The original Hairspray, John Waters' cheeky 1988 film, was a subversive ode celebrating difference. It begot the 2002 Broadway songfest chronicling the ascendance of teen culture.
For the new film in which the cross-dressing John Travolta appears as Tracy's XXL-sized mother, Edna, Adam Shankman plays it relatively straight. His is a generation-gap musical where sunny teens (led by blissful Blonsky and Amanda Bynes) inspire their occasionally shady elders (a miscast Travolta, but well-cast Chris Walken, Queen Latifah and Michelle Pfeiffer) to shed their prejudices and inhibitions.
Shankman, the choreographer-turned- director responsible for the odious Cheaper by the Dozen II as well as the guilty pleasure Bringing Down the House, cuts this particolored material so that it's a perfect fit.
The result is a rocking, rollicking crowd-pleaser that shakes a tailfeather to Marc Shaiman's music and smiles along with Scott Wittman's lyrics, from "Good Morning, Baltimore," where Tracy greets the day, to "You Can't Stop the Beat," the raise-the-roof finale.
As played by Blonsky, she of the fireplug proportions and the sparkplug energy, Tracy challenges TV station manager Velma Van Tussle (wickedly funny Pfeiffer) to win a spot on The Corny Collins Show, Baltimore's answer to American Bandstand. (Corny, played by James Marsden, is a revelation. But then, that could be said about virtually everyone in the ensemble.)
Tracy is colorblind, Velma snowblind: She sees only white. She thinks that audiences (and advertisers) like their teen idols white like the twinkling, winking Link (Zac Efron, best known as Troy in High School Musical) and Velma's untalented daughter, Amber (Brittany Snow). But Tracy cannot be denied.
At first, the teen's obliviousness to racism and size-ism shields her from the poison darts of Velma's bigotry. But when Tracy befriends black students (including Seaweed, the terrific Elijah Kelley who stops the movie with "Run and Tell That") - and picks up some new dance moves - she becomes a target of discrimination. And as a result joins forces with black DJ Motormouth Maybelle (uproarious Queen Latifah) to protest the station's discrimination.
Tracy does the stomp, the shake, the locomotion, and even gets her agoraphobic mother, Edna (Travolta), as shy as her daughter is gregarious, out of the house.
In the footloose and freewheeling Hairspray ensemble where almost everyone is a standout, Travolta is the one misstep.
In his fat suit and harder-than-a-helmet bouffant, Travolta resembles the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man in a housedress. (His weird attempt at the Bawlmur dialect makes him sound like Mike Myers as Dr. Evil.) Travolta apparently modeled his lumbering but dainty performance on one of those tutu-wearing hippos from Fantasia.
Thankfully, Travolta's Edna doesn't bring down this popsicle-hued dance party. Hairspray, which begins as a caricature of separate-but-unequal America, ends in a star-spangled checkerboard. And everybody's dancing. Even the audience.