let_it_shine_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

In the 1897 Edmond Rostand play Cyrano de Bergerac, which is very loosely based on the poet of the same name, a young cadet, Cyrano, has issues in professing his love for Roxane. Cyrano has a huge nose, making him ugly by his own admission. So he allows and helps handsome cadet Christian to woo and marry his Roxane.

In the Disney Channel original film in DVD this week, Let it Shine, which is loosely based on Cyrano, we meet a young man of low self-esteem, Cyrus (Tyler James Williams), who allows his cuter best friend Kris (Trevor Jackson), to woo his crush, pop singer Roxxie (Coco Jones), and take credit for his talent. 

While Let it Shine’s characters do not meet a fatally tragic end, as do its predecessors Cyrano and Christian, it does promote a positive message of believing in oneself. 

Director Paul Hoen, whose credits include episodes of Jonas, Zeke and Luther, Camp Rock 2 and Cheetah Girls: One World, knows his way around uplifting musicals geared toward teens.  What’s so great about Let it Shine is that, compared to many dance films, it’s cheese-less.  There’s heart and substance to the film.  Many dance films focus so much on choreography that the plot suffers. Not so with Shine. 

Screenwriters Eric Daniel and Don D. Scott, with story by Daniel, spin a tale as old as time:  Boys meet girl, fall in love with girl, girl must choose between looks and brains. With Let it Shine geared toward teens, it’s a no-brainer that Roxxie would choose the brains. What Daniel and Scott do for this film is take a romantic tragedy and spin it into a hip-hop/gospel-friendly family film so kids can get their classics in without getting bored.

Kids can also get a crash course in loving themselves for who they are and positively expressing their talents. Cyrus, who has mad-skills as a rapper (poet, if you will) doesn’t want to be in the limelight because he lacks confidence. But he’s so talented that he had no choice. Likewise, Roxxie doesn’t fully shine onscreen until she embraces her true voice, therefore promoting the image that being true to yourself and your talent – rather than scheming and lying – will take you places.

Finally, positive messages of inner beauty and natural talent in a hip-hop based film. Then again, what really catapults this film is its gospel influence, its story and general heart.

The ensemble cast isn’t bad either. Courtney B. Vance’s Jacob is the kind of guy you love to hate.  He’s not only Cyrus’ strict father, he’s pastor of their church. Preaching the ills of hip-hop music and thumping his Bible a little too hard at his congregants, he serves as the part of the church in need of a look at the positive aspects of hip-hop.

Cyrus’ mother Gail (Dawnn Lewis) is the voice of reason, representing the  section of the church understanding that it doesn’t hurt to incorporate something fresh on a teen’s level and still promote a positive image.

Williams as Cyrus is a step above his persona on Everybody Hates Chris. He’s still the underdog, though he redeems himself nicely at the end.  Likewise for Jackson, whose Kris comes off as just another pretty face. It’s easy to overlook Kris as just another good-looking child actor, until he expresses his own great skills.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for  Roxxie, as Jones tends to act with her eyes and her lips. That’s cute when you’re a precocious 5-year-old; not so much when you’re a teenager.

Let it Shine, another, great family film from Disney, promotes positive messages for teens and is, dare I say, better than Joyful Noise.

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Photo courtesy of Disney Channel Original Movie