If you want to introduce kids to musicals, here’s a classic that quite possibly anyone can love, even those who claim they don’t like musicals. That’s because SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is enormously entertaining and flat-out funny. Co-directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen created effervescence for the ages here.
Set in Hollywood in the days when silent movies gave way to sound, and filmed in the early 1950s at the height of the great MGM movie musical era, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is full of stuff that delights kids. The script is easy for kids to digest and plenty funny, thanks to witty New York theater writers Betty Comden & Adolph Green. Though you might have to explain, as I did to my kids, that movies didn’t always have sound or even color, they’ll catch on quickly when they watch a giggle-inducing scene in which a movie’s soundtrack goes out of sync, causing matinee idol Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and his movies-within-the-movie, annoyingly-voiced screen partner Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) to look like they’re talking with each other’s voices.
That’s just one of the many moments kids lap up. There’s the tongue-twisting, tap-dancing number, “Moses Supposes,” when Kelly’s character Don and Don’s pal Cosmo (Donald O’Connor) dance over and around furniture and a hapless speech coach hired to get Don’s voice ready for sound movies. There’s Cosmo’s slapstick pantomime with a mannequin in “Make ‘Em Laugh,” when he instructs Don in the ways of comedy and winds up crashing through the scenery. And then there’s the infectious tap-dancing Don, Cosmo, and Don’s love interest Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) perform all over Don’s Hollywood mansion after they’ve been up all night, in the song “Good Mornin‘.”
But if you really want to hook the kids even before you make ’em watch the whole movie, show them the most famous clip first, in which Kelly gets exuberantly drenched, making the kind of enormous, foot-stomping, body-soaking splashes any kid who’s ever been out in the rain has either made or wanted to.
The movie’s plotline invites discussion about the silent era, and more curious kids may be up for checking out some kid-friendly silent classics from back then, like Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID or THE GOLD RUSH, Buster Keaton’s THE GENERAL, and Douglas Fairbanks’ ROBIN HOOD. Newly minted STAR WARS fans might want to know that Debbie Reynolds is real-life mom to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). For those who want to purchase a DVD to allow for repeat-viewing, there’s a nice Turner Classic Movies Greatest Classic Films Collection edition that includes other kid-friendly musicals EASTER PARADE, THE BAND WAGON and MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS. If the kids you show it to respond to SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN the way most do, they’ll likely also enjoy the mother of all big-screen musicals, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, and another Kelly/Stanley Donen/Comden & Green gem, ON THE TOWN. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is a kid-pleasing place to start a Hollywood musicals education.
Singin’ In The Rain (1952) Directed by Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly. Screenplay and story by Adolph Green & Betty Comden. Lyrics by Arthur Freed, Music by Nacio Herb Brown. With Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds.