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Hatching Pete & Dadnapped DVD Review

Buy Hatching Pete & Dadnapped: Double Feature DVD from Amazon.com Hatching Pete
Director: Stuart Gillard / Writer: Paul W. Cooper

Cast: Jason Dolley (Pete Ivey), Mitchel Musso (Cleatus Poole), Tiffany Thornton (Jamie Wynn), Josie Loren (Angela Morrissey), Sean O'Bryan (Leon Ivey), Amy Farrington (Doris Ivey), Crawford Wilson (Dwayne Dill), Aramis Knight (Wendell Pate), Edward Herrmann (Principal Fred Daly), Brian Stepanek (Coach Mackey), Ryan Michael Davis (James "Jam" Horner), Nick Whitaker (Floyd), Madison Riley (Camie Poole), Dave Nibley (Jack Poole), Seth Packard (Drum Major Skylar), Anthony Olson (Tommy Thompson), Jeff Olson (Sheriff Lou Bernstein), Star Herrmann (Miz Tillamn), Trenton James (Deputy)

Original Airdate: April 24, 2009 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: TV-G

Dadnapped
Director: Paul Hoen / Writer: Alan Silberberg

Cast: Emily Osment (Melissa Morris), David Henrie (Wheeze), Jason Earles (Merv Kilbo), Jonathan Keltz (Tripp Zoome), Moises Arias (Andre), Denzel Whitaker (Sheldon), Charles Halford (Skunk), Phill Lewis (Maurice Legarche), George Newbern (Neal Morris), Jennifer Stone (Debbie), Seth Packard (Sammy), Brandon Luke Bringhurst (Fan Guy), Trevor Snarr (Bobby-O), Kenda Benward (Suzie), Bryson Kuan (Pizza Driver)

Original Airdate: February 16, 2009 / Running Time: 84 Minutes / Rating: TV-G

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Extras Captioned and Subtitled
Release Date: May 12, 2009 / Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / White Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

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How does Disney nurture and reward the cast of "Hannah Montana" without betting on them for high-profile success? By giving them additional television work, of course. Four of Miley Cyrus' young sitcom co-stars assumed prominent roles in the Disney Channel's first two movies of 2009. That's nothing new for the company. For years, their adolescent actors have been given creative opportunities with minimal stakes:
record a Disneymania cover, join together for a DVD music video, voice a direct-to-video dog, and -- the old favorite -- star in a Disney Channel Original Movie. What is new is that Disney has bundled together the two movies, which are unrelated aside from cast résumés and affordable Utah filming locations. Dadnapped and Hatching Pete make their DVD debuts on Tuesday, sharing a Double Feature disc.


Hatching Pete centers on Pete Ivey (Jason Dolley of "Cory in the House"), a student who's practically invisible to most of the Brewster High School student body. One night just before a school basketball game, Pete's best friend Cleatus (Mitchel Musso, Oliver from "Hannah Montana") comes to him in desperation and asks Pete to fill in as team mascot so that Cleatus can be spared hours of allergic sneezing. Reluctantly and with the promise of a substantial return favor, Pete dons the bright yellow chicken suit in secret. After a rough start, he gets into his duties and revels in keeping the crowd entertained even as the Roosters suffer yet another embarrassing rout.

At school the next day, Cleatus earns recognition from his classmates but objections from the basketball team, all of whom believe he was the one in the feathered costume. The good far outweighs the bad, though, and Cleatus is suddenly popular. He soaks up the attention and uses his smooth-talking skills to persuade Pete to continue serving as mascot while Cleatus gets the credit.

Naturally, things begin to turn around for the team, Pete develops a love interest (Josie Loren) who only has eyes for the chicken, and the mascot's identity becomes threatened.

Pete (Jason Dolley) and Cleatus (Mitchel Musso) are both in the closet and carrying a secret, but in the world of Disney Channel Original Movies that just means one is hiding the fact that he's a chicken mascot. Is it possible to be float committee partners of opposite sexes and not be each other's love interest? Maybe, but that's not the case for Pete (Jason Dolley) and Angela (Josie Loren).

Any movie that seriously places such importance on a high school mascot is bound to be labeled "silly." That holds true to the 21st century DCOM tradition. Actually, the inanity seems tame compared to the channel's more fantastically-conceived output.
It helps that the performances are better than usual. Though it has to be classified as a comedy, the laughs are pretty much non-existent. That is a noticeable shortcoming when the movie shows us outrageously positive reactions to the mascot's antics. Blame can't really go to the cast, which exhibits adequate timing, or the unremarkable script. It simply goes to the fact that no high school mascot is going to entertain general audiences.

At times, Hatching Pete feels like it's not too far obtaining the John Hughes vibe it seeks, but it also lacks the smarts, insight, wit, and ties to reality. (On that last point, there are some meaningful comments made on family legacies, long-distance relationships, dumping via text, and the allure of mystery.) The portrayal of high school basketball is almost within reason. And thankfully, as Coach Mackey, Brian Stepanek drops the broad approach he brought to "Suite Life of Zack & Cody" hotel hand Arwin.


Dadnapped stars Emily Osment (best friend Lilly on "Hannah Montana") as Melissa Morris, who might be a normal teenaged girl, if only her father wasn't Neal Morris, best-selling author of the zealously-read Tripp Zoome adventure books. Further distinguishing our lead is the fact that she regularly sees and interacts with the fictional protagonist (the cover model is apparently a famous icon worthy of cardboard standees). Melissa has had to compete with her divorced father's successful literary career for his attention. That helps to explain why she's so looking forward to a camping trip with Dad (George Newbern, the groom of 1991's Father of the Bride).

Before they can reach their woodsy destination, Neal surprises his daughter with a stop at the Merc Hotel, site of a Zoome convention that brings out his most faithful and fanatical readers. Promising they'll stay at the tacky dive just one night, Neal has his plans altered by a trio of young fans determined to win the "Are You Zoome Enough?" contest whose prize is a role in the next Tripp novel.

The fans -- ringleader Wheeze (David Henrie, "Wizards of Waverly Place"), his elflike younger brother Andre (Moises Arias), and their slow friend Sheldon (Denzel Whitaker) -- absolutely abduct the writer and hold him painfully against his will. But, viewers should recognize from the way the actions and characters are staged (to retain sympathy) that this isn't the titular "Dadnapping" and these aren't our villains.

Three's company. Neal (George Newbern) and Melissa (Emily Osment) are joined by a cardboard Tripp Zoome standee (Jonathan Keltz) while checking in at the Merc Hotel. Wheeze (David Henrie) and Sheldon (Denzel Whitaker) are pleased to use Tripp's flossing methods on his creator Neal Morris (George Newbern).

Both emerge soon enough, when two convention attendees posing as cops kidnap father and daughter. Interracial brothers Maurice ("The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" manager Phill Lewis) and Skunk (Charles Halford) seek Neal's expertise, demanding he edit Skunk's sloppy draft into something publishable.

With real local law enforcement as disbelieving and unhelpful as any family film asks them to be, our first set of fans/captors take it upon themselves to rescue their hero's creator. In the midst of the chaos, Melissa tries to think like Tripp who, embodied by Jonathan Keltz, continues to visit and taunt her. And where does pompadoured Merc Hotel manager Merv Kilbo ("Hannah" bro Jason Earles) fit into the picture? That's a surprise, but one you won't need long to figure out.

A rarity among the network's programming, Dadnapped doesn't limit its story to teen characters and classroom issues. At some points, it even actually appears to have a brain on its shoulders. Alas, that observation is one you'll forget and regret making upon the climax, which reduces the proceedings to a colorful slime shootout more appropriate for a '90s Nickelodeon show. The movie has its share of problems before that, most notably its inability to keep surprise plot points properly shrouded. Making Tripp a presence renders Melissa schizophrenic and their tense regularly scheduled chats add little. There is never any real sense of danger and very rarely any real sense of fun.

The "Hannah Montana" actors basically perform as expected. Osment unsurprisingly does fine in a lead role; she's always been more polished then Miley Cyrus. Moises Arias plays a character just as annoying as his Rico persona. Acting his age but still looking like a kid, Jason Earles finds a little more sophistication than Jackson allows, yet still comes across as a goofball. Charles Halford registers as a standout in the cast, bringing earnestness to Skunk's knack for awkward phrases, probably the piece's best gag.

Every so often, the mountains of Utah appear in the background of each film. One such instance is this "Hatching Pete" scene in which Principal Daly (Edward Herrmann) holds a loudspeaker up for Coach Mackey (Brian Stepanek) to make an announcement. Skunk (Charles Halford) and Maurice (Phill Lewis) keep tabs on Neal's abduction with their own interests in mind.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Disney must have finally gotten the memo that nearly all 21st century people are okay with widescreen, even cable-watching tweens. Both Hatching Pete and Dadnapped are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. While that doesn't match their original fullscreen broadcast ratios, Disney Channel movies have for some time been framed for both 4:3 and 16:9 displays, so there is no reason to worry that the directors' visions have been compromised. The picture is clear, clean, and vibrant. It's perhaps only a slight touch softer and grainier than on something made for theaters, but the movies definitely are a lot easier on the eyes than most of the channel's TV series. They also look better than some big screen output has in some lacking recent DVDs from other studios.

You would think that these would be equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, but in fact they get plain 2.0 Dolby Surround. (Suspiciously, checking it on my player was disabled.) It's not as if these movies scream for immersive, dynamic aural experiences, but 5.1 audio is so prevalent even on TV shows that it is expected here. The mixes do a fair job; everything is crisp and intelligible. But more depth would have been welcomed. Fortunately, Disney continues to be good at subtitling the feature and all extras.

Hatching Pete heartthrobs Jason Dolley and Mitchel Musso discuss their experiences in "Unmasking the Mascot." Wheeze (David Henrie) and Melissa (Emily Osment) hear a name that is uncomfortable and unfamiliar to their respective ears in the "Dadnapped" extended ending. Tripp Zoome gives an interview for television news reporter intern Melissa in the animated graphic novel "Tripp Zoome: Off the Rails."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Hatching Pete's featurette "Unmasking the Mascot" (11:21) is a little more substantive than what most DCOMs get.
It covers the mascot shop used, the chicken's design, and auditioning/acting in animal costume with comments from cast, crew, and the Utah Jazz Bear portrayer (who opts to remain anonymous).

A cutesy extended ending on Dadnapped (1:55) doesn't logically follow a specific part in the movie. Instead, this epilogue applies a Meet the Parents tone while revealing Wheeze's real first name. It's probably better here than attached to the feature, since Disney still hasn't gotten comfortable with DVD's seamless branching technology.

Also on Dadnapped is the animated graphic novel "Tripp Zoome: Off the Rails" (8:35). I guess this is supposed to be Neal's subsequent work, for it features his daughter and other characters from the movie in supporting roles. A bit more effort was needed here; there is very little in the way of animation and cast members don't bother to reprise their parts vocally. The story involves the threat of supervillain Cutter Carter and his henchmen at the grand opening of new amusement park Tripp Towne USA.

The Brewster Chicken imitates Coach Mackey behind his back on the animated Hatching Pete main menu montage. The Dadnapped main menu sees its cover art portion and raises it by two henchmen.

While the disc holds two movies on the same side, each gets its own distinct set of menus, with a link to jump to the other. Though the designs differ, both run clip montages from the main menu and remain static but scored on submenus, save for the Sneak Peek transitions.

Upon loading, the DVD asks you to pick a movie.
Emily Osment's "Hero in Me" music video and making-of:
Then, after the standard Disney promo and FastPlay disclaimer, we get trailers for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, G-Force, Monsters, Inc. Blu-ray, Blu-ray in general, and Disney Movie Rewards. The Sneak Peeks menu holds additional ads for Princess Protection Program, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Disney XD, Morning Light, "Hannah Montana": Keeping it Real, and the High School Musical DVD Game.

Slide off the basic slipcover and open the white keepcase to find a booklet promoting Disney's Blu-ray revolution and a sheet holding your Disney Movie Rewards code. This one will let you unlock music videos by Emily Osment ("Hero in Me") and Mitchel Musso & Tiffany Thornton ("Let It Go") from their respective movies. It seems like a cheap ploy to get you to check out the site, since both could have easily fit on the disc and added more value than some of the company ads. Gladly, you can watch Osment's video right here in the box above.

The Brewster High School community gets a shock when Cleatus' (Mitchel Musso) fake mustache falls off during a parade, revealing someone else to be inside the Chicken costume. 32-year-old Jason Earles rocks a white jacket, a lapel flower, and one wicked dope pompadour as hotelier Merv Kilbo.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Disney finally seems to have realized how to release their tween-friendly, made-for-cable movies in an appropriate way. This Double Feature disc brings the frugal fare down to half the cost of a real theatrical film and it also treats them to the widescreen presentations that have long been in order. Those two choices are enough to make this DVD far more appealing than the majority given to past Disney Channel Original Movies. The one enduring issue -- the channel's subpar levels of intelligence, creativity, and esteem for viewers -- is still enough to discourage most people outside the target demographic for "Hannah Montana" (whose talent pool has been liberally assigned here). Even so, I found these two quite a bit easier to enjoy than most of the recent additions to the DCOM class.

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Reviewed May 12, 2009.