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Wizards of Waverly Place on DVD: Wizard School • Supernaturally Stylin'

"Wizards of Waverly Place": Supernaturally Stylin' DVD Review

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Show & DVD Details

Executive Producers: Todd J. Greenwald, Peter Murrieta, Vince Cheung, Ben Montanio / Creator: Todd J. Greenwald

Writers: Vince Cheung, Ben Montanio / Directors: Fred Savage, Victor Gonzalez, Todd J. Greenwald

Cast: Selena Gomez (Alex Russo), David Henrie (Justin Russo), Jake T. Austin (Max Russo), Jennifer Stone (Harper), Maria Canals Barrera (Theresa Russo), David DeLuise (Jerry Russo)

Notable Guest Stars: Jeffrey Christopher Todd (Jeffrey Jeffries), Sara Paxton (Millie), Julia Duffy (Ms. Angela), Veronica Sixtos (Nellie), Andy Pessoa (Alfred), Daniel Samonas (Dean), Sarah Ramos (Isabella), Skyler Samuels (Gigi)

Running Time: 90 minutes (4 episodes) / Rating: TV-G
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio) / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned; White Keepcase
DVD Release Date: February 10, 2009 / Originally aired July-October 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99; Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

Disney Channel programming seems purposefully designed as vehicles for rising teen stars. When those actors garner popularity and acclaim, Disney will either use them in different properties ad nauseam (Raven-Symonι) or milk the original franchise for every last drop ("Hannah Montana"). Such are the paths "Wizards of Waverly Place" is destined to take. It hasn't trotted either yet, but the series feels tailored to pushing Selena Gomez into the limelight.
She's already been making the rounds, performing covers of Disney tunes like "Cruella de Vil", and lining up the inevitable Disney Channel Original Movie (Princess Protection Program, coming this June). At least the company hasn't released "Wizards of Waverly Place" toiletries. Yet.

The show follows the lives of three wizard siblings. Alex (Selena Gomez) is the middle child but is miraculously devoid of the Jan Brady syndrome. She's cocky, self-assured, and constantly relies on magic to bail her out of mishaps. Justin (David Henrie) is the oldest. Geeky though not as socially inept as expected, he's usually the one trying to keep Alex in check. The youngest of the trio is Max (Jake T. Austin). His plans, though not usually abusing magic, tend to be more outrageous than Alex's. Regardless, Justin tends to side with him for gender support.

Neither of their parents possesses magical abilities. Their father, Jerry (David DeLuise), was once a wizard, but gave up his powers to marry a mortal named Theresa (Maria Canals Barrera). A time will come when two of the children will also lose their powers, for wizard law only allows one offspring from every couple to continue practicing magic. That decision will be made via a special competition, but until then, the matter doesn't seem to be on the minds of the Russo family very often.

Justin (David Henrie) experiments with a time-freezing spell by balancing a cup of water on Alex's (Selena Gomez) head. Sparks fly between Dean (Daniel Samonas) and Alex (Selena Gomez), and not just from the exposed electrical wiring.

Many comparisons have been made between "Wizards of Waverly Place" and the behemoth known as the Harry Potter franchise. While there's little doubt that Disney created this in response to that phenomenon, "Wizards" actually has more in common with another sitcom: "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." Like that well-received turn-of-the-millennium program, this show places a teenage girl front and center who tries to juggle a normal life with the secrecy of her supernatural abilities. Both series also repeatedly remind the heroine (and the audience) that magic is not the solution to every problem and can't substitute for qualities like perseverance and honesty.

"Wizards" doesn't hold up very well when directly compared to "Sabrina." The staples of current Disney Channel programming (fuzzy, digital video, inappropriate laugh tracks, hammy acting) automatically hinder it in that regard, though more specific flaws also emerge. For one, the wizarding world feels a bit like an afterthought. "Sabrina" may not have had the precise, fully-formed set of rules and ethics of J.K. Rowling's universe, but it managed to convey a good contrast between the magical and the mundane.
Wizards of Waverly Place show poster Camp Rock movie poster
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One gets the feeling that not a whole lot of thought was put into the supernatural aspect of "Waverly Place." Magic exists only as a means of creating the problem of the week, not as something truly organic in these children's lives. On top of that is the troubling manner in which mortal involvement is handled. In the four episodes on this DVD, there are two occasions where mortals outright see magic happening and react accordingly. Despite their initial surprises, though, they end up brushing what they've seen aside in a way that feels sloppy and unconvincing.

In all honesty, it's unfair to judge "Wizards" by the standards of "Sabrina." Were one to pin this series against its Disney Channel brethren, the results are much more favorable. While it's still guilty of some cringe-inducing overacting, the performances are overall more natural than usual, especially from the leads. Alex is a character that could, and should, be off-putting in her narrow-mindedness and egotism. In spite of this, Selena Gomez manages to be likable and approachable in the role. Even more impressive is David Henrie as Justin. The character as written fits neatly into the tried and true parts of the concerned older brother and the flat-out geek. Henrie takes both of these aspects and presents them in a way more gracious and unique. Jake T. Austin fills the now-clichιd Disney Channel quota of the young A.D.D. character who terrorizes those around him with mischief. Thankfully, both Austin and the writers keep Max fairly restrained so that he doesn't irritate in the way that Rico on "Hannah Montana" does.

Max (Jake T. Austin) and his friend Alfred (Andy Pessoa) decide to offer an extra bonus gift to compliment their bottled water in "Smarty Pants." Isabella (Sarah Ramos) and Justin (David Henrie) try to work out their differences despite their very obvious similarity in "Beware Wolf."

"Wizards of Waverly Place" doesn't reach its full potential, but it's still above average entertainment. This is thanks largely in part to the cast who bring in a more natural charisma than the awkward staginess of most of their peers. Should the creators really sit down and map out the way magic in this show relates to our world, this could turn into something more worthwhile. As it is, it's frothy, harmless fun, which is more than most Disney Channel shows can aspire to.

Released this week, Supernaturally Stylin' is the second DVD given this series.
Despite the compilation's title, only two of the episodes are directly related to clothing. The other two feature out-of-the-ordinary appearances, but considering this a common theme is a bit of a stretch. The included shows are as follows:

"Credit Check" (22:35) (Originally aired July 6, 2008)
Alex gets hired as an intern for a prestigious fashion magazine, but her manager takes all the credit for her ideas. Justin works up the nerve to ask out a new waitress at the shop.

"Smarty Pants" (22:36) (Originally aired September 12, 2008)
Alex joins Harper's team in a school brain bowl, utilizing a pair of pants that makes the wearer smarter. Max bottles up the school's fountain water for sale.

"Beware Wolf" (22:50) (Originally aired September 21, 2008)
Justin has a blind date with a girl he met online, not knowing that she's a werewolf. Max tries to save money to buy sippy cups in preteen sizes.

"Graphic Novel" (22:36) (Originally aired October 5, 2008)
After Justin and Max steal Alex's magical diary, Gigi ends up transported inside it. Alex travels back in after her before Gigi can discover the biggest secret the diary keeps.

VIDEO and AUDIO

"Wizards of Waverly Place" comes to DVD in its original broadcast ratio of 1.33:1. As with other recent Disney Channel shows, the usage of digital cameras proves to be a detriment. The image has a soft look about it, almost as if Vaseline were smeared on the camera lens. Colors seem acceptable, but the loss of fine details makes the presentation hard to take, especially on a larger display.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack doesn't seem terribly active. The sound is heavily focused towards the front, and the only signs of life seem to be from the transitional music cues. Otherwise, it's as concise as one can reasonably expect from a sitcom of this nature.

Selena Gomez shows off her character's vast array of clothing in "Fashionista Presto Chango." Being a sidekick means having to piggyback the lead character, a fact illustrated by Jennifer Stone and Selena Gomez on the Supernaturally Stylin' DVD's main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Like the previous compilation DVD, "Wizards of Waverly Place" contains just one bonus feature. This time, it's the featurette "Fashionista Presto Chango" (7:36). The four juvenile leads all show off some of their favorite pieces of clothing found in the wardrobe department.
Each actor compares their character's tastes to their own. Along the way, costume designer Julie Rhine explains her views on harmonizing characterization with style. It's fluffy and obviously scripted at least in part, but a bit more substance than expected manages to emerge.

At the start of the disc, trailers play for Pinocchio: Platinum Edition, Earth, High School Musical 3: Senior Year, "Schoolhouse Rock!: Earth," and Disney Movie Rewards. These can be accessed under the "Sneak Peeks" menu along with additional previews for Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Bolt, and "Hannah Montana."

The main menu rotates through publicity photos of the cast in front of a color-changing New York crosswalk. The show's theme song accompanies this. The submenus follow in the same vein with their own unique music, but without animation.

The disc is among the recent wave Disney on which has employed a bare gray surface in place of true artwork, a move made famous by Paramount's home entertainment division. The cost-cutting continues inside the case, where the only insert is a promotional booklet for other Disney Channel DVDs.

In the thinly-veiled morality lesson of the week, Jerry (David DeLuise) and Theresa (Maria  Canals-Barrera) warn Justin (David Henrie) about the dangers of online dating. In Photoshop filter glory, Alex (Selena Gomez) wears the appropriate ensemble for a duel against Gigi, while Justin (David Henrie) wears slightly less proper headgear for riding a motor scooter.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Wizards of Waverly Place" may not hold up well to scrutiny, but it offers more entertainment than most other Disney Channel shows thanks to its talented cast. This second DVD release offers picture and sound quality that go as far as it can given the production limitations. Supplements are anemic, even if there are a few nuggets to be gleamed from the featurette. Disney's practice of releasing single discs with only a handful of episodes rather than full season sets is aggravating and doesn't seem to be stopping anytime soon. As such, die-hard fans may want to pick this up if they haven't already recorded the episodes themselves. To those unsure or new to the series, Disney Channel runs the show frequently enough for one to catch an airing of it.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Related Reviews:
New to DVD: Phineas and Ferb: The Daze of Summer • High School Musical 3: Senior Year • City of Ember
Wizards of Waverly Place: Wizard School • Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season • That's So Raven: Supernaturally Stylish
Camp Rock • Cow Belles • Minutemen • Twitches • Twitches Too • Return to Halloweentown • Halloweentown High
Sabrina, The Teenage Witch: The Second Season • Lizzie McGuire: Box Set Volume 1 • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide
Wish Gone Amiss • Cory in the House: Newt & Improved Edition • Phil of the Future: Gadgets & Gizmos • Disney Channel Holiday

Related Report:
High School Musical 2 DVD Premiere Red Carpet Photo Report - "Wizards of Waverly Place" stars among those in attendance

Make your wall sing with High School Musical!

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Reviewed February 14, 2009.