl most likely to fill that bill is Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens), a socially conscious teen who's cute to boot.

But even Kyle looks kind of beastly cute with his Maori-like tats, scars, and metallic accents. Of course his washboard abs are thoroughly intact. He's also obscenely rich so it's difficult to believe that a teenager like Lindy wouldn't be won over by the gifts and massive lake house since he really doesn't look that bad.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer in "Beastly."

The film plods along down a predictable path. It boasts a soundtrack packed with emo-sounding songs and lots of soft focus montages where coy glances are exchanged. It's not offensive but it's not very engaging or entertaining either. Pettyfer proves most interesting as the obnoxious Kyle. He comes across as far more believable as a jerk than as the reluctant hero in "I Am Number Four." He proves devoted enough as the Beast but he has nowhere near the appeal of Jean Marais' Beast in Jean Cocteau's sublime "La Belle et La Bete" or even Ron Perlman's Beast from the TV show. When Cocteau's film ends and the Beast transforms into the Prince you are moved to ask for the Beast back because he had so won you over. Pettyfer's Beast is a purely superficial one but then this film is all about shiny surfaces and no depth. I guess I should be grateful he didn't sparkle.

The one thing that I could call a high point is Neil Patrick Harris as Kyle's blind tutor. At least NPH has some fun with the role and while it's not up to the hijinx of his "Harold and Kumar" appearances, it is the brightest thing in this film.

"Beastly" (rated PG-13 for language including crude comments, brief violence and some thematic material) is a tolerable trifle and just makes me long for Cocteau's Beast.

Credit: Warner Brothers

Amanda Seyfried in "Red Riding Hood."

The more offensive of the two films is definitely "Red Riding Hood." The film is the product of Catherine Hardwicke's sour grapes after being booted off the "Twilight" franchise. This is essentially "Twilight" re-imagined as "Little Red Riding Hood." Once again we have a romantic teen triangle with a young girl torn between two boys that love her. Throw in a werewolf, an iron elephant torture device, Gary Oldman with silver fingernails, and some dysfunctional family dynamics and you get the "Twilightized" version of Charles Perrault's 17th century fairy tale.

Credit: CBS

Director Catherine Hardwicke with Gary Oldman in "Red Riding Hood."

Hardwicke directs the film as if it were one long music video or medieval rave. Amanda Seyfried is lush and lovely as Valerie, our little Red Riding Hood, and she's flanked by Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons (could those possibly be real names?). The lads must have been cast for their teen idol looks because they act with as much emotion as a Ken doll.

Hardwicke tries so hard to replicate the formula of "Twilight" that she completely misses the element that could have given this version of "Red Riding Hood" some sizzle. And that element involves the sexual tensions of the village. If she had been smart enough and sly enough she could have created an adult fairy tale along the lines of Neil Jordan's "The Company of Wolves." But Hardwicke has no clue what she wants to create. She hints at sex and violence but is too timid (or too concerned about losing her PG-13 rating) to pursue either.

The wolf of the "Little Red Riding Hood" tale is now referred to as a werewolf and it is a CGI-ed creature that fails to generate either fear or compassion. It's a laughable lycan that talks. So once again werewolves get short shrift from Hollywood. I don't know why these furry beasts always come out so badly but they do. It doesn't help that Hardwicke doesn't know what to do with her wolfen character.

"Red Riding Hood" (rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality) is unlikely to tap into the "Twilight" fan base to find success, and that's a small comfort. Although the film leaves room for a sequel.

Companion viewing for "Beastly:" Jean Cocteau's "La Belle et La Bete," Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," TV's "Beauty and the Beast"

Companion viewing for "Red Riding Hood:" "The Company of Wolves," "Hoodwinked," "Donkey Skin"

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