The Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie (DVD)

This is the first full-length feature from the popular, Emmy award-winning Disney Channel show of the same name. It centres on a family of typical, all-American wizards (well-fed-yet-handsome dad, hot mom, three perfectly-toothed kids). While on the family vacation to Puerto Rico the ditzy-yet-smart-really daughter, Alex (Gomez), accidentally casts a spell which erases the point in history her parents first met. As a result, the kids must venture deep into the Puerto Rican rainforest to find the mythical, yet very handily located, Stone of Dreams™ before time catches up and erases them from history. Think Back to the Future crossed with Indiana Jones crossed with High School Musical (without the music).

It’s clear to see why this is popular stateside. It’s everything you’d expect from a Disney original series: the script (if not the plot, more on that in a sec) is excellent - full of sharp, knowing and witty dialogue which our transatalntic cousins do so very well. Direction is well-handled, with sight-gags a-plenty, and the overall production values are top-drawer: set-pieces and visual effects are accomplished and confident. The cast are all on top form too, especially Gomez who is the real star of this movie (which I expect to be the first of several). Plot-wise, though, this is a bit of a mixed bag. It's over-complicated and takes a good half hour to really get going - there's a bit of teen-angst and family values set-up to get throught first.

And that's essentially the problem with these Disney Channel shows and spin-offs: the lessons and morals are more prominent and important than the main plot. And this baby has just about every moral and lesson there is to peddle: over-protective mother versus fun-loving teen daughter; parents accepting their children are growing up; those difficult teen years; self-doubt and self-discovery; the burgeoning mutual respect between the over-achieving elder brother and his bumbling younger sister; overcoming adversity; being grateful your loved ones ... The usual Disney brand of moral guidance. Jeez Louise - let's try to stick to one lesson per story, eh? Like what the old He-Man cartoons used to do.

As a result, it's hard work and falls well short of being a classic Disney flick in any sense. The real shame is that there’s obviously a lot of talent at work here, both on and off-screen and if they toned down on the santimonious guff and concentrated more on the plot then this could have been really very good indeed. That said, I guess Disney know exactly what they're doing, right?

EXTRAS ** Not much to see here, really. There's a cute behind the scenes feature, featuring interviews with the principle cast and crew gives a bit of insight into the production and some of the secrets behind the shoot. What else can you ask for?

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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