A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this musical adaptation of the Broadway hit will appeal to tweens thanks to stars like Amanda Bynes and High School Musical's Zac Efron. It's a bit tamer than the John Waters original -- there's less cursing and fighting -- but the themes are the same: accepting people's differences, whether because of their looks or their skin color. Kids younger than 11 will miss much of the meaning while still being entertained by the characters and the production. Some of the song lyrics are a tad sexually suggestive: "I won't go all the way/but I'll go pretty far" and "The darker the berry/the sweeter the juice" are just two examples. Since it's set in the early '60s, African Americans are called "Negroes" (and, in one case, "lawn jockeys"). There are a lot of weight-based insults and one case of parental abuse: Mrs. Pingleton literally ties Penny to her bed and calls her a "devil child." In one scene, three "bad girls" are shown smoking in the school bathroom, while adults sit in a smoke-filled teachers' lounge.
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What's the story?
HAIRSPRAY starts with an infectious song -- "Good Morning Baltimore" -- that sets the cheery tone of Adam Shankman's feature-film adaptation of the Broadway adaptation of John Waters' campy 1988 comedy. The update, also set in 1962 Baltimore, has slightly less kitsch than the original -- but, thanks to the fabulous soundtrack and adorable cast, even more charm. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky makes heroine Tracy Turnblad zaftig and adorable. Tracy doesn't let her plus-sized body keep her from dancing like a pro, trying out for the local TV station's American Bandstand copycat The Corny Collins Show, and crushing on the show's dreamy hunk Link Larkin (High School Musical star Zac Efron). Her favorite episodes aren't the lily-white ones hosted by Corny (James Marsden) but the "Negro Day" specials hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (a big and blonde Queen Latifah). When Tracy finally lands a spot on the show -- much to the chagrin of skeletal station manager/racist ice queen Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) -- the first thing she tells Corny is that she wishes "every day could be Negro Day." Tracy develops such a faithful following that she convinces her oversized mom, Edna (John Travolta in layers of drag), to leave the house for the first time and be her manager.
Is it any good?
Director (and choreographer) Shankman captures both the essence of the Broadway show's magic and the original film's timeless camp value to create a memorable movie musical. Shankman is best known for formulaic romantic and family comedies, but he successfully achieved here what 2005's The Producers utterly failed to do. (Oh, and that cutie pie Efron definitely helps, too.)
Travolta should consider his role a gift, since he's more enchanting as Mrs. Turnblad than he's been on screen in more than a decade. And as Mrs. Turnblad's husband, Wilbur, Christopher Walken again perfects his mastery of slow talking and soft shoeing. Waters himself couldn't have cast a better mom and pop odd couple. Some of the best songs and moves belong to the "Negro Day" dancers, like smooth-talking Seaweed (Elijah Kelly, who deserves an Efron-esque following of his own after this stand-out performance). And Queen Latifah's ballad "I Know Where I've Been" touchingly accompanies a civil-rights march calling for on-air desegregation.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about prejudice and racism. Mrs. Von Tussle assumes that Tracy isn't talented because of her size, but Tracy proves her wrong. Tracy's determination and self esteem are strong despite her weight. How are overweight kids discriminated against today? What about minorities? Even though there's no more segregation, do kids of color get picked on for being different? Kids: What does Tracy teach us about judging people (and their abilities) by their looks? Families who've seen the original (or the Broadway show) can also talk about how this movie is similar to -- and different from -- the other incarnations.
- In theaters: July 19, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: November 20, 2007
- Cast: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Nikki Blonsky
- Director: Adam Shankman
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: language, some suggestive content and momentary teen smoking.
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