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Cadet Kelly DVD Review

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Movie & DVD Details

Director: Larry Shaw

Cast: Hilary Duff (Kelly Collins), Christy Romano (Cadet Captain Jennifer Stone), Gary Cole (General Joe Maxwell), Aimee Garcia (Cadet Sergeant Gloria Ramos), Shawn Ashmore (Brad Rigby), Linda Kash (Samantha Collins Maxwell), Nigel Hamer (Adam Collins), Sarah Gadon (Amanda), Andrea Lewis (Carla Hall)

Original Air Date: March 8, 2002 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: TV-G

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: June 28, 2005
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase


By Aaron Wallace

Most of the Disney Channel's original movies offer a fun way to pass two hours but not much more than that. There are a few outliers; some are dismal while others are quite good. Cadet Kelly is neither. Even though it set ratings records for a Disney Channel Original Movie (or "DCOM", as they are now commonly called), it isn't the best that the network has produced. It's not to be confused with the dregs, though; it still manages to hold its own as a solid movie.

It's your typical fish-out-of-water comedy. Kelly Collins (Hilary Duff) is a free-spirited student at an open Manhattan school who values individuality and self-expression. Her parents are divorced, but the family remains a tight-knit one. Her eccentric father explores the world and her mother is looking to settle down again with her new boyfriend, General Joe Maxwell (Gary Cole). Kelly embraces his wedding proposal to her mother when it comes along, but soon finds out that their marriage will mean that she has to move to a new town and a new school.

At the beginning of the movie, Kelly Collins is a free-spirited tween at a posh New York art school. But things will change when she transfers to a military academy and must answer to the unrelenting Cadet Captain Jennifer Stone (Christy Carlson Romano of "Even Stevens").

That news is bad enough, but when she learns that the new school is actually a military academy and that her new stepfather will be her commandant, she refuses to go. Her resistance doesn't do much good, though,
and she soon finds herself under the command of Cadet Captain Stone (Christy Carlson Romano). Stone is every bit as cruel and cold-hearted as her name implies and is the perfect antithesis to Kelly's personality. It comes as no surprise that Kelly has trouble adjusting to what she sees as an un-American system of education. She sets out to change the school for the better, but along the way the school starts to change her, too.

Despite the implementation of a familiar formula, Cadet Kelly does bring a few surprises along with it. The biggest is Duff's performance. Instead of the decidedly stereotypical 'teen girl' performance that she gives - with a certain charm, I might add - in Lizzie McGuire and so many of her movies, her character here is much more aloof. Duff's portrayal of a free spirit with conviction is believable and shows off just a bit more acting talent than some may realize that she has. Her co-stars are apt in their roles as well, and while no one gives a bad performance, her's really is the highlight of the movie as far as acting goes. But I'd be remiss not to mention the film's other star, Romano. She plays her character flat, but probably appropriately so. While her role is definitely a supporting one, she anchors Duff's lead well and the movie wouldn't work as well without her.

Another surprise this viewing experience offers is just how enjoyable such an oft-done story can be. The primary reason for this is that while many of these movies become overly dramatic, Cadet Kelly plays to its strengths instead of trying to be something it's not. It isn't that the film doesn't take itself seriously; it simply isn't reaching for the heart strings. The filmmakers seem to be seeking to entertain you in a fun and memorable way, and they're more or less successful in that attempt. And if you're looking for one more surprise, the ending might not be exactly what you're used to seeing, either.

Gary Cole ("Office Space", "The Brady Bunch Movie") plays Kelly's stepfather, a general who works at her new boarding school. It's a military dance-off...I think.

Due to its setting at a military academy, Kelly shows off some pretty impressive formations courtesy of competing drill teams. Unfortunately, these don't come off with quite as much pizzazz as they could thanks to a direction and editing style that is more consistent with MTV than feature films. The same can be said for a few of the musical selections. These are the biggest criticisms of the movie and even they aren't too big a hindrance to enjoyment.

For years, fans have lamented the small selection of Disney's made-for-TV movies on DVD. Fortunately, Disney has decided to tap into that market as of late, attempting to launch a credible line of light-but-fun DCOM DVDs. Those attempts have been pretty successful so far, and the line's success is bolstered by this upcoming Cadet Kelly release.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Cadet Kelly is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the same ratio in which it was originally aired on TV. Picture quality is pretty good. A few of the shots, especially outdoors ones, are a little fuzzier than one might have hoped for, but overall, it's a definite improvement from what you'll see on cable.

Disney again scores points for their DCOM line by providing a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track for a DVD that they didn't necessarily have to. Of course most of the sound still emanates from the center speaker, but there is some channel separation and there's usually some sound, minor it may be, coming from every direction. That's more than what you'll find on television. The track sounds great and seems to be problem-free.

Hilary Duff learns how to spin a rifle in the brief featurette "Learning the Drills." Christy Carlson Romano provides in-character narration for the interactive game Cadet Captain Stone's Drill Team Challenge. The Boot Lace-Up Drill is one of ten challenges that makeup Cadet Captain Stone's Drill Team Challenge.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

It's fairly uncommon for a low-profile release of a made-for-TV catalog title to carry a feature-length audio commentary, but that's what can be found on the new Cadet Kelly DVD. The fact that one wouldn't normally expect such a track to be included makes it a little easier to excuse some of its shortcomings. The packaging advertises this feature as commentary on "select scenes," and even though it runs the length of the film, that's what it feels like. Christy Carlson Romano and Aimee Garcia are the commentators, with the former doing the lion's share of the talking.

Unfortunately, their sessions were recorded separately, which prevents any chemistry that the two might have had. It also results in lengthy lulls of no discussion and the volume of the movie itself doesn't increase either. Yet despite that, it avoids becoming a complete bore. Romano has a surprising knowledge of what went on behind-the-scenes to have been a young actress on the set. She's a little less familiar with plot details, though, as a few of her comments seem to slightly contradict the specifics of storylines that don't involve her character. She also doesn't shy away from criticisms of some of the weaker aspects, which is refreshing in a time when many commentary tracks do nothing but glorify. There's a lot of Hilary Duff analysis - all positive - but there's some interesting information to be found as well. If you're not normally a fan of commentary tracks, this won't be the one that wins you over, but if you are really interested in this film or these actresses, then it's worth your time, and a pretty neat inclusion that Disney will hopefully continue with in future DCOM releases.

"Learning the Drills" (3:16) is a brief montage of interviews with Duff, Romano, and their military trainers on the set. The stars discuss the difficulties they had in learning the drill team maneuvers that the script required and backstage footage shows some of these training sessions in action.

Grab a partner and set aside some time (along with some of your inhibitions) to play "Cadet Captain Stone's Drill Team Challenge," one of the better games to make its way to a Disney DVD. Romano is back in character as Cadet Captain Stone and she sets up a series of ten challenges, each related to an event in the movie. You'll be competing with your partner, so keep score and listen carefully.

Plan your own "Cadet Kelly"-themed party with the DVD-ROM documents provided and hope somebody comes! "Cadet Kelly"'s main menu features music, but no animation.

If you find yourself particularly inspired by the movie, put the disc into your computer's DVD-ROM drive and you'll find all the "how-to"s for throwing a female-oriented, military academy-themed party. Disney has really thought this through and following their itinerary should make your get-together a success. I doubt there are many people clamoring for advice on how to throw one of these, but if theme parties are your thing, Disney has you covered from beginning to end.

The disc opens with a look at Chicken Little, Ice Princess, the Halloweentown trilogy, The Even Stevens Movie, and even Cadet Kelly itself. From the main menu, you can find three more previews: Get A Clue, My Scene Goes Hollywood: The Movie, and W.i.t.c.h..

The stylized 16x9 menus combine stills from the movie with military music that matches them. Along with the standard chapter selection insert, there's also a booklet of coupons and advertisements inside the white keepcase.

"Why did you join my beloved Corps?" Cadet Kelly sarcastically salutes her unfriendly superior.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Cadet Kellyís record-setting success on the Disney Channel (and again on ABC) probably has more to do with its leading ladies, reigning queens of Disney television, than it does the movie itself. Truth be told, itís not the best original movie that the Disney Channel has seen, but it is in the upper echelon. Duff and Romano give surprisingly good performances and because the movie doesnít try to be something it isnít, itís enjoyable to watch and will likely hold up to repeat viewings. Editing style aside, itís not nearly as ďteen-bopĒ as the billing might suggest and even those who arenít inside the target audience stand a chance of liking it.

As far as TV movies on DVD go, Cadet Kellyís release is respectable. More promotional material that led up to its debut broadcast would have been welcomed, but perhaps thatís asking too much. Adequate audio and video presentation and inspired bonus features that even include a feature-length commentary track make this a thumbs-up effort on Disneyís part and something fans will love and newcomers might want to consider as well.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Also New to DVD: The Even Stevens Movie (2003)
"Lizzie McGuire": Box Set Volume One (2001)
Get a Clue (2002) ē The Lizzie McGuire Movie (2003)
Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama (2005)

Related Preorders - Upcoming Disney Channel DVDs:
June 28: The Even Stevens Movie (Press Release)
August 16: Phil of the Future: Gadgets & Gizmos (Fact Sheet)
August 16: That's So Raven: Disguise the Limit (Fact Sheet)
September 13: Halloweentown I & II Double Feature (Fact Sheet)
September 13: Halloweentown High (Fact Sheet)
November 1: A Disney Channel Holiday (Press Release)

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Disney Channel Original Movies | June 2005's Disney DVDs

Reviewed June 17, 2005.