UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Disney Channel Original Movies

Cow Belles DVD Review

Buy Cow Belles from Amazon.com Cow Belles
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Francine McDougall

Cast: Alyson Michalka (Taylor Callum), Amanda Michalka (Courtney Callum), Jack Coleman (Reed Callum), Sheila McCarthy (Fran Walker), Michael Trevino (Jackson Meade), Christian Serratos (Heather Perez), Ron Gabriel (Melvin Melville), Chris Gallinger (Philippe), Michael Rhoades (Bob Fenwick)

Original Air Date: March 24, 2006 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: TV-G

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: June 27, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
White Keepcase

By Aaron Wallace

Disney's latest attempt at teen star manufacturing is the acting/rocking duo Aly & AJ. Comprised of sisters Alyson and Amanda Joy Michalka, the group has already found some pop radio success and with a new Disney Channel Original Movie by the name of Cow Belles, they can call
themselves movie stars too. As "Phil of the Future" fans already know, older Aly is very likable on screen, and it turns out that the same is true for fifteen-year-old AJ.

Like most Disney Channel Original Movies, Cow Belles suffers from a number of predictable flaws. Its first is that its premise is obviously inspired by the unfortunate phenomenon of TV's "The Simple Life," a reality series that managed to surpass its famous-for-no-reason headliners in annoyance. The good news is that it goes its own way quickly enough to avoid the "Simple" stigma.

Aly & AJ play sisters (get out of here!) who are as ditzy as they are spoiled. A pattern of reckless behavior leads their father (Jack Coleman) to finally make an attempt at moralizing his offspring and he orders them to go to work in the mega milk-making factory that he owns while he takes a vacation. Of course they're hardly cut out for the job and their constant mishaps and careless disposition make them pretty unpopular with their blue collar coworkers. When a secret scandal puts their father's company -- along with the hundreds of jobs it provides -- at risk, the siblings have to step up to the plate and reassess their values in the process.

Courtney (Amanda Michalka) and Taylor (Alyson Michalka) try to escape their father's wrath after a particularly disastrous mistake on their part. Taylor learns to drive a stick shift with the help of a farm boy (Michael Trevino).

The movie suffers most in its script, with dialogue that doesn't skimp in the cheese department (well, it is a dairy movie, I suppose) and numerous plot turns that seem too contrived to be believable. Many of the personalities are written in extremes too. The coworkers seem unnaturally hostile toward the girls, whose simultaneous brattiness, ditziness, and politeness seems like too convenient a combination.

Those flaws can all be overlooked by the willing viewer, however. In the end, Cow Belles is still an entertaining story. It deserves credit for occasionally heading toward a point of predictability and instead diverting down a slightly unexpected path. While much of the supporting cast should have been reconsidered, the leads all handle their roles fairly well. The movie has heart and it conveys it without wandering into the saccharine. When compared to other Disney Channel fare, Cow Belles sits comfortably in the middle of the road.

The girls find that they aren't as popular in the factory as they are in school. Of course, no tween-targeted movie would be complete without a little romance.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The 1.33:1 "fullscreen" aspect ratio that the movie was originally presented in on the Disney Channel is again used for the DVD. Many of the DCOMs (the official acronym for Disney Channel Original Movies) are framed for both fullscreen and widescreen with only the former making its way to DVD.
The telltale sign comes in the "making-of" featurette, where the widescreen footage is often used. "Behind the Scenes with Aly & AJ" actually uses just the fullscreen, so it's possible that Cow Belles never had widescreen in mind. Either way, the 1.33:1 transfer is true to its original broadcast and therefore acceptable.

The video quality suffers as well. Though it looked fairly average on a standard television screen, extreme softness and excessive grain became noticeable when viewed on the computer and the screencaps demonstrate that. Additionally, there is some minor edge enhancement and the moiré effect turns up.

The movie gets a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track that should have been left in stereo, the way it was originally presented. It's not that bumping TV movies up from stereo to surround is a sin, but here the sound is stretched far too thin. Dialogue sounds isolated and restrained in the center channel while the background music is dampened as well. The rear speakers and subwoofer play such a small role that one will only notice that they're in use if they hug them. The sound quality itself, however, is fine.

Aly is "On the Ride" in this music video. Aly & AJ "Rush" in their successful music video, which has been included as a bonus. Chris Gallinger, who has a minor role as a love interest, talks about the exuberance of Aly & AJ in the behind-the-scenes featurette.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

DCOMs have been treated to audio commentaries before, but that's unfortunately not the case for this DVD. There are three bonus features, two of which are Aly & AJ music videos. "On the Ride" (1:32), which is part of the Cow Belles soundtrack, and "Rush" (1:28), which is one of their more popular singles, are both short but respectable music videos and decent if not outstanding songs.
The other is "Behind the Scenes with Aly & AJ" (6:52), a fun featurette that stays far away from anything technical but does a nice job of capturing cast reflections on making the movie.

The DVD advertises an "exclusive alternate ending." Disappointingly, that's not a bonus feature, but merely the way the movie ends on DVD. The original cut is inexplicably and frustratingly absent. Not having seen the original TV airing, I can't comment on the differences in the ending (I suspect that they are minor, as they usually are), but I was satisfied by the one provided.

The sparsely-animated menus are nicely colored and accompanied by very pleasant music so that leaving it on repeat a few times won't be such a bad thing. The disc opens with previews for The Little Mermaid: Platinum Edition, Meet the Robinsons, High School Musical: Encore Edition, and the upcoming DVD releases of "That's So Raven": Raven's Makeover Madness and "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody": Taking Over the Tipton. Joining them are additional previews found at the main menu: Eight Below, Brother Bear 2, Lilo Leroy & Stitch, Spymate and a spot for Aly & AJ's album, Into the Rush.

The sisters fall on their dairy-ers. The factory band sings the milk cow blues.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Cow Belles has its fair share of flaws but redeems itself with a solid story and a surprise or two by the end. Like the milk in the movie, the bonus features are skim, and the audio/video presentation could use some improvement. The price tag for this one is a little higher than your average DCOM too, so a purchase may not be quite warranted. Still, those who have taken a liking to Disney Channel features in the past should give this one a try, so a rental is recommended.

Buy from BestBuy.com / Buy from Overstock.comicon / Buy from DVD Empire
Buy from Amazon.com / Buy from Buy.com / Buy from WalMart.com / Buy from eBay

Related Reviews:
Leroy & Stitch • Phil of the Future Gadgets & Gizmos
High School Musical • That's So Raven: Raven's House Party
Cadet Kelly (2002) • Disney Channel Holiday • Little House on the Prairie (2005)
The Princess Diaries: Special Edition (2001) • Balloon Farm (1999) • Eight Below (2006)
Home on the Range (2004) • Ice Princess (2005) • Get a Clue (2002)
Lizzie McGuire: Box Set Volume 1 (2001) • Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure

Related Upcoming DVDs
That's So Raven: Raven's Makeover Madness (coming July 18 - Press Release & Discussion)
The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: Taking Over the Tipton (coming July 18 - Press Release & Discussion)
Twitches (coming September 5 - Press Release & Discussion)

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Disney Channel Original Movies

Reviewed June 27, 2006.