Year 2, Day 34 - 2/3/10 - Movie #399
BEFORE: Continuing with another musical, a bit of a filler film before I hit the big #400 tomorrow. I'm not even sure why they re-made this film just 19 years after the original - I guess they added material when it was turned into a Broadway show?
THE PLOT: Pleasantly plump teenager Tracy Turnblad teaches 1962 Baltimore a thing or two about integration after landing a spot on a local TV dance show.
AFTER: Well, I understand now that the music is completely different from the 1987 film. So it's as justified as re-filming "The Producers" in 2005 after it's successful Broadway run, or the film version of "The Phantom of the Opera" based on the Broadway musical.
The remake is wall-to-wall music and dancing, which is to be expected, and the budget is clearly greater, allowing them to afford a couple A-list stars like John Travolta, Christopher Walken and Zac Efron (from "High School Musical", I think...)
But the post-production effects, while visually interesting (singing a duet with a photograph of Traci, for example) also remove the low-rent charm that the original had, the sleazy production values that are the trademark of a John Waters film. It's not the same without Divine, Ric Ocasek, Sonny Bono, Pia Zadora, and Mr. Waters himself. The only actor that carries over is Jerry Stiller, who played Mr. Turnblad in the original film, now playing Mr. Pinky, the manager of the large-women's clothing store. And Sonny Bono's character got eliminated completely!
Christopher Walken excels as the new Wilbur Turnblad - and I guess the new Tracy is OK, if a little too sunshiny. But John Travolta in a fatsuit and dress? Slow-dancing and making goo-goo eyes with Christopher Walken? Now I need mental floss... I know the Edna Turnblad role was created by famous transvestite Divine, and traditionally played on Broadway by men (Harvey Fierstein, Bruce Vilanch, George Wendt and Michael McKean are a few of the actors who have played Edna on stage) but Travolta's maybe a bit too over-the-top, with a weird accent and some strange facial expressions.
Then we've got the complicated issue of integration - some of the characters talk about what a long struggle the civil rights movement has been. Then, of course, the whole issue gets solved in about 10 seconds at the end of the film, just by allowing black kids to dance with white kids. Great, thanks to the magic of dance, all our problems are over, and there's no more racism!
Also starring Michelle Pfeiffer, James Marsden, Queen Latifah, Amanda Bynes, with cameos from Allison Janney and Paul Dooley. John Waters has a tiny appearance in the opening sequence as the local "flasher", and a group of talent agents at the end of the film are played by Ricki Lake (the original Traci), producer Adam Shankman and composer Marc Shaiman.
Look for the next version to be released in 2026, with an all-new cast including Justin Long as Edna Turnblad, Bruce Willis as Wilbur, and Beyonce as Motormouth Maybelle....
RATING: 4 out of 10 whoopee cushions