Dance! Dance! Revolution?
5 movies that boogie above the rest.
The best—and most PG way—to stick it to the man? A bop-off, of course. Here, five flicks that will notch unanimous ten-out-of-tens on your family’s score cards.
Hairspray (2007; Netflix and HBO Max):
Our 11-year-old L.B. has long had great rhythm and also a blazing inner fire for social justice, making Hairspray—the civil-rights dance movie—precisely her jam. The story is propelled by chubby Baltimore teen Tracy Turnblad’s dream of becoming a regular on an American Bandstand-like dance TV show, and unlike the John Waters original, this 2007 version is a full-out musical, with several bangers on its soundtrack—my favorite (though it’s hard to pick just one!) being “Ladies’ Choice,” belted by Zac Efron, who hilariously plays Tracy’s oh-so-smooth crush, Link Larkin. The entire shiny cast is aces: In a gimmick that actually pays off, John Travolta, in drag, plays Edna, Tracy’s shy, braised-meat-loving mama; Queen Latifah slays as “big, blond, and beautiful” DJ Motormouth Maybelle Stubbs; Michelle Pfeiffer has soooo much fun as nasty bombshell Velma Von Tussle; and Christopher Walken is delightfully wooden as Tracy’s daddy-o, Wilbrr. And that’s just the parental units! James Marsden’s sparkly grin alone makes me snicker as he crushes the role of Corny Collins—he of The Corny Collins Show. Sweet, talented, pre-meltdown Amanda Bynes will make you wistful for what could have been. Brittany Snow rises to the occasion as Pfeiffer’s mini-me, Amber. And with no professional acting experience under her belt, Nikki Blonsky charms as Tracy, the upbeat integration activist with the best moves in town. But which of these bebopping coeds will win the Miss Teenage Hairspray contest?!
Hairspray (1988; rent from $2.99):
John Waters’s original, nonmusical tale of Tracy Turnblad’s ascension is a little rougher around the edges than its remake—as is Waters’s wont. The original Edna is played by Divine (an actual drag queen) while Velma’s role goes to Debbie Harry and Amber’s to Vitamin C (yes, that Vitamin C). But it’s hard to beat Ricki Lake’s Tracy, whose longing to be seen is palpable, even as she’s in on the joke.
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005; Showtime):
Do you like being charmed? Feeling hopeful? Smiling? If you answered yes to any of the above, Mad Hot Ballroom should be your next watch. The doc—which our family has watched multiple times—follows a handful of New York City elementary students as they learn the art of ballroom dancing and prep for a high-stakes competition. Like Spellbound before it, this film sticks the landing for viewers of all ages.
Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1985; Hulu and Amazon Prime):
The best slumber party movie ever centers on SJP’s Janey Glenn, a military brat with the grace of a ballet dancer and the hormones of a teen girl. Egged on by her quirky pal Lynne (Helen Hunt), Janey tries out for a spot as a regular on Chicago’s Dance TV against Colonel Glenn’s wishes, and as luck will have it, she’s assigned hunky, working-class Jeff Malene as her dance partner. As Lynne says, “He’s a boy and he’s alive; What’s there to hate?”
Footloose (1984; Starz)
I’ve been sitting here for 20 minutes trying to figure out how to type the opening guitar riff to “Footloose,” the song. Down-now-na-now-now-now-now-nowwww… ? No? OK, moving on. One of my favorite things about Footloose, the movie, is that it works for kids of any age: When ours were little, we’d just stream the dance numbers on repeat—huge win. When they hit early elementary, we’d show them the first hour and then skip to Kevin Bacon’s barnburner of a finale once people started getting restless. Now that they’ve both reached double digits we all love the whole hour and forty-five minutes. During every viewing, the premise that dancing is the devil’s movement and therefore NOT allowed in Rev. John Lithgow’s town has left our boogie-loving kiddos a funny mix of incredulous and intrigued—and the resulting conversations have been a real side benefit of this crowd-pleaser.
Gobble gobble: It’s that time of year!
Which means I’d like to thank everyone who’s part of the Bigger Picture family (that’s you!). What a wild first six months we’ve had together. Thanks especially to the paid subscribers among you—TBP literally wouldn’t be possible without your support. (If you find yourself enjoying TBP but haven’t yet subscribed, here’s where you do it.) An enormous thank you to in-house illustrator Mara Sprafkin—TBP would just be a gray box without you! An extra special thank you to everyone at TBP HQ: Correspondents H.B. and L.B., and my sensitivity reader, James Burnett. And a million thanks to faithful friend and advance-reader Allison Wright, who saves TBP from looking a fool on a twice-weekly basis.
Her second-best movie-musical role, only to Chicago’s Mama Morton, a role for which I hope to pay the Queen homage one day in a community theater production (not that I can sing).