A couple weeks after previewing the new Disney Channel movie premiering on July 26 called "Gotta Kick It Up", I still shake my head and smile at the memory of watching my 10-year-old daughter Alicia's beaming face as she takes in the simple story of middle school girls that want to be part of their school's dance team.
It's a pretty formulaic film: the struggle of five girls to convince their principal to reform the team and for the new teacher to coach it; the amusing tryouts; their first competion, where they get blown away by the better organized, more-practiced squads; the setbacks and successes as they take matters into their own hands; and finally, the finals, where all their hard work pays off.
What made the film special for Alicia was that the five main characters were young women she could recognize and relate to.
There's Daisy (Camille Guaty), the rebellious teenager who is really not that tough; Yolanda (America Ferrera), whose energy and enthusiasm drive the team; Marisol (Suilma Rodriguez), adding a little 'cultura' to their dance routines; smart, studious and somewhat spoiled Alyssa (Jhoanna Flores; and Esmeralda (Sabrina Weiner), who sets the whole plan in motion.
It's an upbeat film directed with special care by Ramon Menendez, director of "Stand and Deliver" and writer of "Tortilla Soup." Presented without a whole lot of the trademark sugarcoating associated with Disney, "Gotta Kick It Up" exudes positive messages of friendship, determination, teamwork and culture in fast-paced, often-funny and fairly emotional fashion. Based on a story by Nancy De Los Santos and Meghan Cole (whose real life experiences are portrayed in the movie), it is a genuinely sweet family film that manages to engage viewers and promote Latino cultural qualities in quietly subversive ways.
Spanglish, for instance, is sprinkled throughout the film. Chuy, the boyfriend of one of the girls, is played with cholo-lite coolness by Erik Gavica. Salsa, merengue and tango moves are incorporated in their big dance routine. And, most impressive of all, the mantra the girls use to motivate themselves before their routines is "?Si Se Puede!", the phrase made famous by Cesar Chavez in his historic struggles to organize the United Farm Workers.
To see and hear these utterly charming young ladies chanting "?Si Se Puede, Si Se Puede, Si Se Puede!" in their little pom-pom outfits with big gleaming smiles was head-spinning. And to think that after viewing the film, potentially millions of middle America kids will be doing the same is awe-inspiring.
Peppy music, the requisite hard-nosed parents, and just a little bit of stereotyping are part of "Gotta Kick It Up". It probably won't win any awards, but I think that in its own gentle way, it can alter the image of the Latino community within the hearts of some kids and their parents who maybe don't know us very well.
And as with my daughter, Alicia, it can also serve as an inspiration that yes, maybe with practice, teamwork and believing in oneself, si se puede.