The legendary musical (and Oscar winning theme song) gets a 21st century reboot, as another class of wannabe hoofers and thesps sign up for four years of hard graft at the New York Academy of Performing Arts. Former Britney Spears tour choreographer turned director Kevin Tancharoen brings gusto to the musical numbers, while Debbie Allen, star of the original film and TV series, returns as the principal of the school. Good, wholesome fun - it's worth remembering its name.
Anna Maria Perez de Tagle
Charles S. Dutton
Alan Parker's original 1980 movie bagged two Oscars, spawned a long-running TV series, Broadway spin-off, and reality TV series, and enough time has passed to allow a second shot at the silver screen.
In these days of High School Musical, Step Up, and Hairspray, the filmmakers know exactly who will be watching this latest Fame, so out goes the language, homosexuality, abortions, and grit of the first movie and in comes PG friendly drunkeness (lesson: it's bad), tragedy (an aborted suicide ripped off from the first movie, references to drive-bys), and cussing (nothing above the "sh" word).
All of which may make this Fame less dramatically involving, but its message that achieving your dream requires practise and commitment and school is a place of self-improvement isn't a bad one for kids to hear in these days of "famous for being famous" waste of skin celebrities.
Tancharoen shoots with "serious" autumnal browns and winter grays, but this really isn't too far removed from High School Musical's East High: when two of the teens go to church and the year end show climaxes with gospel music, you know you're in parent fantasy land.
An eager beaver cast make up for in wide-eyed enthusiasm what they lack in experience. Standouts are Naturi Naughton (great as Lil' Kim in Notorious) as a frustrated diva with an overbearing dad, Collins Pennie as a tortured drama student with a doubting mum, and Perez de Tagle as a perky thesp with no parent issues.
Kids won't mind the heavy handed morality (Panabaker's naive wallflower almost ends up on a casting couch), and the lesson that you can't always get what you want is sensitively handled.
Refreshingly opting against easy boo-hiss villains, all the kids are likable (even rich girl Payne), and in the shape of Dutton plus Grammer and Neuwirth (TV's Fraiser and Lilith) the teachers are paragons of wisdom.
Singing and hoofing is worked in to the story with minimum clunkiness, running a gauntlet of Rn'B, hip-hop, stomp, classical, and jazz, and staying just the right side of welcome.
Fans of the original won't care if this lives forever, but when the kids' High School Musical DVDs finally become too scratched to play, this should be waiting in the wings.