There are two big movie musicals out in theaters this weekend, namely the Hugh Jackman-powered portrait of circus mogul P.T. Barnum and the third (and presumably final) entry in the wildly popular Pitch Perfect franchise. Both are relatively safe to watch with your kids, depending on their ages, but if you can’t get out to the theaters — or don’t particularly feel like venturing into the cold — then Christy Lemire has some alternative suggestions for you.
Rating: PG, for thematic elements including a brawl.
Hugh Jackman stars as charismatic circus impresario P.T. Barnum in this glossy and peppy but ultimately empty musical extravaganza. The songs from the Oscar-winning La La Land writers Justin Hurwitz and Benj Pasek are catchy (if a bit repetitive). It’s the connective tissue between them that leaves a lot to be desired. First-time director Michael Gracey depicts Barnum in sanitized fashion: a plucky scrapper who amasses a menagerie of oddities and outsiders to put on display in hopes of impressing stuffy New Yorkers. Along the way, he hoodwinks whomever he must to get the money to launch his show and turn it into a massive spectacle. He also neglects his wife (Michelle Williams) and two little girls as his own celebrity grows. A subplot involving an opera singer (Rebecca Ferguson) who falls for Barnum ends quickly and harmlessly. Similarly, the interracial romance between Zac Efron (as Barnum’s wealthy partner) and Zendaya (as a trapeze artist) only briefly reflects the societal obstacles they face. There’s also a bit of rioting from disapproving crowds and a giant fire. But the overall theme of being yourself and expressing your true identity is worthwhile — and we get hammered over the head with it, so it’s hard to miss. Fine for viewers around 8 and older.
Rating: PG-13, for crude and sexual content, language and some action.
The third (and supposedly final) movie in the hugely successful Pitch Perfect trilogy is a lot like the first two. The a cappella songs are high-energy (and highly overproduced) but they’re a lot of fun. In between, there’s some semblance of plot. The difference this time is that director Trish Sie and screenwriter Kay Cannon have tossed all semblance of realism out the window and turned this last installment into a girl power-infused, James Bond-style action picture. Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld and their cohorts are back as the Barden Bellas singing group. But now they’re (mostly) out of college, so they need the contrivance of a USO tour through Spain, Italy and France to reunite them. One constant is the high-energy (and highly inappropriate) humor of Wilson as perpetual scene-stealer Fat Amy. She’s very physical and sexual. There’s also quite a bit of language and partying. Oh yeah, and an exploding yacht. Aca-loha means goodbye. Suitable for tweens and older.
If these musicals aren’t the best fit for the whole family, here are some other suggestions you might enjoy this holiday weekend:
An absolute classic, of course – one of the greatest musicals ever made, but also one of the greatest movies ever made, period, regardless of genre. The late, great Gene Kelly stars as a silent-movie star making the transition into talkies with the help of his best friend (Donald O’Connor) and an up-and-coming actress (Debbie Reynolds). The title number is iconic, but the choreography and energy of “Good Morning” is just spectacular. Reynolds is completely adorable, and the whole movie has an infectious joy that will leave you in the best mood for the rest of the day. There’s a little bit of kissing here and there but it’s harmless, and Kelly’s dance routine with the exquisite Cyd Charisse is slightly racy. Very young kids won’t get the ins and outs of the film industry depicted here, but it doesn’t matter. Singin’ in the Rain is a great choice for the whole family, whether you’ve never seen it or enjoyed it countless times.
Rating: Not Rated
Another behind-the-scenes show business story, and another MGM movie musical for the ages. It’s the only cinematic pairing of Fred Astaire and Judy Garland but it’s a doozy, with several classic Irving Berlin tunes including the title song, “I Love a Piano,” and “We’re a Couple of Swells.” Astaire plays a Broadway star who recruits a chorus girl (Garland) to dance alongside him when his longtime partner (the great Ann Miller) leaves him for a solo career. He’s mesmerizing (and makes it look effortless, as always) in “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” and Miller dazzles in “Shakin’ the Blues Away.” Some of the choreography could be considered suggestive, but it’s also colorful, intricate, and a complete blast to watch. Ultimately, Easter Parade is about teamwork, artistic collaboration and – not unlike The Greatest Showman – finding your true voice.
Xanadu is amazing and it’s only gotten better with time – so much so that it spawned an affectionately mocking, Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, because I pretty much wanted to be Olivia Newton-John when I was 8 years old – she was so pretty and she could sing and roller skate at the same time – but this movie is also just big, silly, colorful fun. It’s extremely of its time: the fashions, the neon, the skating, the overall disco vibe. But like the Pitch Perfect movies, Xanadu is all about girl power. Newton-John plays a Greek muse named Kira who magically appears and helps a struggling artist (Michael Beck) realize his dream of turning a dilapidated art deco auditorium into a roller disco palace – through song! The Electric Light Orchestra tunes are extremely catchy and the choreography is… well, it’s energetic. Xanadu also happens to be Gene Kelly’s final film, so maybe you can do a double feature of this and Singin’ in the Rain after you open presents.