Mad Hot Ballroom is the sort of live action family entertainment with which I can get on board. Too often, the desire for a good family film is quickly hampered by third-rate idiocy that only appeals to the youngest in the family. We the adults plod dutifully along for the good of the kids, hoping and praying it will all be over soon. And even though running times on family films are often shorter than a standard feature, it still seems like you’ve watched twice the length of that standard feature by the time …he credits roll.
But not with Mad Hot Ballroom. First and foremost, I’ve never been a dancer nor considered myself interested in it, but with this piece from Paramount and Nickelodeon Films, that doesn’t matter. Just like a love for boxing is not essential to adore the first Rocky film, Mad Hot Ballroom will thouroughly involve you in its story and characters and make its major platform of ballroom dancing seem incidental compared to the immersing quality of its narrative.
Unlike Rocky, this film benefits from the added value of being a real-life documentary. Due to the nature of its actors, Mad Hot Ballroom would never work as a staged, acted-out, ordinary feature. The plot centers around three inner city grade schools and its youths as they pursue the city championship in ballroom dancing. Winning will be a daunting task. Hearts will be broken — dreams, realized. Through it all and no matter the outcome, all these kids prove themselves champions in their desire to learn, and the new levels of maturity to which their journey elevates them. Thankfully, we see the little stars as genuine people and not as obnoxious child actors, acting like they think they’re supposed to. Some of their insights are quite funny — others very poignant. On every level, the film succeeds, and it would be nice to see Nickelodeon do more Mad Hot Ballroom, less Good Burger.
The film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, and is anamorphic. Colors are vibrant, and the overall image itself remains sturdy every step of the way. It’s clean and crisp with neither artifacts nor dirt. The settings used for most of the film, as we get to know these kids, have a gritty quality to them, but the innocence is never far away. A feel-good film with a feel-better video presentation.
The Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 Surround comes straight at you. It feels a little funny calling it “surround,” because it certainly doesn’t seem that way, while you’re listening. However, it’s rendered flawlessly, and dialogue levels are top-notch. For the needs of the picture, it’s really just right.
There should have been something here, but again, Paramount fails to deliver. Come on, it’s a documentary… I’m sure oodles of footage were shot but not used, and could have easily been incorporated for fans (of which, I’m finding out, there are many). Would it have really been that big of a hassle to include something? Again, even low expectations will be disappointed with the lack of bonus materials.
In all, this film is a delightful coming-of-age tale, and also an inspiration. While the subject matter may not be dynamic enough to carve its niche in a mass audience, it will certainly surprise if given the opportunity. The disc is depleted beyond a quality video and audio transfer, but for the sake of something different, it’s still recommended. Give it a shot. You may just like it more than your kids will.