Judge Clark Douglas once danced into the spotlight...literally. He broke the spotlight.
"You're in the show!"
Once upon a time, American Girl dolls were attractive, overpriced collector's items designed to teach kids a little something about history. Each doll was from a different historical era—Felicity was the Revolutionary War girl, Samantha was the turn-of-the-century girl, Molly was the WWII girl, and so on. Over the years, the franchise has evolved into something much larger and less well-defined. In addition to all of the historically-themed dolls, there are "Girl of the Year" dolls—regular, modern girls with regular, modern backstories.
In recent years, a number of "Girl of the Year" dolls have received their own made-for-TV movies. An American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong examined a girl attempting to deal with bullying. An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars told the story of an aspiring young gymnast. Saige Paints the Sky offered a tale about a young artist. And now, Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight highlights the adventures of a young ballet dancer. You may see a pattern of sorts here.
As the title so subtly implies, our story focuses on a dancer named Isabelle (Erin Pitt, Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam). She wants nothing more than to land a part in a performance of The Nutcracker being staged by her dance school, but her self-doubt sometimes interferes with her ability to perform well in auditions. Nonetheless, she manages to land a part and soon sets her sights on an even bigger goal: earning a scholarship which would give her the opportunity to take advanced dance lessons in New York City.
Everything plays out exactly as you suspect it might, as this is very much the sort of kid's movie which is designed exclusively with youngsters in mind. Sure, parents might appreciate the positive messages and family-friendly vibe, but they'll be hard-pressed to find any real entertainment. That's a shame, too, because the theatrical feature Kit Kittredge: An American Girl was a surprisingly appealing flick that had enough nuance and emotional depth to keep viewers of all ages engaged. Alas, this time around we're firmly in surprise-free, straight-to-DVD territory.
A considerable portion of the film's 100-minute running time (about 30 percent, I'd guess) is occupied by musical sequences of one sort or another—mostly ballet, but there are some actual songs, too (Isabelle's father is an earnest singer-songwriter). The whole thing feels awfully padded as a result, but I suppose it gives parents a few extra minutes to finish watching House of Cards on their laptop before the kids start demanding their attention again. It's a good-hearted and professionally-crafted movie, really, but it's hard to imagine anyone over the age of 10 or 12 finding it engaging.
Isabelle Dances Into the Spotlight (Blu-ray) receives a stellar 1080p/1.78:1 transfer which highlights the film's bright, appealing production design. Like most family-friendly movies, the look of this one is consistently colorful and pleasant. Detail is strong throughout, and depth impresses, too. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track sparkles during the musically-charged sequences, and is consistently robust and clean elsewhere. The only supplement included is a digital copy of the film, which will surely disappoint those hoping to hear some insights on how significant a role the works of Ernst Lubitsch played in the film's creation. As with so many movies along these lines, I'm left with no choice but to trot out a tired old summary: the kids will like it (particularly young girls with an interest in ballet), but parents will be bored. It's exactly what you'd expect it to be.
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