I went to the Saturday matinée, and except for a couple in the back row I had the theater to myself. A pity, because this is one movie which audience response would have made even more enjoyable. It was excellent even without help.
An all-star cast, what appeared to be an unlimited visual effects and costume budget, singable tunes, wall to wall superb choreography and some of the best lighting and cinematography of the year, exquisitely directed by Alan Shankman. The only challenge they shirked was rain - this is a sunny movie, taking place in the all-sunny brightness of Baltimore in the 60's. It could have used a "raining on prom night" kind of scene. Blame Canada - they shot this in Toronto, and its evil twin, Hamilton, Ontario. I thought I recognized the rats in the first scene. :-)
Nikki Blonski plays Tracy, a short, chunky teenager who loves to dance. She has a strong clear voice which carries her songs well. Though the script says she's a dancing tornado, I just don't see it. Sorry, Nikki, you really know how to sell a number, but the moves are not quite there. Close, though. OTOH there's a lot of dance captain material in the supporting cast, which really raises the movie to another plane. Makeup, padding and some fine vocal acting had me not believing the size 60 mother of Tracy was really John Travolta. Much more convincing than Eddie Murphy's padded women act, and an order of magnitude above Dustin Hoffman's Tootsie, but not quite as good as Robin Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire. I was frankly disappointed in Travolta's dancing - something I never thought I'd ever say - but blame the too-tight costumes and awkward padding. Queen Latifah, who anchored the movie with her strong acting, singing and dancing as Motormouth Maybelle, showed that a naturally padded actor or actress would have been a better choice for the Travolta role.
Christopher Walken steps waaaaaaaay out of type to play Tracy's dad, and while we've all seen what a wonderful dancer he can be, who knew he could sing? I'm impressed. One thing I love about this movie is it gave a lot of good actors a chance to not only step outside the box, but off the planet as well. Michelle Pfeiffer is another good example, playing the vampiric vamp former Miss Baltimore, TV station manager and mother of the DDG ingenue Amber (Brittany Snow). She held her own in the singing department, too. Jerry Stiller is not quite smarmy enough as Mr. Pinky, the owner of the plus-sized dress store, but Travolta stole that scene, anyway. Props fell down in that scene - you don't offer plain beige cake donuts to a size 60 woman. Glazed or nothing. I guess the crew didn't know how to find the local Tim Horton's. Speaking of food, the credits say one of the catering companies is called Star Grazing. :-)
Two other highlights of the movie are Zach Effron as Link, whose electric blue eyes alone would qualify him as a major heart throb, but he can also sing, dance and act, as can Allison Janney, who plays Tracy's best friend Prudy. James Marsden as TV dance show host Corny Collins is perfect, looks like he stepped right out of the time machine. Elijah Kelley as the all-singing, all-dancing Seaweed is terrific, and I hope this proves to be the break he deserves.
Music by Marc Shaiman is true to the period, fun and upbeat, from Tracy's opening Good Morning Baltimore to the two numbers which didn't make it into the film until the closing credits, Mama, I'm a Big Girl Now and Cooties. Ironically, one of his many Oscar nominations was for the South Park movie's Blame Canada. What goes around comes around, Marc. And while they did not do outtakes during the closing credits, they did some really good 60's art, and with the two bonus songs it's worth sticking around for.
Another neat feat was clever use of green screen effects, a la Harry Potter - at one point Link sings a song to Tracy's photo, and the photo joins in to make it a romantic duet. They do this trick three or four times - enough to help the movie, not enough to make it too cutesy.
All in all an excellent feel-good film, worth full price. I'd be interested to hear how my Seattle friends compare the movie to the live 5th Avenue Theater production.