Gimme a Head With Hair

I mentioned in the Carmen Sandiego post that there aren't many properties that capture my attention when they branch out into other forms of entertainment, so when they do, they tend to grab on pretty tightly. Hairspray is one of those things that manages to pull me in every time a new iteration comes out. I don't love it unconditionally - you'll note that unlike Carmen Sandiego, this is not a Pantheon entry - but it's always interesting enough to at least check out.

The cycle got kicked off with the 1988 John Waters movie, which I heartily enjoy. I didn't get to know Ricki Lake as a talk show host. For me, she has always been the original Tracy Turnblad. The movie is pure camp, but unlike a lot of Waters' other movies, actually wraps up a pretty heartwarming story about the cracks forming in the wall of racial segregation in '60s-era Baltimore. My family is originally from there, so of course, that was an added hook; my dad actually appeared on the real-life version of The Corny Collins Show. I've seen this movie at least a half-dozen times, and I never get sick of it. Plus, the soundtrack is amazing.

Then came the Broadway musical in 2002. I was a bit suspicious of it at first, because I generally feel like musicals made of non-musical movies are disappointing at best (Billy Elliot is a good example of this). So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the soundtrack, and even more so when I was able to catch the actual show at the Fox. It's a fairly faithful adaptation, and the music is damned catchy. Sure, the themes are now about as subtle as a baby grand piano being dropped on your head, but that's what musical theater is all about, isn't it?

The musical was a big hit, and so naturally, a movie based on a musical based on a movie was planned. Oh, Hollywood. Never change. In 2007, the new Hairspray movie was released, and as with the musical, I approached it with a healthy amount of suspicion. How good could a story that had been through the wringer as many times as this one be? Plus, the role of Edna, so magnificently captured by Divine in the original movie and Harvey Fierstein in the musical, was to be played by John Travolta, which seemed like an awkward fit.

Once again, I shouldn't have been so leery. It turned out to be a perfectly enjoyable movie. It doesn't really stack up against the rest of the Hairspray canon, but taken on its own, it's very entertaining, with a lot of re-watch value.

Are we finally at the end of the Hairspray road? It seems incredible that they'd be able to take it anywhere new, but I learned long ago not to assume anything when it comes to squeezing the last drops of cash out of a successful property. Assuming that we get yet another iteration, my guess is that I'll be newly suspicious all over again, then likely get proven wrong again. I can think of worse ways for a pattern to repeat itself.

Hairspray (1988): A-
Hairspray (2002): B+
Hairspray (2007): B-


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