Four Disney Channel Original Movies
Cadet Kelly (July 4/05)
Cadet Kelly tells the extraordinarily predictable, utterly routine story of a flighty young girl named Kelly (played by Hilary Duff) who's sent to military school by her new father-in-law (Gary Cole). There, Kelly must conform to the rigid standards set before her and put aside her free-spirited individuality. Though Cadet Kelly is fairly well made and Cole delivers an expectedly charismatic and engaging performance, there's no getting around the fact that the film has been explicitly geared towards the tween demographic. As a result, there's not a whole lot of nuance or subtlety in Gail Parent and Michael Walsh's script; ie there's the requisite sequence in which Kelly is confronted with an obstacle course that she initially can't conquer but eventually overcomes. And, of course, there's Kelly's relationship with a mean-spirited superior - which exists solely so the two can teach each other a valuable life lesson (Kelly learns how to accept discipline, while the officer learns how to loosen up). Likewise, the movie clearly doesn't present an entirely accurate picture of what military school is really like (by the end, the film has turned into a full-on advertisement for the benefits of his kind of an education), as it seems obvious that Kelly would have been thrown in the brig or the hole (or whatever it is they have at these places) the first time she talked back to a superior officer. At any rate, young girls will probably appreciate Duff's spunky, spirited performance - though she's essentially playing a variation on her Lizzie McGuire persona.
While it seems fairly obvious that young girls will enjoy the heck out of Cow Belles, it's just as clear that the film has not been geared to appeal to anyone outside of that very specific demographic. Starring real-life siblings Alyson and Amanda Michalka as spoiled sisters Taylor and Courtney, Cow Belles finds the pair forced to work on the assembly line at their dad's milk factory after they accidentally set fire to their kitchen. As expected, both characters learn valuable lessons about compassion, humility, and the importance of helping others. There's really not a whole lot here worth discussing; the film generally feels as though it's been cranked out by the Disney machine, with any and all traces of innovation or originality completely absent from the proceedings. The Michalka sisters are pleasant enough, though they'll never be mistaken for master thespians. In the end, unless one happens to be a tween, it seems highly unlike that Cow Belles will hold any appeal for the majority of viewers.
The Even Stevens Movie (July 4/05)
Based on the Disney Channel television show, The Even Stevens Movie follows the Stevens family - father Steve (Tom Virtue), mother Eileen (Donna Pescow), son Donnie (Nick Spano), daughter Ren (Christy Carlson Romano), and irrepressible prankster Louis (Shia LaBeouf) - as they win an all-expenses trip to a tropical island, courtesy of a mysterious stranger named Miles McDermott (Tim Meadows). One can only assume that The Even Stevens Movie has been crafted to appeal solely to viewers of the show, because none of these characters are developed beyond their superficial attributes (this is especially true of Louis, who's apparently nothing more than an annoying little punk). And asking us to accept 19-year-old Romano as a 13-year-old is beyond ridiculous (let's not even get started on LaBeouf, who is absolutely not convincing as a pre-teen). Meadows' performance is easily the most entertaining aspect of the film, while Dave Coulier (!) turns in a fun cameo as the host of a mean-spirited reality show. For hardcore fans of the series only.
Kim Possible Movie: So The Drama (July 5/05)
This "movie" is essentially an episode of the series stretched out to 71-minutes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing as So The Drama features an emphasis on the same sort of elements that made the show so enjoyable. The story kicks off with Kim Possible and her clumsy sidekick, Ron Stoppable, saving a Japanese toy magnate from the clutches of the evil Dr. Drakken. That dealt with, the superhero must somehow scrounge up a date for the prom - though there's little doubt that Ron would happily attend the big event with Kim. But when her father is kidnapped by Drakken, Kim must put aside her personal life and save the world one more time. So The Drama has been written by Mark McCorkle and Robert Schooley, the two creators of the Kim Possible TV show - and as a result, the film comes off as one of the series' more memorable episodes. And because the movie likely marks the last Kim Possible adventure, McCorkle and Schooley have done a nice job of wrapping things up (the two wisely leave room for a possible sequel, though). In the end, even at 71-minutes, So The Drama does feel a little thin and there's no doubt that small kids will enjoy this more than adults - yet the movie's breezy pace and genuinely funny screenplay (which is complemented by some better-than-expected voice acting) ensures that older viewers will find something here worth embracing.