Hannah Montana, a surprising critique.

by juli boggs

image from disneydreaming.com

image from disneydreaming.com

The largest child star since Shirley Temple, I have my issues with the Hannah Montana thing. For one, my seven-year-old sister (as a member of the show’s prime demographic) is her biggest fan despite the fact that she’s never seen the show. Having not seen the show, recognizing the relationship that Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana share can be confusing. From the Best Of Both Worlds DVD that introduced her to our family, we were forced to conclude that they were obviously the same person that somehow shared a TV relationship, but this didn’t make any sense to my sister. To her, Miley and Hannah were two different people, possibly best friends, and to admit anything else would be to concede that she’d somehow been duped. It took us months (and a Google search) to definitively settle the score: same girl, different wig.

With these preconceived notions of unethical marketing to children too young to understand what they’re consuming, I begrudgingly bought a ticket in order to review the afternoon showing of Hannah Montana: The Movie, which my sister would be watching later that weekend at a theatre in Sacramento.  Wondering if a bag of popcorn would pair poorly with my latte, I took my place at the matinee a few seats down from the only others in the theatre, a young girl about my sister’s age with her smiling mother in tow.

Staring Miley Ray Cyrus and her father Billy Ray Cyrus as themselves doing presumable exactly what they do, the film is a simulation of reality in which the rock-star life of Hannah Montana isn’t quite as rewarding as the good-ol experience Miley gains by visiting the family farm she grew up on in Crowley Corners, Tennessee. Struggling to keep her identity as Hannah Montana rock star Extravaganza a secret, Miley struggles to get back in touch with her “real girl” self as she sheds her Melrose duds for overalls and tries to ride a horse. (Unfortunately for Miley it’s her “real life” that gets turned into a film and makes her a movie star, so there goes any hope for relative normality.)

As the rock-star story begins, Hannah Montana goes on a Hollywood shopping spree in preparation for the New York music awards, but when she attempts to make a final purchase of the last pair of zebra-stripped heels for her best friend, she finds herself face to face with Tyra Banks trying to buy that very pair for her best friend.

As a cat-fight ensues, I found myself furiously taking notes,  “cat fight… consumerism,” when the small girl across the way began to laugh. Looking back to the struggle on screen I realized that, oh yes, this is slapstick.  Have I really become such an over-educated no-funner that I can overlook the possibility of Tyra Banks and Hannah Montana rassling as humorous?

When news of the shoe-fight gets back to her father, Miley is grounded from her Hannah act and taken back to Tennessee for practical re-education. As a week goes by, the ex-prima donna begins to learn that “life is a climb,” (or some quaint pseudo-country expression about hard work paying off) as she saddles up with the strapping, blonde and dusty-freckled farm hand Travis Brody, played by Lucas Till.

Like any rural area in America, the fictional Crowley Corners is threatened by developers with visions of strip-malls and track homes. Learning that the town must raise several thousand dollars to save the meadows, the newly inaugurated bumpkin volunteers her “friend” Hannah to fly out for a benefit show.  After a mess of confusions and fussy deceits revolving around logistics for her simultaneous double-identity, Hannah takes the stage to a fairground of fans and launches into her Disney hit “Best of Both Worlds” to which the little girl beside me, like every song on the soundtrack, knows well enough to sing along out loud.

Swinging her feet so the LEDs on the bottom of her sneakers lit up, I recalled that that was me 13 years ago watching Spice Girls’ Spice World, a film which had absolutely no redeeming qualities. Mel B did not find a value in the relationship with her grandma, and Baby Spice did not fix a chicken coop. And look at me now! These kids will be fine.

Back on the screen, Miley is visibly conflicted. Looking out at her family and friends, she sees the people she’s hurt by hiding her “rock star secret” and decides to give them the awful truth: she’s not a pop star with blonde hair from Hollywood; she’s a country-western singer with brown hair from little ol’ Crowley Corners. Swapping her gemstone-encrusted mic stand for a basic black one, Cyrus emits a Shania Twain appeal with her now-hit single “The Climb,” in which she maps out everything she’s learned. “There’s always gonna be another mountain/ I’m always gonna wanna make it move/ Always gonna be an uphill battle/ sometimes I’m gonna have to lose/ It’s not about how fast I get there/ Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side/ It’s the climb,“ the little girl sings out beside me, emitting a sophomoric philosophy that’s wise beyond her years.

As Miley turns to leave, a disappointed Hannah Montana fan (my sister incarnate) innocently asks her to stay on stage and play her other songs. As the rest of her family and friends encourage her to put the wig back on and “be Hannah,” one’s left with the sentiment that maybe the people we pretend to be are more interesting than the people we really are. Or maybe it’s just a way to buff up the soundtrack.

In the Disney tradition, the on-screen story of Miley Cyrus is like that of any other princess. Whether a rock star or a farmer, the idea is that every girl is special, which I suppose is more than any other pop star sought to “teach” me.  Now is it true? Not really, and little Cyrus is probably scarred beyond any hope of normalcy as a 16 year old earning $3.5 million annually. But let her hang out on a farm (or the fictional set of one). Can’t do more harm than good. And that farmhand for company wouldn’t be bad either.