Katy Perry in a scene from her 3-D film, "Katy Perry: Part of Me." (Paramount Pictures )
In the glittery new 3-D concert film "Katy Perry: Part of Me," the pop star asks with sweet conviction, "How could you ever be too cartoony?"
On one level, the movie's answer is that you can't — and lots of rock star highs, Russell Brand lows and a whole lot of bubbly music fill up this frothy bit of show and tell. (It's delivered through special bubble-gum pink and cotton-candy blue 3-D glasses, to boot.) But directors Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz have gotten past the cartoonish veneer to discover there is more to Perry than meets the eye. "Part of Me" does a solid job of filling in the good stuff, though if there is any dirt to be uncovered, you won't find it here.
Cutforth and Lipsitz, producers on last year's"Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,"have created a backstage / back story pass to Perryland that is good summer fun. The film sweeps in her early years with her Pentecostal pastor parents, getting her first guitar at 13, the dues-paying time on the club circuit, and the fame she has today. Her conservative mom and dad may not have let Perry watch"The Smurfs"when she was a kid, but praise the Lord they took a lot of home movies. In the shots of 5-year-old Katy performing gospel songs, there are glimmers of the moves that are iconic today — the wink-and-a-nod way she plays to the audience, those Betty Boop eyes, that perfectly timed smile.
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For serious fans — and they are legion — the film will probably serve as more a celebration of all things Katy than a revelation. From the snippets of interviews with the hopelessly devoted that are woven through the film, it certainly seems that they already know her as well as a pop star can be known — every lyric, every fashion choice, every tweet.
For the rest of the collective consciousness, the film fills in the before and after of the star who was basically born when she "kissed a girl" and she liked it. That was 2008, when the track "I Kissed a Girl" propelled Perry out of relative obscurity and sent her on her way to become the first woman to have five No. 1 singles from a single album.
That music is the medium here. The film shadows her on her yearlong "California Dreams" tour in 2011. Her Candyland / Alice in Wonderland staging and style is a natural for big, 3-D treatment. A cacophony of primary colors, balloons, confetti, sequins and glitter keep bursting across the screen.
The theme, if there is one, is that whatever success has brought her, she is and always was a good girl at heart — more nice than naughty. Family still surrounds Perry — sister Angela works for her, grandma goes to concerts and mom, dad and brother aren't far. She makes time for her fans. She is loyal to her friends. Before it starts to feel too saintly, 2011 was also the year her marriage to British rock comic Brand crumbled. Her frustration is visible as she searches her calendar for her "relationship days" — alone time with Brand that she religiously scheduled. And the tears are definitely real ones when it becomes clear the union is over just as she is about to take the stage in Sao Paulo. But the show does go on.
It would be easy to dismiss Perry as just another manufactured pop star — in the right light, she even looks like Disney's Snow White come to life. So the film does her a service piecing together, via footage and interviews, the years when she was searching to find the artist she would become. Clips of her around 13 show her struggle to channel raw emotions into music. There are funny shots of Perry trying out some Avril Lavigne rock rage, which one of her ex-advisors thought might make her a star.
As one record executive put it, for too long the industry tried to make Katy Perry into something or someone else. The secret, which "Part of Me" captures quite nicely, was to just let her be.
'Katy Perry: Part of Me'
MPAA rating: PG for some suggestive content, language, thematic elements and brief smoking
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: In general release