The recent Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Blu-ray (BD) release of the 1980 Olivia Newton-John/Gene Kelly musical fantasy "Xanadu" excitingly exceeds high expectations regarding this feel-good scifi musical fantasy comedy of the '80s. It is almost guaranteed that you will not check the time or see how much longer the movie has to go and will shake your self out of a near trance and say "it's over?" at the end of the movie.
A funny aspect of this review considering the magical element of the film is that your sometimes humble reviewer got the BD essentially for free when factoring in the value of a movie money promotion while shopping at a normally avoided big box store. Thinking that Kira the muse of the film is behind this provides pleasure.
The following YouTube clip of video for the titular song provides a perfect sense of the spirit and themes of "Xanadu." You simply cannot help but feel really good while watching it and the film itself.
One of the more prominent attributes about this highly infectious film from future Hollywood royalty Joel Silver, Brian Grazer, and "High School Musical" choreographer Kenny Ortega is that it (largely) adheres to an awesome philosophy that 80s comedy darling Tracey Ullman stated before the premiere of her '80s sketch comedy show that brought "The Simpsons" to life. Ullman declard that the musical numbers in her show would makes sense and not merely be people bursting into song in the middle of the street. "Xanadu" stays true to that with the exception of an elaborate song-and-dance number during a stereotypical "shopping for a new look" number at an '80s style boutique.
Other overall totally tubular (pun intended) aspects of "Xanadu" include "Tron" style neon special effects and an extended musical number with New Wave gods "The Tubes." These keyboard kids totally rock out in their orange neon jumpsuits.
The film opens with frustrated painter Sonny Malone, whom Michael Beck of the terrifically uber-violent literally banned in Boston film "The Warriors" portrays, throwing the pieces of his latest sketch out the window. This inadvertently summons the nine Greek goddess sisters who are the muses who inspire artists. This coming-to-life sets the scene for the first of several musical numbers featuring songs by ELO and/or Olivia Newton-John.
Sonny coming out to plaaay by roller skating a short while later has muse Kara, whom Newton-John plays with great spirit, literally bump into him for a quick kiss only to dash off. This (along with another magical encounter with Kira) inspires an ultimately successful pursuit of his dream girl. A later rollerskating scene features an amusing nip slip,
Sonny also befriending '40s-era clarinetist Danny McGuire (played by Kelly) puts the rest of the puzzle together. The need of Danny for help fulfilling his dream of opening a night club and the desire of Sonny for a feasible creative outlet provide a basis for their beautiful friendship. Kira covertly guiding the enterprise greatly contributes to the fun.
Classic movie fans further will enjoy the homages to the Kelly classic "Singin' In the Rain." On bringing Danny home with him, Kelly remarks that a a silent film star once owned the house. A later scene has Sonny and Kira putting an '80s slant on a classic "Singin'" number.
Seeing Danny and Sonny work well together and mutually enjoy the music from their generations is both charming and a nice reminder of friendlier times. Millennials typically see even Gen Xers as fossils, and those of that demographic often consider the "kids" of today as ADHD morons who lack a work ethic and spend their whole lives looking at their phones. As in all things, the truth lies somewhere between those extremes.
The arguably cutest scene is also one of the most memorable. A music video that animation legend Don Bluth (whose work includes "The Secret of N.I.M.H." and "Anastasia") draws has our young lovers start as human and morph into fish and fowl while retaining a great deal of their human characteristics. Birdie Sonny stumbling and falling is hilarious.
All of this amounts to a fun film that looks very dated but allows escaping into a bright sunny world full of music that looks and sounds wonderful in BD format.
The "making of" feature meets the definition of the best of features and the worst of features. Director Robert Greenwald, Bluth, Ortega, and many behind-the-camera folks offer interesting insight into the humble beginnings of "Xanadu" and share how the interest of Newton-John and initially less enthusiastic involvement of Kelly helped the film develop.
We also learn of the impact of limited distribution by the studio affecting the preliminary response to the film. It soon making the art-house circuit and later becoming a Broadway musical shows the American public ultimately knows a good thing when it sees it.
The "worst of " aspects involves the lack of participation by Newton-John and Beck. Even if Universal offered little or no money, it seems that our former young lovers could show fan love by taking a couple of hours to discuss the film. We always root for your characters and bought the BD (if not the Newton-John soundtrack), a little reciprocation would have been nice.
The typical review-ending invitation to email or connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy regarding "Xanadu" is supplemented this time but inviting any muse who comes across this post to feel free to show up and do her thing. Some of us do still believe in fairies.