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The DVDs discussed in this feature are: Note: importing any of these DVDs into the UK will require a North American or multi-region DVD player and NTSC compatible TV. All imports will be Region 1 only. That’s So Raven - Raven’s Makeover Madness
(Buena Vista Home Entertainment/Disney)
US: 18 July 2006 The Suite Life of Zack and Cody - Taking Over the Tipton
(Walt Disney Home Entertainment)
US: 18 July 2006 Cow Belles
(Walt Disney Home Entertainment)
US: 27 June 2006 Alvin and the Chipmunks - The Chipmunk Adventure
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 23 May 2006 Dora the Explorer - Animal Adventures
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 13 June 2006 Nick Picks, Vol. 4
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 6 June 2006 Nick Jr. Favorites - Vol. 4
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 6 June 2006 Power Rangers Mystic Force - Broken Spell (Vol. 1)
(Buena Vista Home Entertainment/Disney)
US: 6 June 2006 This is America, Charlie Brown
(Paramount Home Video)
US: 13 June 2006


Raven-Symone Christina Pearman must die. She’s been on TV since Adam bought Eve a portable Sony from a souhk just outside Bahrain. Her records have all sucked like Heather Harmon. She can’t decide whether she’s a Cheetah Girl or not. And now she’s lined up to star in Disney’s remake of Adventures in Babysitting. Double eww. Tee. Eff?


Have the Disney pointyheads watched That’s So Raven lately? If not, I’ve got a copy of the excruciating Raven’s Makeover Madness they can have free of charge. An undeniably successful show for Disney, That’s So Raven has long since lost its early charm. Currently in its final season, it’s no more than a vehicle for the cult of Raven, a multi-media personality who couldn’t act her way out of a wet paper bag with a blowtorch. In its first season, That’s So Raven had genuine fun with her limited psychic powers, most especially when other kids with powers of their own were added to the mix. But since then the show has been reduced to the most mundane of formulas: Raven sees a glimpse of the future, misinterprets it, and plunges her family, friends and herself into the inevitable “hilarious” consequences. That’s so over.


Compared to Raven’s Makeover Madness, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody is practically The Philadelphia Story. An unashamedly low-budget show with surprising wit and invention, it’s one of the few current Disney offerings that parents and children can enjoy together. The premise is simple enough: single mother Carey (Kim Rhodes) is such a hot lounge singer that her contract at Boston’s tip-top Tipton Hotel includes a complimentary luxury suite at the hotel, which her twin boys (Dylan and Cole Sprouse) treat as their very own personal playground.


Taking Over the Tipton is the first DVD release for The Suite Life. A sampler of four episodes selected apparently at random from the first two seasons, it includes as well the customary not-yet-aired episode, “A Midsummer’s Nightmare”. Although none of the featured episodes is a personal favourite of mine (or of the stars, revealed in a behind the scenes mini-doc), they do combine to present a fair picture of both the show and the Disney method. “Rock Star in the House”, for example, adds the Radio Disney glamour of guest star and hotel guest Jesse McCartney to the mix, while conveniently exaggerating his fame to the level of namesake Paul and his three buddies from Liverpool in an obvious ploy to further promote yet another Disney property.


It’d be nice to think that Disney will soon get around to releasing a full Suite Life box set for fans and completists, but the reality is that this is not how the company does things. So it’s a big thumbs up for The Suite Life and a small thumbs down for the pointyheads in marketing. Oh, and a big bouquet of the flowers of her choice to Brenda Song, whose London Tipton, the vacuous daughter of the owner of the Tipton Hotel chain, is the only justification for the existence of… well, you know who.


Disney’s Cow Belles is conceptually no more than a wholesome dramatic take on the “Dairy Queens” episode of Fox’s The Simple Life. Alyson and Amanda Michalka play spoiled rich sisters Taylor and Courtney Callum, who are sent to work at their family’s dairy in the hope that it will teach them the life lessons. Surprisingly, Cow Belles is more enjoyable than you’d expect from that build-down. The script offers an occasional twist, and the Michalka girls, better known on as pop singers Aly & AJ, are fairly accomplished actresses who handle their roles with both enthusiasm and aplomb.


All-Disney Princess Aly Michalka also stars in Phil of the Future and the mouse-movie Now You See It, while Amanda has appeared in bit parts all over the place, including Six Feet Under. Their next venture together is likely to be Disney’s Haversham Hall, which reads like a cross between Sister, Sister and Strange Days at Blake Holsey High. Aly and AJ are ideal role models for little princesses everywhere. Unfortunately, the home-schooled pair do appear to have hidden cloven hooves.


Do you believe in evolution?
“No,” Aj says, shaking her head and frowning.
“Wait,” Aly says, bolting forward. “Are they teaching that in schools now?
They’ve been teaching it for the better part of a century.
“I think that’s kind of disrespectful. Anything that has to do with anybody’s beliefs on religion, that should stay out of the classroom.”
“Evolution is silly,” AJ adds. “Monkeys? Um, no.”
—Except from an interview in Blender (June 2006)


Parents with functioning brain cells may not want to expose vulnerable children to that sort of nonsense.


The recent success of made-for-TV Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs) such as High School Musical, The Cheetah Girls, and now, Cow Belles, has put a whole new shine on this long-established practice. Sometimes, however, you just can’t beat a proper movie. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Chipmunk Adventure was originally released to the theatres in 1987, but it’s only just been remastered and issued on video and DVD. Not a moment too soon for my captive test audience.


As you’d expect, the concept is simple. The perpetually squabbling Chipmunks and Chipettes are exploited by a pair of fiendish diamond smugglers and sent off on a journey that calls to mind such travelogue movies as Around The World in 80 Days and The Great Race. There’s much high-pitched singing, an equal amount of dancing, occasional moments of danger, a high degree of cultural stereo-typing, and the requisite happy ending. Parents will be able to watch the cute and funny Chipmunk Adventure once a week for a year or three without having to swallow their tongues or spontaneously combusting. Five-year-olds, however, will probably want to watch it somewhat more frequently.


Which is probably a good thing, because there is precious little else to recommend at present for your pre-K couch potatoes. For example, aside from the ever-reliable Dora’s latest outing, Dora the Explorer - Animal Adventures, all the Nickleodeon has to offer is a couple of their regular mix-tape compilations, Nick Jr. Favorites, Volume 4 and Nick Picks, Volume 4. I guess even the TV companies think your children should be outside playing in the sun or something.


This month’s Nick Jr. Favorites includes episodes from Dora The Explorer, The Backyardigans, Blue’s Clues, Lazy Town, Little Bill, and Max and Ruby. The Blue’s Clues selection is the show’s “100th Episode Celebration!”, which somehow beggars belief, and the highlight is “Prince Stingy”, a particularly entertaining extract from the Lazy Town canon.


Meanwhile, Nick Picks, Volume 4 brings you all the usual strong suspects, plus episodes from two less celebrated series, The X’s and My Life as a Teenage Robot. The X’s sits somewhere between The Incredibles and Spy Kids, and rumour has it that creator Carlos Ramo (Ren And Stimpy) originally brought the concept to the Nick before either of these movies had been made, but only got the green light to make the show following The Incredibles’ success. It’s full of familiar touchstones and actors, including Wendy Malick as Mrs. X and the wonderful Patrick Warburton, whose Mr. X is one part Maxwell Smart, one part Stan Smith (American Dad), and three parts Joe Swanson (of Family Guy, whom Warburton also voices).


While I rue the fact that the X’s passed up the opportunity to name their son Malcolm, opting instead for Truman, there’s no doubt that with its blend of harsh styles and timeless themes, The X’s is as good as Spongebob and Fairly Oddparents, and superior to Jimmy Neutron and Danny Phantom. Typically, though, my “new” discovery has apparently already been cancelled. As has the much less likeable My Life as a Teenage Robot, a one-joke show that focuses on a rebellious teenage robot who’d really rather hang out at the mall than save the world.


Sadly, one dollar-munching franchise that will probably never be cancelled is the thoroughly appalling Power Rangers. Power Rangers: Mystic Force is the 14th incarnation of this tawdry brand, and although it includes significant Buffy elements among its nonsense, Mystic Force basically showcases the fact that after a mere six books and four movies, someone at Power Rangers Central has finally noticed that Harry Potter was quite popular.


Although the Power Rangers have no doubt earned mucho dinero for Namco Bandai, I suspect and hope that Charles Schultz’s Peanuts brand made him still more. Although This is America, Charlie Brown is perhaps a little too educational (it’s presented almost like a book report in places), it’s still fun viewing and potentially a good way for engaged parents to teach their children about American history. A double disk DVD presentation of an eight-part TV mini-series from the late ‘80s, This is America takes Snoopy and his humans back in time to witness and occasionally participate in events like “The Birth Of The Constitution” and “The Building of the Transcontinental Railroad”, and then gives them a trip into one view of the future aboard a putative NASA Space Station.

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