HANNAH MONTANA: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Image C Sound C+ Extras D+
"Lilly, Do You Want to Know a Secret?," "Miley Get Your Gum," "She's a Super Sneak," "I Can't Make You Love Hannah If You Don't," "It's My Party and I'll Lie If I Want To," "Grandma Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Play Favorites," "It's a Mannequin's World," "Mascot Love," "Ooh, Ooh Itchy Woman," "O Say Can You... Remember These Words?," "Oops! I Meddled Again," "You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Zit is About You," "New Kid in School," "More Than a Zombie to Me," "Good Golly, Miss Dolly," "Torn Between Two Hannahs," "People Who Meet People," "Money for Nothing, Guilt for Free," "Debt it Be," "My Boyfriend's Jackson And There's Gonna Be Some Trouble," "We Are Family--Now Get Me a Water!," "Schooly Bully," "The Idol Side of Me," "Smells Like Teen Sellout," "Bad Moose Rising"
ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS
½*/**** Image B- Sound B- Extras D+
starring Jason Lee, David Cross, Cameron Richardson, Jane Lynch
screenplay by Jon Vitti and Will McRobb & Chris Viscardi
directed by Tim Hill
by Ian Pugh Contemplating the factors that pushed Hannah Montana into the limelight is automatically more interesting than devoting the least amount of attention to the eponymous Disney sitcom that introduced her to her gullible constituency. The concept behind the show, a kind of rock star wish-fulfillment that teaches its tweener audience that if you tell enough people you're famous, you'll get there eventually, has proved the foundation on which to make a mint. But sit down to watch "Hannah Montana" itself and you won't see much more than the same episodic drivel from the Disney Channel--standardized junior-high antics cushioned by lame slapstick. Any significance you cull from a deeper reading invariably leads back to the construction of the carefully-groomed personality that serves as its centrepiece. Flanked by her best friends (Mitchel Musso and Emily Osment) and supported by her manager/father (Billy Ray Cyrus) and brother Jackson (Jason Earles), Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) divides her time between a typical teenage life and a tour through fame as bubblegum diva Hannah Montana. What she actually does with that time hardly matters.
Even the most cursory reading yields something rather astounding, however: the fact that the onscreen Hannah Montana keeps such a firm grasp on her title as pop-music superstar, given how often she makes disastrous mistakes (forgetting the words to the National Anthem, acting with Tom Cruise levels of public madness, etc.) during concerts and interviews alike. It's a game attempt to humanize celebrities and forge some understanding that they're entitled to their private lives just like everybody else, but given that Cyrus has since been targeted by an unforgiving press for her VANITY FAIR shoot with Annie Liebovitz1, it's also dishonest, or at least startlingly disingenuous. Technically, Hannah Montana is not an extension of Miley's personality--they're both treated as identities severed from each other with only casual crossover; any problems arising from that crossover are strictly superficial and, of course, temporary.2 Bill Chambers touches on something vital when he calls the show "a training bra for the pomo head games of Charlie Kaufman" in his spot-on review of Cyrus's interminable Best of Both Worlds concert film (and you can find many of the same questions involved in the art of expression within one's identity3)--my problem with "Hannah Montana" is that the character encourages the shame and denial Kaufman attacks head-on.
Through the conceits of her malleable identity, Miley/Hannah can be anything at any given time--anonymous or famous, non-sexualized or hyper-sexualized--and in the same vein, she can abandon any aspect of her personality in favour of its ideological opposite, without question as to its authenticity or long-term effect. Particularly troubling to this end is an episode (1.3, "She's a Super Sneak") in which Miley sneaks out of the house to go to a premiere attended by Ashton Kutcher (as Miley, mind you)--as a superstar who frequently makes the Hollywood rounds, wouldn't Hannah Montana encounter Kutcher and his ilk in frequent red-carpet environments anyway? As such, the whole scenario becomes a jealous, Little Mermaid-esque dream of unrealistic entitlement: this idea that you can live out a normal, middle-class existence while donning a wig to transform yourself into a rock star whenever you damn well please, without any of the extraordinary fallout from either life. "The best of both worlds," indeed.
Alvin and the Chipmunks is another kiddie property that injects prefab fame into an unlistenable musical group, this time the shambling corpse of a self-conscious novelty act, exhumed to have one more generation of money wrung from it. I'm certainly not exempt from that decades-long tradition: I remember growing up watching Alvin and the Chipmunks in their '80s incarnation; as I was introduced to Michael Jackson and Blondie through their high-pitched warbling, they probably represented my conception of the cultural zeitgeist before I knew what a zeitgeist was. These days, I'd say there are few things more existentially terrifying than a trio of CGI chipmunks grooving to a squeaky a capella version of "Funkytown"--but struggling songwriter Dave Seville (Jason Lee, terribly out of place in an Everyman role) sees his opportunity and writes a few songs that introduce them to a more-than-receptive buying public.
Naturally, the songs in question are "The Chipmunk Song" and "Witch Doctor," the earworms upon which Ross Bagdasarian built a media empire some fifty years ago. And naturally, they're obnoxiously updated for the "now" crowd--so colour me confused when the band falls into the clutches of a money-hungry producer (David Cross) and we're supposed to notice a change in the group dynamic as they start singing about chicks and Escalades. Sprung from cynical marketing machinery, weren't they already lacking in artistic integrity? Alvin and the Chipmunks is the worst kind of hypocritical junk in that it extols the virtues of creativity while essentially congratulating you if you're too young or too stupid to have a discriminating palate. I can't help but see a line of dialogue delivered by Cross's diabolical producer, shortly after his cash cow is caught pulling a Milli Vanilli, as a victory speech: "They're chipmunks who talk. People will come." With a worldwide box office tally of $360M, a soundtrack album gone gold, and a sequel on the way, who am I to refute him?
"Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season" comes to DVD in a glittery purple four-disc set from Disney. Typical of any cheapo cable sitcom, the fullscreen image is flat, blurry, and muted, while the DD 2.0 stereo blasts its brand of mall treacle at the viewer without much regard for anything but audibility. One episode per disc contains "Hannah's Highlights," pop-up interview snippets with Miley/Hannah all about how much she loves to do something or other. Their infrequency renders the effort fairly worthless--they'll appear maybe twice over the course of twenty minutes, ten seconds at a time.
Bonus material on Disc Four begins with "Back Home Again with Miley" (7 mins.), a tour of the Cyrus family farm in Tennessee hosted by Billy Ray and Miley. Brief anecdotes about Miley's youth demonstrate that father and daughter have a strong, loving bond, yet, just like everything else about this enterprise, the presentation feels disturbingly inauthentic. Also included is the first episode of the 2008 "Disney Channel Games" series--basically "Battle of the Network Stars" for the diaper crowd, challenging Disney stars from around the globe to compete in a series of events that are undoubtedly a lot more fun for the participants than they are for their hypothetical audience. (It is, quite literally, forty-five seconds of action buried in fifteen minutes of hype.) Featured in that episode is a song from Miley Cyrus, or maybe Hannah Montana. Semi-forced previews for Pinocchio, Bolt, The Cheetah Girls: One World, and "DVD Games" (for "Hannah Montana" and High School Musical) launch the first disc; a "Sneek Peeks" menu piles on trailers for High School Musical 2, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, Space Buddies (Homeward Bound... in space!), The Secret of the Magic Gourd, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and "Wizards of Waverly Place". If you needed further proof of their talent for crafting marketing blitzes, a generic paean to Disney loads up at the start of each platter.
Alvin and the Chipmunks is hastily shunted onto DVD in a two-disc "Digital Copy Special Edition." The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is largely dark and murky--partially, I think, to help the little beasts believably blend into their surroundings. (It's distracting all the same.) The DD 5.1 audio doesn't bother to fuck around too much around with the rear channels, helpfully exposing the music for the dispassionate hack-job it is. Most of the special features make some reference to being "munk'd," which sounds extremely painful--but more noteworthy is how they embrace the sensationalistic garbage the movie itself decries with such fervour. Two deleted scenes offer a few moments from Dave's pre-rodent life more than likely excised for delaying the talking gerbils. Speaking of whom, music videos for "Witch Doctor" and "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" are only slightly re-tinkered versions of how they appear in the movie proper, so move on to "Behind the Nuts Munkumentary" (9 mins.). After this and a similarly-themed doc on the Lars and the Real Girl disc, I hope to never again see a cutesy mockumentary that treats fictional characters as though they were petulant, real-life divas. (On second thought, let's see them try that with Hannah Montana.) Not faring much better is "The Dudes Behind the Munks!" (6 mins.), an "interview" with the hamsters' voice actors (Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, and Jesse McCartney), who are infallibly pretentious and need constant, sycophantic reassurance from the producers--the joke here being, I guess, that no one should be putting this much thought into this movie. Whatever you say, boss.
Life's too short to sit through "Get Munk'd!" (20 mins.), a painfully long dance tutorial from choreographer Rosero McCoy, so unless you're dying to learn the moves featured in the movie, feel free to skip it. In its stead, catch another whiff of the pathetic with "Chipmunks Live on Tour!" (12 mins.), one of those patronizing stage shows performed by three dudes in chinchilla suits...complete with, like, totally hip references to "Guitar Hero" and text-message lingo. Finally, there's a "Chipmunk Funk Mixer" that allows the viewer to choose which instruments to use in a remix of "How We Roll" (the aforementioned chicks-and-Escalades song), and--surprise!--it's a complete disaster no matter what your decisions. Previews for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Horton Hears a Who!, and Space Chimps cue up on startup; an additional "Trailers" menu highlights Elephant Tales (Homeward Bound... with elephants!), Meet Dave, Angel Wars: The Messenger, Garfield's Pet Force, and Dr. Dolittle: A Tinsel Town Tail. A second disc contains a digital copy of the film with which to infect your unsuspecting computer. Originally published: January 7, 2009.
1. Find a creepy prediction of that media circus (as well as a pre-emptive strike against Liebovitz) in 1.12, "You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Zit is About You," in which an artsy-fartsy commercial photographer Photoshops a pimple onto Hannah's forehead without her subject's permission for a billboard ad. Although ostensibly an opportunity for Miley to overcome her own sense of vanity, the photographer is implicitly the villain for her snotty insistence on creating art. (She's even brought back to direct an avant-garde perfume commercial in 1.20, "Money for Nothing, Guilt for Free.") return
2. The only time the show actively comments on the perils of these two personas intermixing here is in 1.21, "My Boyfriend's Jackson and There's Gonna Be Some Trouble," where a paparazzi misadventure forces Jackson to pretend that he's Hannah's new boyfriend--only to see the resultant media firestorm turn him into a fame-hungry douche à la K-Fed. It's an intriguing premise defeated by the episode that immediately follows (1.22, "We Are Family... Now Get Me a Water!"), which sees Jackson taking on the very public role of Hannah's assistant without comment. return