**/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B-
starring Miley Cyrus, Emily Osment, Jason Earles, Billy Ray Cyrus
screenplay by Dan Berendsen
directed by Peter Chelsom
by Bill Chambers Peter Chelsom may have sold his soul when he joined the ranks of Lasse Hallstrom and John Madden to become a house director for Miramax, but going to work at Disney--on a feature-film vehicle for one of the company's biggest brands, no less--is a mercenary move, pure and simple. So it's surprising, considering he probably could've treated the job as a paid vacation without incurring the wrath of "Hannah Montana" fans (who've been weaned on a particularly low-rent sitcom), to say nothing of the suits in charge (Disney favours foremen to filmmakers, after all), that Chelsom seems legitimately inspired by the material more often than not. The 'Hannah Montana' concept itself needs only gentle pushes to yield something resembling a story, but Chelsom doesn't exactly coast on it; anyone who's involuntarily endured the collected works of Kenny Ortega or Andy Fickman will notice a more idiosyncratic hand at the helm almost immediately. While I can't say I've ever thought much of Chelsom's films (they're a bit twinkly for my tastes), he appears to have found his niche. As a work of Hollywood imperialism goes, it's certainly preferable to his remake of Shall We Dance?.
Take the opening sequence, brimming as it is with images that cleverly recapitulate the themes of duality central to the "Hannah Montana" experience while setting up the identity crisis that fuels the plot. As the film begins, teenager-by-day/pop-star-by-matinee Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) has done something to piss off her father/manager Robbie (Billy Ray Cyrus, directed for a change), who's sitting in her dressing room sighing with a level of disappointment only a parent could muster. The familiar yellow mop of Hannah Montana is in the foreground, but then the camera reveals that's all it is--a wig; she's not there, or only half there, depending on how you look at it. Because Miley is so good at keeping her double life a secret, she and best friend Lily (Emily Osment, Haley Joel's li'l sister) are stranded outside the arena, unable to convince a crack security team they're not merely part of the screaming-'tween throng waiting to hear their favourite "artist" perform. This leads to a brisk chase scene as Miley and Lily commandeer a golf cart and race through underground tunnels, at one point driving through a banner that rips just so, leaving the face of Hannah Montana plastered to the head of Miley Stewart. (The best part of the joke is that she's still able to steer.) Once she's rightfully backstage and putting on makeup, Chelsom frames her in disorienting mirror shots that split her visage into painted and unpainted halves.
The Miley of Hannah Montana: The Movie has hired a publicist (played by Vanessa Williams, now firmly entrenched in the corporate-cougar phase of her career)--though dear old dad evidently continues to hold every other conceivable title in the operation--and seemingly reached a point where she escapes into the Hannah Montana persona rather than from it. Probably it satisfies some teenage yen for attention, but Miley has also clearly succumbed to the materialistic perks of the gig. When she hits the trifecta by making headlines for wrestling Tyra Banks over a pair of shoes, missing the chance to see her goofball brother Jackson (Jason Earles) off to college, and upstaging Lily at Lily's own birthday party on the Santa Monica Pier, Robbie reroutes her New York-bound plane to land in the Stewarts' hometown of Crowley Corners, Tennessee.1 He calls it a "Hannah detox"--which is clever and all, but by equating Hannah Montana with poison, the movie becomes explicitly tragic if Miley doesn't get "clean." Yet because it's a stopgap between seasons as opposed to the end of the TV series, relapse is really her only choice, making the film more bittersweet, even melancholy, than it has any right to be.
Chelsom takes the edge off this predicament2 by mixing metaphors, seizing on one of the trendier aspects of the Hannah Montana conceit in eventually regarding her as a superhero3, first in an initially-farcical sequence that has Miley, à la Superman (or maybe Supergirl), going through a revolving door and coming out the other side Hannah, then in a climactic unmasking with strong echoes of Spider-Man 2 that sees the townspeople, grateful that she has effectively saved quaint Crowley Corners from a future of urban sprawl with a fundraising concert, vowing to keep her secret safe. Indeed, they implore her to put the wig back on, recognizing the freedom it will cost her if the world learns that Miley and Hannah are the same person.4 Conspicuously, it's an all or nothing proposition: There's never any thought given to simply letting Hannah Montana drop off the face of the earth like so many Tiffany Renee Darwishes before her, leaving VH1 to unearth her true identity in ten years' time when nobody gives a shit anymore. Thus Miley, despite having discovered a new appreciation for authentic experience (never mind that Crowley Corners is about as authentic as Dollywood), ends the movie a part-time fake blonde again.5
As a postscript, after watching Hannah Montana: The Movie for the umpteenth time over the holidays, my 9-year-old niece declared, "You know, I really don't like Hannah Montana anymore." Judging by Disney Channel's recent announcement of the show's imminent demise, it must be a sentiment shared by a notoriously-fickle preteen audience the world over. But I had to ask: why, out of the thousands of movies on my shelves, did she pick this one to watch again? Her answer: "Taylor Swift!" Yes, Crowley Corners apparently has the likes of Swift (who blows Cyrus off the screen with one arch of her Vulcan eyebrows, as she did the Jonas Brothers in their stupid 3-D concert film) and Rascal Flatts (who loiter on the ranch of Miley's grandmother (a typecast Margo Martindale), starting impromptu hoedowns) at its disposal, and yet Hannah Montana is recruited to be its matron saint. That's why they called it a movie, I guess.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Disney brings Hannah Montana: The Movie to Blu-ray in a 3-disc bundle that includes the film's retail DVD release as well as a Digital Copy of same. The 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is crisp but not artificially so, with nicely modulated contrast. According to some untimed outtakes on the disc, the image was manipulated in post to give it a cinnamon cast that's not always flattering to skin tones but does look comparatively cinematic, and I enjoyed seeing the grain level spike now and again. The attendant 7.1 DTS-HD MA track is rollicking in live-performance situations but never harsh, and the forward soundstage is sharp as a tack throughout. Chelsom chimes in with a feature-length commentary that's moderately engaging, if only because he's prone to saying stuff like, "Here's where we completely squeeze and melt the premise." He loves giving the game away as far as movie-magic goes, and he has a habit of pointing out little touches I appreciated--like the sound transition from a crashing wave to an airplane engine, or a gag that has a coconut bonking Miley on the head and subsequently slowing down the song she's singing--and taking credit for them, which made me feel less presumptuous in singling him out for praise. By the end, I believed his opening claim that the production was "the most fun [he's] had in years," though it meant sifting through much hyperbolic praise of the onscreen talent.
Four deleted scenes (HD, 11 mins. total) with non-optional video intros from a suddenly-patronizing Chelsom solve the mystery of college freshman Jackson's presence in Crowley Corners (he's lying about going to school in Tennessee and actually works for his cousin); cutting the two or three lines of dialogue mentioning college would've cleanly resolved this, but Chelsom insists he's happy with the final product as is and stands by it as a director's cut. Official music videos for Miley Cyrus's "The Climb" and Billy Ray Cyrus's "Back to Tennessee" (SD/4x3 letterbox) join repurposed footage from the movie posing as videos for "The Climb" again, Hannah Montana's "You'll Always Find Your Way Home" and "Let's Get Crazy," Rascal Flatts' "Bless the Broken Road," and Taylor Swift's "Crazier." Under "Backstage Disney," find "The Hoedown Throwdown Experience" (14 mins., HD), a combination making-of/instructional video wherein choreographer Jamal Sims recounts the origins of the eponymous dance (which various cast and crew demonstrate), then teaches it to us with help from "Hannah Montana" regulars Moises Arias and Mitchell Musso. There is, by the way, nothing scarier than Tyra Banks doing these moves--think the prologue to Live and Let Die. "Find Your Way Back Home" (15 mins., HD) is a portmanteau featurette in which Miley Cyrus and Emily Osment conduct sightseeing tours of their respective hometowns (Nashville neighbour Franklin, TN and Los Angeles, CA) for our benefit. A moment where Cyrus whines "mommy, mommy" to get her stage mother to buy her a kitten is a bracing reminder that she's a child. For her part, Osment come across as peculiarly joyless, but I suspect girls her age have better things to do than hang out at the La Brea Tar Pits.
In "I Should Have Gone to Film School with Jason Earles" (15 mins., HD), Earles tours the set in a documentary capacity, learning the meaning of obscure job titles like "Assistant Set Production Assistant." I can't call it unenlightening. Lastly, "Fun with Hannah and the Gang" (4 mins., HD) is a blooper reel that shows just how much fun you can have with a fart machine. (I'm terrified to know the cumulative amount of time I've spent watching other people laugh it up.) Semi-forced startup previews for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Diamond Edition, The Princess and the Frog, "Disney Blu-ray," and "Disney Rewards" join a tutorial on DisneyFile (the studio's proprietary Digital Copy software) plus menu-based sneak peeks at Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, Earth, Santa Buddies, Up, and "Disney Parks & Resorts" in rounding out the platter. Originally published: January 14, 2010.
1. Clearly Hannah Montana's moniker has nothing to do with her birthplace, as the script originally had the Stewarts retreating to Louisiana. The Cyruses used their clout to change the setting to their home state of Tennessee, where the film was ultimately shot. return
2. Oddly, catch-22s are something of an auteurist hallmark for Chelsom, from Serendipity (in which we have to reconcile a lot of collateral damage to invest in the central love story) to the nonsensical Shall We Dance (in which Richard Gere's infatuation with J.Lo is discreetly deferred to his stock in wife Susan Sarandon). return
3. As a bonus, imbuing Hannah Montana with a sense of social purpose probably renders this a healthier fantasy for an audience of impressionable kids than the standard pop-star vicariousness of the show. Not to mention it gives little girls their own superhero in a field dominated by characters with the suffix "man." return
4. To that end, a tableau of Miley crying in a stairwell, the porthole-shaped window behind her creating a fishbowl effect as it looks out onto cheering fans, suggests more the pathos of Cyrus's own predicament than of Stewart's. return
5. The fact that a monolithic trailer festooned with the corporate Hannah Montana logo materializes as if from nowhere for the climax points to machinery too big to be governed by the caprices of one mercurial girl and her ultimatum-giving father besides. return