- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on www.commonsensemedia.org.

‘Hairspray’

Rating: PG

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 11 and older.

…. (out of five stars)

Running time: 120 minutes

Common Sense review: “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 but adorable. Tracy doesn’t let her plus-size 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 (Zac Efron).

Tracy snoozes through school, impatiently counting the minutes until she and her repressed, lollipop-loving best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes) can rush back home to watch their beloved dance show. Her favorite episodes aren’t the lily-white ones hosted by Corny (James Marsden), but the “Negro Day” specials hosted by Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah). Tracy finally lands a spot on the show — much to the chagrin of skeletal station manager/racist ice queen Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer).

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 to be her manager. As Mrs. Turnblad’s husband, Wilbur, Christopher Walken again perfects his mastery of slow talking and soft shoeing.

Some of the best songs and moves belong to the “Negro Day” dancers, like smooth-talking Seaweed (Elijah Kelly). Queen Latifah’s ballad “I Know Where I’ve Been” touchingly accompanies a civil-rights march calling for on-air desegregation.

Director (and choreographer) Shankman, who’s best known for formulaic romantic and family comedies, has done what 2005’s “The Producers” utterly failed to do: capture both the essence of the Broadway show’s magic and the original film’s timeless camp value to create a memorable movie musical.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know “Hairspray” will appeal to tweens thanks to such stars as Miss Bynes and Mr. Efron. It’s a bit tamer than Mr. 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.

Families can talk about prejudice and racism. Mrs. Von Tussle assumes 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 children discriminated against today? What about minorities? Even though there’s no more segregation, do children get picked on for being different?

Sexual content: Link and Tracy kiss. Seaweed and Penny kiss and dance together. Mrs. Von Tussle throws herself on Mr. Turnblad; Mr. and Mrs. Turnblad embrace.

Language alert: Insults about Tracy’s weight, use of the formerly common (and, at the time, accepted) word “Negro.” Other racially charged terms are used.

Violence alert: The Baltimore police push and shove black demonstrators marching for integration.

Social-behavior alert: Tracy marches in favor of integration. The movie’s major theme is seeing beyond people’s looks or skin color.

Drug/alcohol/tobacco alert: Teens smoke in the girls’ bathroom; adults smoke in the teachers’ lounge.