Less a proper rock doc than a greatest-hits sampler plate, this colorful overview of the Who’s glory days is a relic from a bygone era of rock fandom, because the barely-there narrative style used to connect performance clips and interview snippets has become irrelevant now that casual fans can get roughly the same experience by browsing through YouTube videos. There’s a reason why surviving band members later participated in a proper career-spanning documentary, the 237-minute opus Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who (2007). Fun as its individual components might be, The Kids Are Alright lacks anything resembling substance. Assembled by fan-turned-director Jeff Stein, who shot a handful of new scenes to complement extensive archival footage, The Kids Are Alright is organized along the lines of a concert set list. Instead of presenting songs in a purely chronological manner, Stein builds a show that connects the Who’s early years as a gang of ambitious bad boys to its late-’70s reign as a collective of arena superstars.
Much of the archival footage had been shown publicly before, of course, including TV appearances and the Who’s fiery set of the Woodstock festival. The appeal, therefore, is seeing everything in context. The Kids Are Alright loosely tracks Roger Daltrey’s evolution from a brash but unsure singer to a powerfully charismatic front man, as well as Pete Townshend’s growth from a bratty kid who snickers every time he smashes a guitar to an adult artiste who leads with his angst and his poetry. Meanwhile, bassist John Entwistle mostly lingers in the background (except for a strange bit during which he shows off his grandiose collection of guitars and uses a gold record as a shotgun target), and drummer Keith Moon treats everything like a nonstop, booze-drenched party.
Moon’s presence gives The Kids Are Alright a small claim to historical status, since an early version of the documentary was completed just prior to Moon’s death in September 1978. In fact, the movie contains Moon’s final concert and studio performances with the band, including a partially live studio version of the potent hit “Who Are You,” which was the title song from the last full Who album featuring Moon. Elsewhere in The Kids Are Alright, Moon acts the fool during interview bits, sometimes clowning around with buddy (and fellow drummer) Ringo Starr. More impressively, Moon and his mates are at their very best during the picture’s closing number, an epic concert performance of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” that features the band’s signature laser-light accompaniment. Very much a minor blip on the continuum of rock movies, The Kids Are Alright is essential for devoted Who fans, but it’s of only mild interest to casual viewers.
The Kids Are Alright: FUNKY