Review: ‘Blue’s Big City Adventure,’ starring Josh Dela Cruz and the voice of Traci Paige Johnson

March 11, 2023

by Carla Hay

Blue (voiced by Traci Paige Johnson) and Josh Dela Cruz in “Blue’s Big City Adventure” (Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Paramount+)

“Blue’s Big City Adventure”

Directed by Matt Stawski

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in New York City, the live-action/animated/musical film “Blue’s Big City Adventure” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, white, African American and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Josh and his dog best friend Blue travel to New York City so that Josh can audition for a Broadway musical, but they encounter obstacles along the way. 

Culture Audience: “Blue’s Big City Adventure” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Blue’s Clues & You!” TV series and musical family-oriented films.

Josh Dela Cruz and Blue (voiced by Traci Paige Johnson) in “Blue’s Big City Adventure” (Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Paramount+)

As long as viewers know in advance that children under the age of 10 are the target audience for “Blue’s Big City Adventure,” it’s much more enjoyable to watch. It’s sweet, sincere, and has some cute musical moments. The movie is based on Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues & You!” series, which is a spinoff revival of Nickelodeon’s 1996 to 2006 TV series “Blue’s Clues.” Both shows are about the live-action/animated adventures of an inquisitive dog named Blue (shown in animated form) and his human best friend. It’s completely lightweight and harmless entertainment with positive messages of self-acceptance and empathy for others.

Directed by Matt Stawski and written by Angela Santomero, “Blue’s Big City Adventure” has a simple plot. Blue’s cheerful best friend Josh (played by Josh Dela Cruz) gets an audition in New York City for a Broadway musical starring Rainbow Puppy (voiced by Brianna Bryan), one of the recurring characters in the “Blue’s Clues” series. Josh finds out about this audition when he gets a letter from Rainbow Puppy, who comes to life in the envelope.

The next thing you know, Josh and Blue are in New York City, with four of their non-human friends along for the ride: a bar of soap named Slippery Soap (voiced by Jacob Soley); an alarm clock called Tickety Tock (voiced by Ava Augustin); a shaker of salt named Mr. Salt (voiced by Nick Balaban); and a shaker of pepper named Mrs. Pepper (voiced by Gisele Rosseau). They board a bus that floats magically into a Times Square billboard.

The sights and sounds of bustling Times Square are overwhelming and fascinating for these new visitors. Josh has directions to the audition in his “handy-dandy notebook.” And predictably, the notebook gets lost, and Josh doesn’t remember the address. There are some other obstacles on the way to the audition.

“Blue’s Big City Adventure” has several original songs performed as musical scenes in the movie. A standout is “On My Way,” which is the featured tune when Josh and his group first arrive in New York City. The pals’ big city adventure takes them to famous places in New York City, such as Central Park, Grand Central Station and, of course, the Broadway Theater District.

Several well-known entertainers have nameless cameos or supporting roles. Alex Winter plays a taxi driver who gives Josh and Blue a ride. BD Wong is the musical’s director. Phillipa Soo (of “Hamilton” fame) plays an auditioner. Tony-winning actress Ali Stoker plays a version of herself. The movie also features former “Blue’s Clues” stars Steve Burns (as Steve) and Donovan Patton (as Joe) together in a scene with Dela Cruz.

“Blue’s Big City Adventure” is as bubbly and sugary as a soft drink. The movie doesn’t try to be masterful entertainment. It’s entirely predictable, but it doesn’t feel like a complete waste of time to watch. The musical numbers are perky and uplifting. And all of the characters are inoffensively appealing. In other words, it’s adorable family-oriented entertainment for kids and people who are kids at heart.

Paramount+ premiered “Blue’s Big City Adventure” on November 18, 2023.

Review: ‘Zappa,’ starring Frank Zappa

November 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Frank Zappa in “Zappa” (Photo by Roelof Kiers/Magnolia Pictures)


Directed by Alex Winter

Culture Representation: The documentary “Zappa” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans) discussing the life and career of eccentric musical pioneer Frank Zappa, who died in 1993 of prostate cancer.

Culture Clash: Zappa spent most of his life and career challenging conventional norms, defying conservative mindsets, and trying to avoid mainstream success. 

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of Zappa fans, “Zappa” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching an official biographical film about one of rock music’s most interesting and unique artists.

Frank Zappa in “Zappa” (Photo by Dan Carlson/Magnolia Pictures)

If you’re fan of eccentric musician Frank Zappa or an aficionado of independent films that make the rounds at film festivals and fly under the mainstream radar if they’re ever released, then you might know that there was a Frank Zappa documentary film called “Eat That Question” (directed by Thorsten Schütte) that got a limited release in 2016. It was an interesting but very conventional movie that was essentially a combination of archival footage and more current documentary interviews with some of Frank Zappa’s former colleagues. The documentary film “Zappa” (directed by Alex Winter) also uses the same format of combining archival footage with new interviews about Frank Zappa, who passed away of prostate cancer in 1993, at the age of 52. Neither film is as groundbreaking as its subject, but the “Zappa” film has a major advantage over “Eat That Question,” because “Zappa” has a lot of never-before-seen footage directly from the Zappa family archives.

That’s because the “Zappa” documentary was authorized by the Zappa family. Ahmet Zappa, one of Frank’s sons, is one of the producers of the movie. There’s a treasure trove of content in the movie that is sure to thrill Zappa fans who can’t get enough of seeing previously unreleased things related to the prolific artist. “Zappa” took several years to get made because the filmmakers first “began an exhaustive, two-year mission to preserve and archive the vault materials. When this was completed, we set about making the film,” according to what director/producer Winter says in the movie’s production notes.

How long did it take for “Zappa” to get made and finally released? Frank’s widow Gail Zappa, one of the interviewees who’s prominently featured in the movie for the “new interviews,” died in 2015, at the age of 70. (The movie’s end credits say that the documentary is dedicated to her.) Therefore, the movie looks somewhat dated, but it doesn’t take away from the spirit of the film, which is a fascinating but sometimes rambling portrait of Frank. (The “Zappa” documentary clocks in at 129 minutes.)

After the opening scene of Frank performing at the Sports Hall in Prague in 1991 (his last recorded guitar performance), the next approximate 15 minutes of the movie consists of a compilation of images depicting Frank’s youth, with Zappa’s voice from archival interviews as voiceover narration. He talks about his childhood and how he decided to become a musician. Diehard fans of Frank already know the story, but it’s told in Frank’s voice with a mixture of nostalgia and anger.

Born in Baltimore on December 21, 1940, Frank grew up as the eldest child of four children, in a fairly strict, middle-class home with his parents Francis and Rosemarie Zappa, although Frank describes their family as “poor” in one of the archived interviews. Francis Zappa worked at Edgewood Arsenal, a company that made poisonous gas during World War II. The family then relocated to California, where Frank’s father took a job at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey to teach metallurgy.

His parents did not encourage Frank’s interest in music. In fact, they downright disapproved of it because they didn’t think it was a stable way to make a living. Frank, who was famous for being iconoclastic, showed early signs of rebellion as a teenager when he says that he took some explosive powder and attempted to blow up his high school. It’s never really made clear in the documentary if that really happened, or if it’s just part of Zappa folklore.

It was while he was a teenager that Frank says he became obsessed with film editing. He would edit the family home movies by inserting quirky footage into it, some of which is shown in the documentary. (The home movies include Frank and his siblings dressed as zombies and pretending to attack each other.) As an adult, Frank directed many short films, music videos and some feature-length movies, most notably the 1971 musical film “200 Motels.”

One of Frank’s earliest musical influences was composer Edgard Varèse, who was known for his emphasis on rhythm rather than form. In a voiceover from an archived interview, Frank says about Varèse: “I wanted to listen to the man who could make music that was strange.” And that’s exactly how many people would describe Frank’s music when he eventually developed into his own artist.

By the time Frank was a teenager, the Zappa family had moved south of Monterey to the city of Lancaster, where Frank attended Antelope Valley High School. It was in high school that he met a fellow eccentric named Don Van Vliet, who’s better known by his stage name Captain Beefheart, who would become one of Frank’s most famous musical collaboraters.

As a teenager, Frank became an enthusiast of R&B and blues music, with great admiration for musicians such as Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Elmore James and Johnny “Guitar” Watson. Frank’s first band in the mid-1960s was called The Blackouts, and they played R&B and blues. The Blackouts were considered radical at the time because they were a racially mixed group of white and black musicians. The Blackouts mostly did cover songs, but Frank’s ultimate goal was to write and record his own original music.

He took a day job writing and illustrating greeting cards in his own quirky style. A few of his greeting cards from 1964 and 1965 are shown in the documentary. One of them was a “get well” card that said on the front, “Nine out of ten people with your illness …” and then inside the card it ended with the words “… are sick.” Another card said on the front: “Captured Russian photograph shows evidence of Americans’ presence on the moon first.” Inside the card, there was an illustration of a moon crater bearing a sign that reads, “Jesus Saves.”

A turning point in Frank’s life was when he bought a small recording studio in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and named it Studio Z. The studio (which had “no bathtub, no shower and no hot water,” he says in an interview) was mostly for music, but also rented out space for filmmaking. A group of men rented Studio Z’s services because they wanted to make a quasi-“stag film” with the men dressed in drag, but with no actual nudity or sex, according to Frank in an archival interview. The local police heard about the movie and arrested Frank, who says that he got sentenced to six months in jail (with all but six days suspended) and three years of probation.

Frank says in an archived interview that this negative experience with the law taught him all he needed to know about the political system. All he wanted to do was to make music, and he knew that living in a small town wasn’t suited for him. He eventually moved to Los Angeles.

In 1965, Frank founded the Mothers of Invention, the avant-garde rock band of rotating musicians that he performed with for the majority of his career. Tom Wilson (an African American producer) signed the band to Verve Records. The Mothers of Invention’s debut album “Freak Out!” (released in 1966) is considered a seminal recording for anything that could be considered “alternative rock.”

Frank’s quick courtship of Gail is described in the documentary as Gail being introduced to Frank by Pamela Zarubia, who was his roommate at the time, and a few days later Frank asked Gail if she wanted to have sex with him. (There’s archival footage of Zarubia describing this very fast and forward courtship.) Frank and Gail married in 1967 and had four children together: daughter Moon, son Dweezil, son Ahmet and daughter Diva. The children are not interviewed in the movie.

For whatever reason, the documentary never mentions Frank’s first marriage to Kay Sherman. (Their 1960 to 1964 marriage ended in divorce. There were no children from this marriage.) It could be a situation of the second wife wanting to erase the first wife from the family history. As is the case with authorized documentaries of dead celebrities, the filmmakers usually have to go along with whatever the celebrity’s family estate wants to put in the film and what they want to leave out.

At any rate, Frank was very open in many interviews by saying that he was not a monogamous husband and that his time spent away from home as a touring musician often took a toll on his family life. In the documentary, Gail comments on these difficulties in her marriage by sharing her secret to the relationship’s longevity when it came to any infidelity: “Don’t talk about it.”

Ruth Underwood, who was in the Mothers of Invention off and on from 1967 to 1976, says in the documentary that there were two sides to Frank: the doting family man and the raunchy rock star—something that she calls “a polarity of passion.” She elaborates: “He couldn’t fucking wait to get on the road. But then, he was very happy to come home, just to feel safe again.”

The Zappa family household, where Frank always had a home studio, became a hub of activity for the “freaks” of Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon when the family lived there in the late 1960s. One of the musical acts that he produced was an all-female singing/performance group called The GTO’s (self-described “groupies” whose band acronym stood for Girls Together Outrageously), who recorded their first and only album with Zappa. Pamela Des Barres, who was a member of The GTO’s, says that famous American and British musicians would always like to hang out in the Zappa home because of all the strange and interesting things going on there. “He was the centrifugal force of Laurel Canyon,” remembers Des Barres. “It was the center of the world at that point.”

However, things got too weird (even for the Zappas) when a group of hippies moved nearby: the Manson Family cult led by Charles Manson, who would later become notorious for masterminding the 1969 murders of several people, including actress Sharon Tate. Even though at the time the Zappa family lived in Laurel Canyon, no one knew how dangerous the Manson Family would become by committing these murders a few years later, Gail says in the documentary that these Manson Family neighbors always made her feel uneasy when she would see them. And so, the Zappa family eventually moved out of Laurel Canyon.

Several of the musicians who worked with Frank are interviewed in the film. They describe him as extremely prolific and talented but someone who was an unrelenting taskmaster (making band members rehearse 10 to 12 hours a day, several days a week, including holidays) who rarely gave praise and almost never showed any affection. He could be dismissive and sometimes cruel. By his own admission, Frank didn’t make friends easily, and he didn’t care about being popular. On the other hand, according to Gail, there were some people who earned Frank’s loyalty in his life, and he was very loyal to them in return—almost to a fault.

In 1969, when Zappa decided to abruptly disband the Mothers of Invention’s original lineup, original band member Bunk Gardner says that the band didn’t even get two weeks’ notice. They were just suddenly informed that their services were no longer needed. Frank would later invite some of the original Mothers of Invention band members back into the group, but he always like to rotate the lineup and not keep it too permanent until the band ended for good in the mid-1970s.

Some of the musicians who were in the Mothers of Invention included Aynsley Dunbar, Terry Bozzio, George Duke, Jean-Luc Ponty, Adrian Belew, Peter Wolf, and The Turtles co-founders Howard Kaylan and Mark Volan. And the group performed with several guests, including John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Eric Clapton. (The documentary has footage of Lennon and Ono on stage with the Mothers of Invention in 1971.)

Ruth Underwood believes that Frank was seemingly insensitive to other people’s needs and feelings because “I think he was so single-mindedly needing to get his work done.” Later, she gets emotional and teary-eyed when she describes a touching moment she had with Frank toward the end of his life that showed how he mellowed with age and had to face his mortality after being diagnosed with cancer.

Despite Frank’s reputation for being a bossy and gruff control freak, there were some good times too, and the people who worked with him say that the music made it all worthwhile. Ruth Underwood’s ex-husband Ian Underwood, a Mothers of Invention member from 1967 to 1975, says about performing live as a member of the band: “Each show was like a composition.”

Steve Vai, who was in Frank’s band from 1980 to 1982, comments about his time in the group: “When I was in it, I was a tool for the composer. And he used his tools brilliantly.” Other former colleagues of Frank who are interviewed in the film include musician Scott Thunes (who worked with Frank from 1981 to 1988), accountant Gary Iskowitz, musician Ray White (who worked with Frank from 1976 to 1984) and engineer David Dondorf.

Gardner also remembers the camaraderie among the band members: “It was exciting in the beginning, but of course it was musically difficult … I’m not a weirdo or any of those other things. But when you get around people who are naturally funny that do weird things, I ended up feeling comfortable.” Mike Keneally, a musician was in Frank’s band from 1987 to 1988, remembers comedian Lenny Bruce as being a big influence on Frank.

Frank wasn’t a typical rock star in other ways besides his music. He was very vocal about his personal choice not to do drugs. And he had no patience for anyone who let their drug use get in the way of being at their best. (He was a heavy smoker of cigarettes though.) Frank didn’t go as far as preach to people not to do drugs, since he was firm believer in individual freedoms, but he made it clear that he looked down on people who used drugs that made them “stupid.”

And just like Frank himself, his fan base was somewhat hard to categorize. The documentary shows a 2006 interview with Alice Cooper (one of the many musicians who worked with Frank) commenting: “He had the freaks and the extremely intelligent and the very artsy people behind him. And there was the whole middle who just didn’t get it.”

Despite being known as an avant-garde creative artist, Frank was also very business-minded. He didn’t care about having hit records, but he did care about making enough money to fund his art. The documentary includes clips from several archival interviews of Frank expressing that belief in various ways.

He founded his own record labels (including Bizarre Records, Straight Records and DiscReet Records) and made a lot of money through merchandising, with Gail handling a lot of the business. Frank’s bitter late-1970s split from longtime distributor Warner Bros. Records is given a brief mention in the film. Although he worked with major record companies, he always had an entrepreneurial spirit when it came to releasing his music. And he wasn’t afraid to go outside of his comfort zone, such as recording and conducting classical music and other orchestral music. The documentary includes some footage of him working with the Kronos Quartet.

Gail says in the documentary that even though Frank believed that smart musicians should care about being paid for their work, he also believed that getting rich shouldn’t be the main motivation to make music, because most musicians can’t make a living as full-time artists. She comments on being a full-time musician: “You have to be out of your mind to begin with to take it on. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to earn an income. No one cares what composers do. And everything is against you, which makes the odds pretty fantastic.”

As for Frank’s talent as a visual artist, he wanted to design all of the Mothers of Invention album artwork from the second album onward, but he changed his mind when Cal Schenkel came along and ended up being the Mothers of Invention’s chief art collaborator. “They [Frank Zappa and Schenkel] created a world together,” says Keneally.

Another visual artist who was highly respected by Frank was claymation animator Bruce Bickford, who is interviewed in the film and whose work is included in the documentary. Bickford comments on Frank: “He was impressed with the number of figures I could sustain in animation in one shot.”

“Zappa” is told in mostly chronological order, so it isn’t until toward the end of the film that his 1980s fame is covered. Frank had the biggest hit of his career with “Valley Girl,” a 1982 duet with his then-14-year-old daughter Moon that was a parody of the teenage girl culture of California’s San Fernando Valley. Ruth Underwood says that the idea for “Valley Girl” came about after Moon slipped a preoccupied Frank a note underneath his door, asking him if he remembered her because he seemed too busy to pay attention.

In the note, Moon described the type of lingo that she was hearing from Valley girls and what was important to these teens: clothes, boys and hanging out at the Sherman Oaks Galleria shopping mall. Frank thought it would be a great idea to make it into a song recorded by him and Moon, who at the time, went by her first and middle names Moon Unit. And the rest is history.

“Valley Girl” became a surprise hit, peaking at No. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song was also nominated for a Grammy. And suddenly, Frank and Moon became celebrities who could be heard on mainstream radio and interviewed on shows like “Entertainment Tonight.” The documentary has footage of the Zappa family doing a photo shoot for Life magazine around the time that “Valley Girl” was a hit.

The song inspired the 1983 “Valley Girl” film, starring Deborah Foreman and Nicolas Cage, but the “Zappa” documentary doesn’t include any mention of Frank’s unsuccessful legal fight to prevent the movie from being made. The Zappa family has nothing to do with this “Valley Girl” movie or the 2020 movie musical remake of “Valley Girl.”

Frank’s other notoriety in the 1980s came from being a very outspoken protester against the Parent Music Resource Center (PMRC) and its efforts to put warning labels on records that have sexually explicit or violent lyrics. During this period of time, Frank’s wild and freaky hair and clothes from the 1960s and 1970s were gone and replaced with shorter hair and business suits that he would wear when he testified in front of the U.S. Congress or when he would do TV interviews speaking about the subject. About his image change, he was honest about who he was: a middle-aged dad who needed to be taken seriously if he wanted to get his point across to politicians and other officials who were in charge of making decisions that affected the music industry.

Although the PMRC achieved its goal of having the music industry voluntarily place warning labels on records, Frank toyed with the idea of becoming a politician. He talks about it in a few interview clips shown in the documentary, and he seemed to have mixed feelings about running for president of the United States. On the one hand, he seemed open to the idea because he wanted to make big changes in American society. On the other hand, he expressed a distaste for how a lot of the government is run and not liking the idea of having to live in the White House.

He never did run for public office, but Frank’s 1990 visit to what was the country then known as Czechoslovakia was a life-changing experience for him. He was welcomed as a hero of democracy, and Czechoslovakia appointed him as a Czech ambassador for U.S. trade. Apparently, this appointment didn’t sit well with influential members of the U.S. government, because Czechoslovakia eventually rescinded that title from him.

Frank’s health problems are included in the documentary in a respectful way. He was confined to a wheelchair for about nine months after being physically attacked on stage by an audience member in 1971. The recovery experience made him “find out who my real friends are,” as he said in a TV interview that’s shown in the film. The documentary includes footage of Frank in the final two years of his life, in the studio and on stage, such as his last concert appearance in 1992 in Frankfurt, Germany, where he got a standing ovation that lasted for more than 20 minutes.

The “Zappa” documentary could have used tighter editing, but overall the movie is a fairly even-handed look at the life of a unique and influential artist. The movie doesn’t really reveal much about his life or his personality that Frank’s diehard fans didn’t already know about, based on all the interviews he gave over the years. What makes this film stand out is the rare footage of Zappa at home, in the studio and on stage, because this footage gives some meaningful context to the very full life that he led.

Magnolia Pictures released “Zappa” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on November 27, 2020.

Review: ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music,’ starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter

August 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

“Bill & Ted Face the Music”

Directed by Dean Parisot

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of Earth (particularly in the fictional San Dimas, California) and in outer space, the comedy film “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and a few Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two middle-aged men who used to be rock stars face several obstacles when they try one last time to find a song that will save the world.

Culture Audience: “Bill & Ted Face the Music” will appeal primarily to fans of star Keanu Reeves and the previous “Bill & Ted” movies, but most people will be disappointed by this incoherent, not-very-funny sequel.

Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures)

After years of discussions, false starts and pre-production problems, the long-awaited comedy sequel “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has arrived—and it lands with the kind of clumsy thud that happens when the movie’s title characters use their time-traveling phone booth to crash-land in a different era. The movie is overstuffed with too many bad ideas that are sloppily executed. And the end result is an uninspired mess that brings few laughs.

The movie is the follow-up to 1989’s “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and 1991’s inferior “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is by far the worst of the three movies, which all star Keanu Reeves as Ted Theodore Logan and Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston. You’d think that with all the years that have passed between the second and third movies that it would be enough time to come up with a great concept for the third film. But no. “Bill & Ted Face the Music” writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who also wrote the first two “Bill & Ted” movies, have added several new characters and unnecessary subplots as a way to distract from the story’s very weak plot.

In “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” the dimwitted duo Bill and Ted were high-school students in the fictional Sam Dimas, California, with dreams of making it big as a two-man rock band called Wyld Stallyns. Bill and Ted were on the verge of flunking out of school unless they got an A+ grade on their final history exam. Through a series of bizarre circumstances, they’re visited from another planet by someone named Rufus (played by George Carlin), who gave Bill and Ted a time-travel phone booth.

Bill and Ted used the time-traveling booth to collect real-life historical people (Napoleon, Billy the Kid, Ludwig van Beethoven, Genghis Khan, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud and Joan of Arc), in order to bring them back to San Dimas as part of Bill and Ted’s school presentation for their history exam. Two British princesses from another century named Elizabeth and Joanna ended up as Bill and Ted’s girlfriends and decided to stay in San Dimas with Bill and Ted.

In “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” Bill and Ted fought evil robot replicas of themselves that were sent from the future to alter Bill and Ted’s destiny of becoming rock stars who can save the world. Along the way, the real Bill and Ted also battled with Death (played by William Sadler) by playing a series of games. Bill married Joanna, Ted married Elizabeth, and each couple had a child born in the same year. And (this won’t be a spoiler if you see “Bill & Ted Face the Music”) Wyld Stallyns also became a superstar act.

In “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” it’s explained in the beginning of the film that Wyld Stallyns’ success was short-lived. In the subsequent years, Bill and Ted made many failed attempts at a comeback. They are now unemployed musicians who are trying not to be bitter over their lost fame and fortune. But their wives are starting to get fed up with Bill and Ted’s irresponsible lifestyle.

Joanna (played by Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (played by Erinn Hayes) are the family breadwinners because Bill and Ted blew all their rock-star money and don’t have steady incomes. Bill and Joanna’s daughter Wilhelmina “Billie” S. Logan (played by Samara Weaving) and Ted and Elizabeth’s daughter Thea Theadora Preston (played by Brigette Lundy-Paine) are both 24 years old and take after their fathers, in that they are both unemployed and not very smart but they are passionate about music.

The movie’s poorly written screenplay assumes that many viewers have already seen the first “Bill & Ted” movies to understand some of the jokes. But even people who saw the first two movies might have seen the movies so long ago that these jokes won’t land very well anyway. Some of the jokes in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” have a little better context if you saw the first two “Bill & Ted” movies, but references to the first two movies make the most sense in the scenes with the wives of Bill and Ted.

In the beginning of “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” a wedding reception is taking place where Bill and Ted give a toast to the newlyweds and then inevitably give a terrible music performance. The newlyweds are Ted’s younger brother Deacon (played by Beck Bennett) and Missy (played by Amy Stoch, reprising her role from the first two “Bill & Ted” movies), who was married to Bill’s father in the first movie in a May-December romance. Missy is not that much older than Bill, and in the first “Bill & Ted” movie, there’s a running joke that Bill lusts after his stepmother Missy.

In “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” it’s mentioned in a voiceover that in the years since the second movie took place, Missy divorced Bill’s father (who is not seen in “Bill & Ted Face the Music”), and then married and divorced Ted’s policeman father (played by Hal Landon Jr., who reprises his role as Ted’s stern father), who is now chief of the local police. And now, Missy is married to Ted’s younger brother Deacon, who is also a cop. These awkward family dynamics could have been mined for hilarious situations and more jokes in the movie, but they fall by the wayside because the movie gets caught up in some messy subplots that get tangled up with each other.

Bill, Ted, Joanna and Elizabeth are in couples counseling with Dr. Taylor Wood (played by Jillian Bell), who is baffled over why both couples want to be in counseling sessions with her at the same time, as if it’s a double date. Bell is a terrific comedic actress, but the dull lines she’s given in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” are so listless and unimaginative, that her talent is wasted in this film. It’s eventually revealed that unless Bill and Ted change their destiny, their wives will leave them and their children will be estranged from Bill and Ted.

How do Bill and Ted find out that they can change their destiny? It’s because someone from outer space comes to San Dimas to tell them the world is ending and can only be saved if Bill and Ted find the song that will not only unite the world but also restore reality as they know it. The visitor from outer space is named Kelly (played by Kristen Schaal), who is sympathetic to Bill and Ted and wants to help them. She has arrived on Earth at the behest of her mother called the Great Leader (played by Holland Taylor), a jaded matriarch who doesn’t have much faith that Bill and Ted can deliver the song that can save the world.

Bill and Ted’s time-traveling phone booth is brought back from outer space (with a hologram of Rufus, using brief archival footage of the late Carlin), so Bill and Ted jump back and forth to different times and places in their quest to find the song. Dave Grohl (of Foo Fighters and Nirvana fame) has a cameo as himself in one of these scenes. Meanwhile, the “world is ending” scenes include historical figures ending up in the wrong places or people suddenly disappearing, as if to show that history and reality are being warped into an irreversible void.

The movie also spends a lot of screen time showing Bill and Ted encountering different versions of themselves in future and/or alternate realities. These scenarios include Bill and Ted as old men in a nursing home; Bill and Ted with bodybuilder physiques in prison; and Bill and Ted as successful rock stars with fake British accents. All of these scenes mostly serve the purpose to show Reeves and Winter acting silly in various hairstyles, costumes and prosthetic makeup. However, almost none of these scenes are genuinely funny

And if all of that weren’t enough to overstuff the movie, there’s a simultaneous storyline with Billie and Thea doing their own time traveling. While in San Dimas, space alien Kelly met the two daughters and explained the urgency of how Bill and Ted have to save the world. In order to help their fathers, Billie and Thea decide they want to create the ultimate band that can accompany the Wyld Stallyns when they play the song that will save the world. Kelly provides Billie and Thea with their own time-traveling spacecraft, and so off Thea and Billie go to recruit top musicians to join the band.

They end up recruiting Jimi Hendrix (played by DazMann Still, doing a barely passable impersonation) and Louis Armstrong (played by Jeremiah Craft, doing an awful, mugging impersonation), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (played by Daniel Dorr, doing an average impersonation), plus two fictional musicians: Chinese violinist Ling Lum (played by Sharon Gee) from 2600 B.C. and North African drummer Grom (played by Patty Anne Miller) from 11,500 B.C. And because apparently no A-list superstars rapper wanted to be in this train-wreck movie, Kid Cudi (playing himself) is also in this makeshift band.

Meanwhile, the Great Leader grows impatient with the bungling Bill and Ted, so she sends a robot named Dennis Caleb McCoy (played by Anthony Carrigan) to assassinate Bill and Ted. The robot keeps announcing that his name is Dennis Caleb McCoy and that’s supposed to be a joke—but it’s a joke that gets old by the second time it’s said. And it comes as no surprise that Death (with Sadler reprising the role) is in this “Bill & Ted” movie too, which recycles some plot elements of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”

A huge part of the appeal of the first two “Bill & Ted” movies is that these characters were young and dumb. Their “party on, dude” attitude and antics were meant to be laughed at because it was a parody of how a lot of young people act when they have the freedom to be reckless. But now that Bill and Ted are middle-aged, their doltish mindset isn’t so funny anymore, which is why the filmmakers came up with the gimmick of having Bill and Ted’s children take up the mantle of being the “young and dumb” characters in this movie.

Lundy-Paine as Thea gives the better progeny performance, since she’s believable as Ted’s daughter. And even though her body language seems a bit forced and awkward at times, Lundy-Paine shows a knack for comedic timing. Unfortunately, Weaving is miscast as Bill’s daughter Billie, because Billie doesn’t look like she inherited any of the mannerisms that would make her recognizable as Bill’s daughter. In other words, her “dimwit” act is not credible at all. And it might be a compliment to say that Weaving is just too smart for this movie.

Reeves and Winter do exactly what you expect them to do: act like middle-aged versions of Bill and Ted. But the movie looks like it was thrown together haphazardly instead of being a great and original idea that writers Matheson and Solomon had the time to work on for all these years. You don’t have to see the first two “Bill & Ted” movies to understand what’s going on in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” because so much of the story is lazily written dreck that will confuse some people anyway. Seeing the first two “Bill & Ted” movies right before seeing “Bill & Ted Face the Music” might also underscore how much better the first two movies were.

And for a movie that’s supposed to center on music, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” has original songs that are utterly generic and forgettable. There used to be a time when a “Bill &Ted” soundtrack was sort of a big deal in the music business. Not anymore.

Just like the misguided “Dumb and Dumber” and “Zoolander” sequels that had the original comedic duo stars but came decades after the original movies, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” arrives too late and falls very short of expectations that weren’t very high anyway. Whereas the first “Bill & Ted” movie sparingly used the idea of Bill and Ted confronting their alternate-reality selves, “Bill & Ted Face the Music” over-uses this concept as filler for a shambolic, insipid plot that is the very definition of “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.” “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is like the equivalent of loud, screeching feedback from an amped guitar that is grossly out of tune and ends up creating a lot of unnecessary and irritating noise.

Orion Pictures will release “Bill & Ted Face the Music” in U.S. cinemas and on VOD on August 28, 2020.

Review: ‘Showbiz Kids,’ starring Evan Rachel Wood, Cameron Boyce, Wil Wheaton, Jada Pinkett Smith, Milla Jovovich, Todd Bridges, Mara Wilson and Henry Thomas

July 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Evan Rachel Wood in “Showbiz Kids” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Showbiz Kids”

Directed by Alex Winter

Culture Representation: The documentary “Showbiz Kids” interviews several white and African American current and former child actors (and a few of their parents) about what it’s like to be a child in the entertainment business.

Culture Clash: Several of the people interviewed discuss missing out on having a “normal” childhood; the pressures and down sides of fame; and rampant child abuse and exploitation in showbiz.

Culture Audience: “Showbiz Kids” will appeal primarily to people who like behind-the-scenes stories about the entertainment business, although almost all of these cautionary tales have already been told.

Cameron Boyce in “Showbiz Kids” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

There are plenty of news exposés and tell-all books that have revealed the good, bad and ugly sides of being a famous child in the entertainment business. The documentary film “Showbiz Kids” doesn’t uncover anything new or shocking, but it’s a generally good compilation of personal stories from current and former child entertainers.

“Showbiz Kids” director Alex Winter, a former child actor who became famous as an adult—he’s best known for co-starring in the “Bill & Ted” movies with Keanu Reeves—keeps the film’s focus uncluttered by showing mainly the perspectives of actors. There’s the expected archival footage, but the only new interviews are with actors (some who are more famous than others) and a few parents of children who are trying to make it big in showbiz. (There are no agents interviewed in the film.)

The interviewees include famous former child actors Evan Rachel Wood, Cameron Boyce, Wil Wheaton, Jada Pinkett Smith, Milla Jovovich, Todd Bridges, Mara Wilson, Henry Thomas and Diana Serra Cary. Boyce died of a stroke in 2019, at the age of 20. Serra Cary, who was known as Baby Peggy in the 1920s, passed away in 2020, at the age of 101. An epilogue in the documentary announces that “Showbiz Kids” is dedicated to Boyce and Serra Cary.

One of the best things about “Showbiz Kids” is that it has a wide range of ages and experiences for the actors who are interviewed in the film. Some (such as Wood, Wheaton, Serra Cary and Jovovich) were pushed into acting by their parents. Others sort of fell into acting, such as Pinkett Smith and Thomas, who says that he only decided to become a professional actor as a way to get out of piano lessons. And some others (such as Bridges, Wilson and Boyce) say that they wanted to be entertainers from an early age but started so young that they didn’t know any other way of life when they were kids.

Also interviewed are two families who each have a child who’s trying to become famous in showbiz, with varying degrees of success. One family consists of Melanie Slater, Jeff Slater and their son Marc Slater from Orlando, Florida. The other family consists of Demi Singleton and her single mother Tricia Miranda, who are based in New York City. (The children in these families don’t appear to have any siblings.)

Melanie, Jeff and Marc Slater (who looks like he was about 9 to 11 years old when he was filmed for this documentary) represent the experience that’s most common: The child has not been able to find steady work as an actor. The Slaters say that Melanie and Jeff haven’t pushed Marc into showbiz, and they say that Marc doesn’t want to quit, despite the fact that he almost never gets work as an actor.

However, the documentary shows Marc in a one-on-one session with a female acting coach, who notices that Marc is yawning while she’s trying to teach him. Marc admits that he’s feeling tired (because he didn’t much sleep from the night before) and a little bored. When the acting coach asks him how he feels about the lessons, he makes a “so-so” indication.

The acting coach thanks Marc for being honest, but it’s pretty clear that this kid doesn’t have the passion to be an actor. And that lack of driving passion will probably affect his chances of continuing to pursue an acting career. There’s nothing in the documentary that indicates Marc has extraordinary talent. And, as it’s pointed out in the documentary, the entertainment business is notorious for chewing kids up and spitting them out when they get older and aren’t as “cute” anymore.

Meanwhile, the documentary shows Marc and his mother Melanie in the Los Angeles area, where they’ve traveled every year for the past few years, to audition for pilot season. Although it’s not mentioned in the documentary, pilot season is the peak time when people who don’t live in the Los Angeles area are most likely to bring their kids to Hollywood for auditions. There are plenty of reality TV shows that have chronicled this process.

Pilot season is the period of time (January to March) when TV studios and production companies are casting actors for pilot episodes of TV series that might or might not be ordered for a full season. After the pilot episodes are filmed, they’re shopped to various networks or streaming services. Most of the shows end of up not being sold to any outlets. The shows that are sold and picked up for a full season are usually announced in April or May and usually debut later that year or the following year.

The pushy and domineering “stage mother” has become a showbiz cliché, because a lot of it is true. Almost all of the actors interviewed in the documentary say that their mothers had a more active role than their fathers did in guiding their children’s showbiz careers. Their mothers are also usually their managers when they are children. (Managers handle the day-to-day business, while agents are responsible for finding and booking work for their clients.)

When the image of a “stage mother” is brought up, Melanie Slater says with a horrified voice: “I don’t ever want to be one of those!” However, Melanie Slater is shown being very much a stage mother, as she (without her husband) is the one who accompanies Marc to Los Angeles for his pilot-season auditions. She’s the one who usually takes the photos that are posted on her son Marc’s social media.

And she’s the one who’s taught Marc to parrot her loopy way of comparing getting an acting job to the planet Saturn. According to Melanie and Marc, there are three main rings around the planet that they have to get through in order to reach the planet. The first ring is the audition, the second ring is the callback, the third ring is booking the job, and the final destination (the planet) is actually doing the job and getting paid for it. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.

On the other end of the wannabe star spectrum is Singleton, who looks like she was about 11 or 12 years old when this documentary was filmed. Singleton says that she and her mother are originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but they moved to New York City when she was 3 years old. Unlike the Slaters, they’ve been more successful in booking gigs for the child actor in the family. (Maybe that’s because Singleton and her mother don’t spend time sitting around talking about rings of Saturn as a way to break into showbiz.)

Singleton has been in the cast of Broadway musical productions, such as “The Lion King” and “School of Rock.” And she’s had a small supporting role in the Epix drama series “Godfather of Harlem,” starring Forest Whitaker. It’s clear that Singleton wants to be a “triple threat” entertainer (someone who can sing, dance and act), and she takes her craft seriously. She’s shown in ballet classes, which is a discipline that many kids with access to ballet don’t have the patience to commit to on a long-term basis.

Unlike Marc Slater, it’s obvious that Singleton has a passion for being an entertainer. And just as importantly, she’s ambitious. In the documentary, she unapologetically says that she wants to be so famous that she can change a lot of people’s lives for the better. It’s clear that she’s one of those kids that wasn’t forced to be in showbiz, because the documentary shows that when she has a choice between going to summer camp or working that summer, she seems happy that she ended up getting booked for a job for the summer.

The people interviewed in “Showbiz Kids” inevitably bring up the issue of having a “normal childhood” versus pursuing a career in showbiz. How and where you are raised make all the difference, say the interviewees. “Westworld” star Wood says that her parents, who run a theater company in North Carolina, were definite “snobs” about what kind of material she would do as an actor, which affected her choices then and now.

Pinkett Smith, who attended Baltimore School of the Arts, says that growing up in a tough Baltimore neighborhood prepared her for the cutthroat side of the entertainment business. When she started her Hollywood acting career in her late teens (her breakout role in her early 20s was in the 1991-1993 sitcom “A Different World”), she says that these “street smarts” helped prevent her from being conned and exploited. “I survived the streets of Baltimore, so as far as I was concerned, this [Hollywood] was kind of a Disneyland.”

Meanwhile, Wilson (who’s most famous for her 1990s movie roles in “Matilda” and “Mrs. Doubtfire”) grew up in the showbiz city of Burbank, California, so she says it was normal for her to go to school with kids who regularly auditioned for acting jobs. Thomas had the opposite experience. After he became world-famous as a star of the blockbuster 1982 movie “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” he says he still attended a regular school in his Texas hometown, where he was the only professional actor in his class. Thomas remembers his fame was a double-edged sword in that environment, because he got a lot of perks and adulation, but he also got a lot of bullying and teasing from some of his peers at school.

Getting an education is a tricky subject for showbiz kids, and it depends on how busy the child is as an entertainer. The busier the entertainer, the less likely the child will be attending a “normal” school. Homeschooling and on-set tutoring are how many famous child entertainers got most of their childhood education. But most still attend “regular” school at some point in their childhoods.

Boyce (a former Disney Channel star) had education experiences at a “regular” school and a home school. In the documentary, Boyce says that he preferred the regular school because he was able to do “normal” activities with kids his age. At his home school, he wasn’t around people in the same age group. And Boyce also says that being a busy entertainer meant that he didn’t really think about going to college, since going to college would no doubt put his career momentum on hold.

Boyce says in the documentary that one of the biggest problems of being a famous entertainer as a kid is that people are expecting you to be someone that you’re not. Finding an identity outside of showbiz can be difficult. Adolescent mistakes and the natural process of physically looking different while growing into adulthood are issues that get blown out of proportion when a child is famous, compared to when a child is not famous.

Most of the people interviewed in the documentary express having complicated emotional relationships with their parents, who usually controlled their careers as children. Although they express gratitude over having supportive families who sacrificed a lot so that they could become successful entertainers, there are some lingering resentments.

Wheaton says that his parents, especially his mother, at times seemed to care more about him being famous and successful than his emotional well-being. He says of becoming an actor: “It was never my idea.” Wheaton states that he has a “great family,” but he also expresses anger that his mother didn’t adequately protect him from an abusive situation that he experienced on a job. (He doesn’t go into details about the abuse.)

Thomas describes his parents as not being prepared for the worldwide fame that came his way because of “E.T.,” because they initially thought acting was just going to be a hobby for him. Thomas says that his mother, who accompanied him on every job he had as a child, was highly suspicious and paranoid that people were trying to abuse or exploit him. Therefore, she was labeled as “difficult.” And, in hindsight, he believes that his mother cost him a lot of acting jobs.

Serra Cary says her father didn’t just cost her some acting jobs. She says he ruined her entire acting career. In the documentary interview, she claims that her father hated that he wasn’t going to get a cut of the money that was in her work contract, so he terminated the contract. “My [acting] career was over [when I was] 7,” Serra Cary says.

Wood says that the entire time that she was becoming a successful young actor, no one close to her bothered to ask her how she was feeling. She says that the assumption was that the more successful she became, the happier she was expected to be. And she says that her parents instilled in her the idea that because she had the talent to be an actor, she would be ungrateful and foolish if she didn’t pursue an acting career.

Jovovich, who grew up as the child of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, says that her mother was a “brilliant” actress who had to give up her dreams to be a famous actress in order to help make money for the family. Jovovich’s mother ended up being a servant to rich and famous people, and she pushed Jovovich into a showbiz career, as a way to vicariously live through Jovovich. Although Jovovich is mainly known as an actress and former supermodel, she says that she really wanted to become a singer, but that career didn’t really work out for her because she was pigeonholed as being a model/actress. Jovovich is now best known for starring in the “Resident Evil” action-horror movie franchise, written and directed by her husband Paul W.S. Anderson.

Pinkett Smith, who’s married to superstar Will Smith, offers her perspective as a famous mother of kids who are also in the entertainment business. She says that their son Jaden and daughter Willow were not pushed into showbiz, but she’s well-aware that her kids have the privilege of not having to struggle financially, unlike other kids who don’t have any family wealth or connections. (Willow and Jaden were not interviewed for this documentary.)

Pinkett Smith also mentions that she’s glad that social media didn’t exist when she started her own showbiz career because she’s not sure how social media would’ve affected her as a child or teenager growing up. Boyce, who is one of the few actors interviewed in the documentary who grew up with social media, comments that social media just amplifies insecurities that kids already have in their real lives. It’s obviously why Wood (who has a son with her actor ex-husband Jamie Bell) says it’s a conscious choice as a parent that her son is not on social media.

Trust issues and isolation are also common with child entertainers, say many of the people interviewed in the documentary. Wheaton expresses bitterness over people treating him differently only because he’s famous, which causes him to question people’s sincerity. He says that he was bullied by cousins when he was growing up, but after he became famous (his breakout role was in the 1986 movie “Stand by Me”), they became extra-nice to him. He comments that this experience was his beginning of not being able to trust anyone. Wheaton also says he hated being marketed as a “teen idol,” and he was pressured into doing “teen idol” things that he really didn’t want to do.

Wilson and Boyce also talk about how much it can mess with a child star’s mind to not know how much fame is the reason for why people are being nice to them and want to become their friends. It gets even more complicated when the star is old enough to date. And Boyce says that social media puts famous people under pressure to document a lot of their personal lives on their social media.

“It’s a very fulfilling but lonely experience,” Wood says of being a successful child entertainer. Wood quips that you know you’re in the presence of a child star when they know how to do a lot of things that children normally don’t do. She says that’s because child entertainers often spend a lot of time alone in trailers and in hotels, and they pick up unusual hobbies out of sheer boredom and loneliness.

Drugs and sexuality, which people discover as they are growing up, are inevitably mentioned in the documentary. “Showbiz Kids” includes examples of former child stars who have histories of personal problems that became very public, including Drew Barrymore, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes, Shia LaBeouf, Corey Haim (who died of pneumonia complications in 2010) and Corey Feldman. On the flip side, the documentary also includes examples of former child stars who went on to have successful showbiz careers as adults and reputations for being emotionally stable, such as Natalie Portman, Jodie Foster, Ron Howard, Brooke Shields and Scarlett Johansson.

Sexism and sexual exploitation are also discussed. Wood says that she felt most exploited not on film sets but on photo shoots, where she was forced to wear outfits that didn’t really reflect who she is. Wood comments, “I didn’t want to wear dresses. I didn’t want to wear heels. I was a tomboy.” Wood, who is the only openly LGBTQ person interviewed in the documentary (she identifies as bisexual), also mentions that she knew she was bisexual as a pre-teen, but there was pressure for her not to go public about her sexual orientation until much later in her life.

Jovovich says that when she was an underage teen model made to look like an adult, it was both horrifying and embarrassing for her. She thought the hair and makeup that she had for photo shoots looked “hideous” on her. And she says that the constant push to make her look like a sexy adult when she was still a kid wouldn’t be as acceptable today as it was when it happened to her in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Although Jovovich’s parents allowed her to be emancipated at the age of 16, Jovovich admits in hindsight that she was still too young to go through many of the things that she experienced—even though she thought at the time that she was mature enough to handle these situations. She makes a vague reference to getting into “messes” with older men when she was underage. Looking back on these experiences, she now says that these older men were “schmucks” for taking advantage of her.

The  documentary points out the obvious fact that girls in the entertainment business are made to look sexual at a much earlier age than boys are. “Showbiz Kids” includes clips and/or photos from controversial movies, such as 1962’s “Lolita” (about a middle-age man who commits statutory rape when he becomes sexually obsessed with an underage teenage girl), as well as 1976’s “Taxi Driver” and 1978’s “Pretty Baby,” which each featured an underage girl prostitute as one of the main characters. The 1994 movie “Léon: The Professional” (which had the title “The Professional” in the U.S.) is also mentioned as a movie that portrayed sexual undertones/sexual tension between the two main characters: a professional hit man and a 12-year-old girl.

The #MeToo movement is mentioned as important progress for people speaking up and getting justice for sexual harassment/abuse, but the people who talk about it say that despite this progress, sexual harassment/abuse is still a major problem. People in the documentary reiterate that even though most of the showbiz #MeToo stories that people hear about are about experiences that happened to adults, that doesn’t mean that there’s a low percentage of children in showbiz with #MeToo stories. Children are just as likely to be harassed/abused as adults but are more likely to keep it a secret.

Wood states that sexual abuse happens to boys much more than what’s being reported. She says that most male actors have been sexually harassed or sexually abused by powerful men in the industry. And she remembers attending a recent Golden Globes ceremony where she had to temporarily go outside because she was nauseated that a man who’s known to sexually abuse boys had won a Golden Globe award at the show. (She doesn’t name names.)

Bridges, who’s best known for co-starring in the 1978-1986 sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” went public years ago about his own childhood abuse. He was sexually abused by his male publicist for years. And when he told his parents, Bridges’ father sided with the publicist. Bridges, who claims that his father was physically and emotionally abusive to him when he was growing up, says that all this trauma led him on a downward spiral of drug addiction and suicidal thoughts.

Fortunately, Bridges recovered, but his “Diff’rent Strokes” co-star Dana Plato (who went public with similar problems) did not. She died of a drug overdose in 1999, at the age of 34. Meanwhile, “Diff’rent Stokes” co-star Gary Coleman (the most famous member of the cast) struggled with health problems and being typecast as a child star for the rest of his life. In 2010, Coleman died of a subdural hematoma at the age 42.

In the documentary, Bridges says that of the three actors who played the kids on “Diff’rent Strokes” (Bridges, Plato and Coleman), Bridges was the one who most people predicted would die first. Bridges marvels that he’s now “the last one standing.” He also expresses sorrow over his “Diff’rent Strokes” co-stars’ untimely deaths and gratitude that he was able to come out of his personal ordeals alive and able to help other abuse survivors.

However, none of this information is new. And “Showbiz Kids” does have some noticeable omissions and blind spots. The film has no Asians and Latinos, the two fastest-growing racial groups in the United States. And although there are some African Americans in the documentary, there’s absolutely no discussion of how racism impacts opportunities that are given to child actors.

Also left out of the documentary is any coverage of children with disabilities and how they’re represented and treated in showbiz. The closest that the documentary comes to addressing this issue is when Bridges talks about how his “Diff’rent Strokes” star Coleman (who had lifelong kidney problems) had to go to work the day after having kidney surgery. According to Bridges, Coleman ended up resenting how the “Diff’rent Strokes” bosses didn’t seem to care about his health.

To its credit, “Showbiz Kids” responsibly brings up the important issues of sexism, sexual exploitation and abuse. However, the discussion is fairly superficial, since there’s no discussion about how these issues have trickle-down negative effects on how children, especially girls, feel about their body image. (It’s very obvious that girls who are famous entertainers are under more pressure than boys to not be overweight.)

You would think that a documentary called “Showbiz Kids” would have some discussion about eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia. People who have these disorders are usually female, and they usually become afflicted with these disorders when they’re underage. But there’s no mention of eating disorders in “Showbiz Kids.”

The reasons why anorexics and bulimics get these disorders are usually the same: They want to look “thin and attractive.” And their unhealthy eating habits are their way to have control over their lives because they often don’t feel in control of their lives. Showbiz kids are textbook examples of being very vulnerable to getting eating disorders, because their physical appearance goes under much more scrutiny than kids who aren’t in showbiz.

There’s a large percentage of women who are former child stars who’ve gone public about having eating disorders when they were pre-teens or underage teens. (And it’s impossible to know many more have also had an eating disorder, but have kept it private.) Therefore, it’s disappointing that “Showbiz Kids” failed to even mention this rampant problem.

The movie predictably covers drug abuse/addiction, but sparingly. Bridges is the only one interviewed in “Showbiz Kids” who talks about his drug problems. And if it seems very unrealistic that he’s the only celebrity in the documentary who’s ever done illegal drugs, that’s because it is unrealistic. Pinkett Smith and Wood have been open in other interviews about their past drug use and other self-destructive behavior, but they don’t tell those stories in this documentary. (And if they did, those stories were cut out of the film.)

Wheaton says he was angry about the untimely death of his former “Stand by Me” co-star River Phoenix, who died of a cocaine and heroin overdose in 1993, at the age of 23. Wheaton says that he looked up to Phoenix as an older brother. Although he acknowledges that Phoenix made the choice to take the drugs that killed him, Wheaton also puts a lot of blame on the people who enabled Phoenix’s drug addiction.

Wheaton claims that no one in Phoenix’s life cared enough to help Phoenix quit doing dangerous drugs. But by his own admission, Wheaton hadn’t been in touch with Phoenix for about two years before Phoenix died, so Wheaton doesn’t really know the whole story about who might or might not have tried to help Phoenix get clean and sober.

Cutting one’s own skin, which is a form of self-harm that is not uncommon with showbiz types (especially young people), barely gets mentioned in the documentary. The only reference to cutting is when the documentary shows a brief 2018 clip from “Red Table Talk”—the Facebook talk show hosted by Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Adrienne Banfield-Jones (the mother of Pinkett Smith)—when Willow publicly confessed that she used to be a cutter, and her mother appears to be shocked.

Because the documentary primarily has viewpoints of former child actors, there’s little to no discussion of the crucial roles and responsibilities of people who aren’t these children’s parents but who have a lot of power in what happens to a child in showbiz, such as agents, managers, directors, producers, casting directors, talent coaches and other people who work behind the scenes. Labor unions are not mentioned at all. And except for a brief flash of a sexual-abuse hotline number at the end of the film, there’s really no reference to how people can recover or get justice for any abuse or harassment they’ve experienced or witnessed in the entertainment business.

Despite these gaping holes in the documentary, “Showbiz Kids” takes the interviews that it has and weaves them together into a concise narrative that’s very easy to follow. People certainly won’t get bored watching this documentary, but people will certainly wonder about all the information that wasn’t revealed.

HBO premiered “Showbiz Kids” on July 14, 2020.

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