Hairspray On DVD: Travolta’s Bountiful Dance Floor Booty Steals Show

While the notion of a totally unique You is a reigning concept now, back in the mid-20th century, straying from strict standards of conformity was more likely the kiss of death. Adam Shankman’s screen to stage and back to screen again Hairspray enlightens younger generations just how long and hard, and even dangerous that road was to the casual sense of personal individuality enjoyed today, ever since that 60s crowning glory rebel crowd let their freak flags fly. Plus, Hairspray is one of the wildest, kinkiest and flat out fun musical screen experiences in recent memory.

The playfully raunchy and affectionately offbeat extremes of the 1988 original, somewhat lewd John Waters indie love poem for his native Baltimore, may have its more out there edginess contained to comply with Hollywood mainstream parameters of acceptability. But the latest Hairspray incarnation teasingly tests those limits anyway. And Waters, as if to make that point about unstoppable stylized personal rebellion even as movie makeover, sets his telltale characteristic provocative tone from the outset as he turns up in a daringly rude cameo wearing a trenchcoat and not much else, as the neighborhood flasher.

Nikki Blonsky smoothly inhabits the Ricki Lake role of the bubbly, plus size teen reject Tracy Turnblad, without missing a musical beat.

Tracy’s having a retro kind of bad hair day at school, as she’s sent off to detention for ‘inappropriate air height.’ But the unhappy high schooler has more pressing matters on her mind than academic excellence. She has her heart set on showing off her nifty dance moves on Baltimore’s Corny Collins Show, a sendup of American Bandstand, but she can’t make that particular grade because she’s deemed too tubby for television by scheming wannabe stage mom, Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Tracy finds surprising acceptance, despite tipping the scales, among the even more outcast black student body. Following pressure from community matriach Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah), they’re granted one Negro Day a month to dance in a segregated space on the show. Tracy and ditzy lollipop licking pal Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) join up with the black students, including dazzling dancer Seaweed (Elijah Kelley), in a show of unity celebrating difference, whether of size or color. And when they’re all summarily banned from the program, they strategize that if you can’t dance, well you can still march, while defiantly grabbing the biggest TV spot of all – the Six O’clock News.

Hairspray is a rousing and seamless blend of exhilarating song, spicy lyrics, and seriously heart tugging interludes touching on emotional yearnings and insecurities, for teens and adult alike. There’s a never a dull moment full blown zaniness at work at all times. Though Travolta as Tracy’s bosomy mom Edna in perky fat suit, with flab-infatuated spouse Wilbur (Christopher Walken) never far behind, pretty much steals the show from everybody else as he impressively shakes his bountiful booty across the dance floor in a take-no-prisoners finale. Irrefutable evidence that Travolta’s still got plenty of that Saturday Night Fever strut to spare, three huge decades later.

Warner Home Video

4 stars

DVD Features: Two disc Shake & Shimmy Editon. Deleted scenes with feature length audio commentary from director and choreographer Adam Shankman, star Nikki Blonsky and the producers; All new musical number: I Can’t Wait; Step By Step: The Dances of Hairspray featurette offering how-to dance instruction; You Can’t Stop the Beat: The Long Journey of Hairspray documentary; Hairspray Extensions featurette, giving viewers dance breakdowns; Jump to a song with optional sing-along feature; The Roots of Hairspray featurette; Behind the Beat picture-in-picture option allowing viewers to watch behind-the-scenes footage and on-screen commentary concurrently with the running feature; Interactive “connectivity” experience with web-enhanced features; Theatrical trailer.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.