That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana (DVD)

Just wait until Crisis on Infinite Disney Sitcoms.

Crossovers are nothing new. Just ask your neighborhood comic book fan. Every couple of years, TV executives decide to follow the comics’ lead and do a crossover event of their own, where characters from different series that air on the same network meet each other. Remember when NBC’s New York-based sitcoms all had to deal with a blackout at once? Or when a bunch of ABC characters ran into each other during simultaneous trips to Vegas? Or when some of CBS’s sitcom stars ended up in the same doctor’s waiting room? Well, in June 2006, it was the Disney Channel’s turn, when characters from its three hit youth-based comedies, That’s So Raven, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and Hannah Montana all crisscrossed while visiting a swanky Boston hotel. So is this a great crossover, like Crisis on Infinite Earths, or a not-so-great crossover, like Onslaught?

A caveat: This disc was my first exposure to all three series, so this synopsis is based entirely on how the characters are presented here.

That’s So Raven is about Raven (Raven Symone, The Cheetah Girls), an intern in the fashion industry who hopes to make it big with her own designs someday. And, for some reason, she has occasional psychic visions of the future.

The Suite Life of Zack and Cody is about a pair of adolescent identical twins (Dylan and Cole Sprouse) who live in a highbrow Boston hotel with their single mom, who apparently works there. Living in a hotel offers them all kinds of opportunities for mischief, it seems.

Hannah Montana is obviously about the title character, a teen singing sensation with adoring fans all over the world. But Hannah has a secret: She’s really the stage persona of Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus, Big Fish). By doing the “secret identity” thing, Miley gets to live a double life as both an ordinary girl and a famous rock star.

That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana begins when Raven travels from her Seattle home to Boston, to set up a photo shoot with a reclusive fashion photographer in Zack and Cody’s hotel. She accidentally messes up the travel arrangements, though, so she enlists Zack and Cody in a scheme to convince her boss all is well. Later, Raven befriends the twins’ gal pal Maddie (Ashley Tisdale, High School Musical), in an effort to trick billionaire heiress London (Brenda Song, Get a Clue) into wearing a dress designed by Raven. After that, Hannah visits the same hotel, where Maddie recognizes Hannah’s father/manager, a former country music star (Billy Ray Cyrus…yes, that Billy Ray Cyrus). This encounter inspires Hannah to encourage her dad to start performing again, even if that means he’ll be spending a lot less time around his family.

Silly me. Before sitting down to watch this disc, I assumed it would be a full-length movie, with the various characters not only meeting, but all joining in on the same screwball adventure, kind of like that Family Ties made-for-TV movie from years back when they all went to England. (Who remembers that one?) Instead, what we’ve got here are three episodes, one from each series, in which the characters bump into each other while on the Zack and Cody set. As a result, any excitement you might have over seeing folks from these three shows interacting with each other will be fleeting. Each episode sticks to its own characters and plots, benefiting from the occasional “walk-on” by the star of another show.

The Raven episode has the most madcap comedy of the three, with an over-the-top scheme in the third act rivaling the lunacy seen in only the goofiest of sitcoms. If I were a kind person, I’d call Raven’s comedic sensibilities “outrageous” and “over-the-top.” If I were a heartless bastard, I’d call those same comedic sensibilities “obnoxious” and “annoying.” You have to appreciate her for jumping into this role with such enthusiasm and wild abandon, and yet you also have to wonder if she’s familiar at all with the concept of subtlety.

Zack and Cody meanwhile, suffer an almost opposite problem. These two moppets are obviously cute kids—and much shorter than the cover art leads you to believe; Hannah’s really twice as tall as they are—but it pains me to admit their acting is pretty flat. No doubt they’re great kids, but they need some better direction other than “just read the cue card and then smile at the camera, boys.” It looks to me like the real breakout star of this series is Ashley Tisdale, who, out of everyone on this disc, seems to truly understand the difference between genuine comedic timing and just mugging for the camera. That being said, it’s not all bad. When an episode features a homemade babysitting robot running amok and trashing a hotel ballroom, suddenly I have a soft spot in my heart for it.

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume the series Hannah Montana exists for reasons other than just to sell records. This one’s obviously a little bit less about the laughs, and a little more about the family togetherness and important moral lessons and hugging and tearjerkiness and so on. Sure, there are some comedy bits, such as Hannah’s tough female bodyguard taking over as a nanny for her and her brother, but mostly it’s more of a sweet-natured show, emphasizing the closeness between Hannah and her dad—only natural, because Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray Cyrus really are father and daughter.

After watching all three of these episodes, it hit me: the spirit of Saved by the Bell lives on. The stale, obvious jokes. The intrusive, disruptive laugh track. The low-rent sets and lack of extras in the background. The ham-fisted moralizing. The paint-by-numbers characterization. Heck, even the big hair and nightmarish fashions. It’s all here. Everything we associate with Saved by the Bell has been resurrected in these three shows. Even Zack has been reincarnated—by name no less—as a big-haired hotel-dwelling troublemaker. The ethereal lifeblood of Bayside High still exists…only now it’s on the Disney Channel.

Video quality here is probably as good as it’ll ever get, considering the small budget of these shows. Colors are bright and vivid. The audio is unbelievably loud, even when played at a normal “watch the news” volume. So if you or, more likely, your kids enjoy the music here, then go ahead and crank it up.

For extras, there’s a Hannah Montana music video, in which Miley Cyrus gets to dance around and act cute, and a That’s So Raven trivia game you play with your remote control (I earned the title “Slammin’ Psychic” on my first try). The disc also features a never-before-seen episode of Zack and Cody. So, was this made just for this DVD, or did the producers consider it not good enough to air or something? Who knows? Either way, it’s like the one described above, silly and inoffensive, and Ashley Tisdale continues to prove she’s too good for this material. Some trailers for upcoming Disney releases finish off the package.

I’ll admit it: I didn’t laugh very much while watching this one, despite the constant flow of punch lines and pratfalls on the screen. But, I’m willing to forgive since I’m hardly the target audience here. I’m guessing 9-year-old girls will probably get a kick out of this.

The Verdict

Guilty. But, the court is in a generous mood, so the accused must merely pay a fine and is then free to go.

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