"THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY: LIP SYNCHIN’ IN THE RAIN"
Now my boys are old enough to surf for themselves, and while they’ve lost interest in “Hannah Montana,” they are all about the male-centric shows like “Corey in the House” and “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.” The most recent release, “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Lip Synchin’ in the Rain,” has received quite a bit of play lately because my kids relate with the mischievous pre-teens who live in a hotel.
As an adult who gets the more subtle jokes (and who has seen all the possible versions of “High School Musical,” the best episode in this four-episode collection is the title track “Lip Synchin’ in the Rain,” in which the characters from the Tipton Hotel try out for a local rendition of “High School Musical.” The inside joke is that Maddie (Ashley Tisdale) has trouble convincing people that she would be perfect for the character of Sharpay (which is played by Tisdale in real life).
As the Sprouse brothers continue to age, their natural pubescent awkwardness will probably lead to the show’s fizzle, but right now it’s one of the best bets for boys interested in the Disney Channel. There’s also the unfortunate loss of the rather cute Ashley Tisdale as a series regular as her outside career takes off. She’s replaced by a rather obnoxious candy counter girl that is nothing more than a Raven wannabe.
Other episodes include “Arwin That Came to Dinner” (featuring the janitor Arwin trying to go on a date), “Orchestra” and “A Tale of Two Houses” (featuring the boys’ failed attempt to play both parents against each other). The special features include a gag reel, which is always fun for the kids, and a behind-the-scenes interview of the twins by castmate Brenda Song.
"STEP UP 2 THE STREETS"
The release of “Step Up 2 the Streets” had a similar success story, never reaching number one but scoring healthy ticket sales. It sold well at the box office this February and has paved the way for a 3D sequel, coming in 2010.
To say this film (and any other dancing competition film) is formulaic is an understatement. However, formalism is entirely forgivable when you look at the marketplace. Films like “Step Up 2 the Streets” plays to a particular audience and doesn’t try to reach out further than that. It definitely serves its purpose, and who can argue with that.
This film follows another wayward teen who is trying to break out of her low-rent neighborhood. She’s part of a street dance crew, and after getting in trouble one too many times, she agrees to go to an elite art school to stay straight. While there, her street dancing technique is downplayed by the classical artists, but with the help of a prize student, she’s able to assemble a crew and head to an underground dance competition.
The urban elements are a bit thick in this film, with so much slang thrown around by both players and wannabes, it’s a little hard for an old fart like myself to get into the characters. But the story is fluffy enough that I was able to handle it.
The dance sequences are the highlights, as with many of these films, and any heavy urban drama is overshadowed by the generally positive message to follow your dreams. Newcomer Briana Evigan is quite fetching in the lead (especially during the final dance sequence... why don’t more people dance in the rain?), able to balance her acting with her dancing talent. And fortunately, there’s only a cameo of Channing Tatum to deal with in this film.
Clearly made for the teenage crowd, “Step Up 2 the Streets” works for its target audience.
The DVD comes with deleted scenes with plenty of dancing, a slew of music videos, outtakes, a somewhat dry video prank by the lead characters, a spotlight on the dance crews and a general behind-the-scenes documentary.
"COLLEGE ROAD TRIP"
However, after seeing the film on DVD for the first time (having missed the theatrical release due to a screening conflict), I have to say there was a certain charm to it.
Martin Lawrence plays Police Chief James Porter whose daughter Melanie (Raven-Symone) is looking at colleges for the fall. While Chief Porter is hoping Melanie will go to the nearby Northwestern, she’s got her sights on other colleges, namely Georgetown. She’s invited to DC for a visit to the Georgetown campus, and Chief Porter insists on driving her there in order to convince her to stay close to home.
What I respected about “College Road Trip” was its commitment. Not everything that happens in the film is funny, but the actors drive it home with relentless passion. At times, it’s a bit in-your-face and over-the-top, but this all works for the frothy and mercifully short 83-minute film. Toss in an annoyingly stupid Donny Osmond, and things work in a miraculous way.
Martin Lawrence and Raven-Symone strike a level of chemistry that makes the whole much more than the sum of its parts. As she’s grown a little older, Raven-Symone has come off her high horse a bit, from a screen presence perspective, and she is more generous on screen, which always leads to better comedy.
Along for the ride is Porter’s young son Trey (Eshaya Draper) who brings along the family’s pot-bellied pig. I know the cute pig is a ploy to enchant audiences, but I couldn’t help but be sucked in by the silliness.
Can you blame me if I though the pig was hilarious? Apparently Disney agrees with me, considering the little porker was the lynchpin to their advertising. If only the movie was about the pig... then it would have been a five-star film.
The bonus features include two commentary tracks – one with the director and Raven, and the other with the writers. There’s also a gag reel, alternate endings, deleted scenes, a music video with behind-the-scenes footage and Raven’s on-set video diary.
“College Road Trip” is a safe movie for families and kids. I still am a bit in awe that I enjoyed it as much as I did.
"PHINEAS AND FERB: THE FAST AND THE PHINEAS"
Gone are the days that I watch “Tom and Jerry” or the various superhero cartoons. Now I have to deal with marathon sessions of “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “You Gabba Gabba,” “Chowder” and “Flapjack.” It’s enough to curl my toes.
However, a new cartoon has shown up on the Disney Channel that I enjoy watching with them as much as any of the aforementioned choices from my childhood. On the surface, it appears that “Phineas and Ferb” is another hyperactive, obnoxious flash animation cartoon. However, after watching it for a bit, it has really grown on me.
From the opening song by Bowling for Soup, the show hits the ground running with high energy. However, there’s a level of irreverence to this show, which is not surprising considering one of its creators (Dan Povenmire) used to work on “Family Guy.” References to pop culture figures like Evander Holyfield are lost on young children but make me laugh at least.
The show features two step brothers on summer vacation. Instead of wasting their time, they get involved in their own adventures. Each episode includes their sister Candace (voiced by Ashley Tisdale) trying to bust them for breaking the rules. As Phineas and Ferb enjoy outrageous antics – from becoming a one-hit-wonder band to building a haunted house to fixing a time machine and traveling back to the age of the dinosaurs – their mother always comes in after the fact and never believes Candace.
A cute subplot occurs in each episode which follows the kids’ pet platypus Perry who sneaks away to become Agent P. By connecting with his secret agent network, the show channels “Secret Squirrel” and “Kim Possible” as Agent P battles his nemesis Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. This gives the show a beautiful balance but stays wacky in both storylines.
The first DVD release of the show comes in “Phineas and Ferb: The Fast and the Phineas,” which has five episodes on one disc. Each episode is broken into two parts, sometimes as a continuation and sometimes just two separate storylines. The bones features include the original storyboard pitch from Dan Povenmire and a set-top game.
If you haven’t seen the show, here’s a great way to start. And then you can allow your kids to DVR the rest of the episodes as they run on the Disney Channel.
"WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE: WIZARD SCHOOL"
The show is a clear attempt to capitalize on the Harry Potter craze, featuring a family of wizards that live in the heart of New York. While keeping their wizardness a secret, the characters try to live a somewhat normal life, as teenage Alex (Gomez) and her brothers face the struggles that face most kids today.
Disney has released a DVD compilation of four episodes in “Wizards of Waverly Place: Wizard School.” Like most Disney Channel shows, this single-disc presentation gives a good sampling of the show that allows viewers to test out the show without buying a whole season.
What I enjoyed about this compilation is that the two-episode arc “Wizard School” shows us its hand with a wink and a nod to the Harry Potter influences. Alex and her older brother Justin (David Henrie) head off to a wizard academy (complete with long robes and black-rimmed glasses). In another episode, the siblings encounter another wizard teen in town who has enchanted his parents to allow him to use magic whenever he wants to.
The episode that held the most interest of my sons was “Curb Your Dragon,” not just because it featured a cute dog, but because the dog (being a dragon in disguise) farted fire. You just can’t go wrong with a kids’ show that features a farting dragon-dog.
The DVD comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette “Work It Like a Wizard,” which gives a look at the cast’s take on the show.
“Wizards of Waverly Place” is a fun show and enjoyable for both boys and girls. Like “Hannah Montana” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” it has some humor in it for the parents as well and can be safe and fun viewing for the whole family.