(*homocinematically inclined)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Toon Talk: Teen Beat

Disney has long been in the business of cultivating young talent. Even in the very beginning, starting with Virginia Davis in the Alice comedies, Walt and company have had an eye for spotting that natural quality that sets apart a true child star from the typical Hollywood lot.

New discoveries, from Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten to Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber to Kevin "Moochie" Corcoran and the one and only Hayley Mills all benefited from their work in Disney films, even earning Oscars for Driscoll and Mills. And let’s not forget a certain two-time Academy Award winner to-be by the name of Jodie Foster.

The real star-making capabilities of the studio truly came into play when Disney entered into the then-new medium of television in the 1950’s. The Mickey Mouse Club alone produced such beloved stars as Tim Considine, Tommy Kirk, Darlene Gillespie and, most famous of all, Annette Funicello. Subsequent Club variations spawned the likes of TV stars Lisa Whelchel and Keri Russell, N’Sync-ers Justin Timberlake and J.C. Chasez, pop superstars Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears and future Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling.

In more recent years, Disney films have been the starting point for the careers of Lindsay Lohan and Anne Hathaway, while the Disney Channel launched such popular starlets as Hilary Duff and Raven-Symoné, not to mention Shia LaBeouf, Zac Efron and the whole High School Musical gang.

Which brings us to the latest teen sensations, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers; she is the star of Hannah Montana, a Disney Channel series about a regular girl who leads a double life as a rock star; the Jonas’ -- Joe, Kevin and Nick -- are a squeaky-clean pop trio who have released albums on the Disney-owned Hollywood Records label. And the four of them couldn’t be any more popular amongst the tween set of today if they tried.

With hit records, sold out concerts and highly-rated television appearances between the two acts, it is no surprise that the patented Disney synergy soon kicked in. Thus, Miley got her own concert movie, the cumbersomely titled Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert,with “special guest stars” the Jonas Brothers. And, not to be outdone by the HSM crew, the Jonas boys got their own Disney Channel Original Movie, Camp Rock.Both movies make their DVD debuts this week with heavily hyped "extended editions", just as their target audiences are heading back to school.

And here’s where I admit that, as a forty-year-old man, I am clearly not the audience for the likes of Miss Cyrus and the Misters Jonas. Before watching these two new DVDs, my exposure to them was limited, and not entirely unintentionally so; however, as a fan of the HSM films, I am not totally averse to the charms of the latest teen phenomenon. Having said that, neither of these projects comes close to the overall appeal of HSM in my eyes; in fact, after watching Miley and the boys, I have to wonder about the tastes, musical and otherwise, of the average tween these days.

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