“These forbidden spells are super user-friendly!”
The three teen children of the Russo family (of Waverly Place, natch) have magic powers, because their dad (David DeLuise) is a former wizard, who gave up his own magic to marry a muggle, uh, I mean a “mortal.” Oldest son Justin (David Henrie) is the good one, who always follows the rules and does the right thing. Middle daughter Alex (Selena Gomez) is the troublemaker, who stirs up mischief and acts without thinking. Youngest son Max (Jake T. Austin) is the comic relief.
As Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie begins, Alex is excited about being on her own as the rest of the family heads off on a vacation. After she once again uses her magic to get into trouble, Alex is taken along with the rest of the family on a mandatory vacation to the Caribbean, where her mom and dad met and fell and love. In a fit of anger against her parents, Alex accidentally uses a powerful spellbook and wand to alter reality, creating a world in which her parents never met. Faster than you can say “Marty McFly,” Max has to convince his would-be parents fall in love all over again, while Alex and Justin head into the rainforest, on a danger-filled quest to find the Stone of Dreams, an ancient artifact that is the only thing that can undo the spell.
Chances are that when you see the words “Disney Channel made-for-TV movie,” then you already know what you’re in for. That’s pretty much the case with Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie. It’s a cotton candy comedy with a lot of family interaction, goofy one-liners, and important life lessons. Mix in some obviously Harry Potter-inspired “kids with magic” adventure, and that’s pretty much it.
Amid all the corny jokes and budget CGI, there is some solid interaction between Alex and Justin. They bicker a lot as brother and sister, but, when the chips are down and their futures are on the line, they rediscover the family bond and learn to appreciate one another. Then, in the movie’s conclusion, Alex and Justin have to confront each other and really test which one of them is the better wizard. It’s nice to see such nice character development in what would otherwise be a cheeseball Disney flick.
Not everything is well on Waverly Place, though. It takes a long time for the plot to get going. Before it does, we’re treated to the family hanging out on vacation. We also get to sit through stuff like slapstick windsurfing lessons and Alex constantly bickering with her mom and brothers. Sure, all this travelogue stuff does fit into the plot in one way or another, but do these scenes have to take so long to make their points? Likewise, once the big crisis sets in and the family is in danger, the pace fluctuates from the characters concerned and trying to get to the solution to broad comedy and them taking leisurely strolls through the jungle. Also note that this is the extended version of the movie, which has some deleted comedy bits put back into the movie.
The comedy is a mild, gentle sort, although the actors playing the parents should be commended for their willingness to look like idiots for the sake of a laugh. After working together for a while on the series, the three kids have their timing down to a science, making it seem realistic when they finish each others’ lines. As the closest thing the story has to a villain, Scott Valentine plays a former magician who tags along with Alex and Justin on their adventure, and he works some more of the same light and fluffy slapstick and one-liners as the rest of the cast.
The picture and audio are good, making the most of the tropical location filming and the surprisingly non-awful remakes of ’80s pop classics on the soundtrack. The main extra is “Wiz Pix,” a behind-the-scenes featurette, showing how some key scenes were made, as well as footage of the cast and director Lev L. Spiro horsing around the set. There are also what seems like about 40,000 trailers for other Disney releases. Finally, the package includes your very own “Stone of Dreams,” a little plastic doo-hickey that you can attach to a necklace or bracelet, which changes color as you touch. Isn’t this what folks used to call a “mood ring?” It turned green when I used it, which, according to the accompanying insert, gives me the power to “make wishes to help nature and animals.” Yay me.
There’s not much more to say about this one. This is not the type of movie that yields itself to highbrow critical analysis. It’s light and harmless, a little too long-winded, but you could do a lot worse.