Judge Christopher Kulik once nabbed his girlfriend's father while wearing a chicken suit. The trial is still pending.
Being a critic has its risks. Believe me, it can be a dangerous job but somebody's gotta do it. Case in point: I dreaded the prospect of reviewing not just one but two movies made for the Disney Channel. I knew they would reek of made-for TV fluff, yet I took the plunge and found them both surprisingly fun. Sure, they have preposterous plots, a lot of young pretty faces, and an alarmingly high number of contrivances. The target audience couldn't care less about these flaws, so I'm actually took their position for once. I laughed, even if some of the dialogue was banal. I liked the characters, even if they were created with all the subtleties of a loud music video. I even got involved in the stories, which were uncomplicated but nonetheless enjoyable.
Don't worry, I plan on getting some therapy after this review…
The lamely-titled Hatching Pete tells the story of a shy kid who becomes a local celebrity. Trouble is, nobody knows who he actually is. Pete Ivey (Jason Dolley, Cory in The House) is a quiet kid, usually roaming the halls of Brewster High with his one and only buddy Cleatis Poole (Mitchel Musso, Monster House). Cleatis is known as the Chicken mascot for the school's basketball team, the Roosters. Lately, however, he's developed a rather serious allergy to the costume (contrivance #1). Pete's more than willing to help a friend in need by donning the costume, but on one condition: Cleatis is faced with hooking Pete up with his hot cheerleader Jamie, whose boyfriend is the star player of the team!
At first, Pete doesn't take to the job like a bird to water. He's embarrassed, even if he isn't seen. Soon enough, however, his jolly antics, dance moves, and high jumps (he did gymnastics when he was younger, contrivance #2) make him a virtual crowd-pleaser. He gets so popular, in fact, that people show up just to see the Chicken do his thing, even when the basketball team can't win a single game. There's just one problem—and this is a real shocker—Cleatis is taking all the credit for Pete's performances! This threatens to put a serious stain in their friendship, especially when new girl Nicole (Josie Lopez, 17 Again) develops a serious crush on our protagonist.
Amusing without being stupid, charming without being cynical, Hatching Pete is, for the most part, fine family fodder which sells itself well. All of the kids play their parts with gusto, and director Stuart Gillard (Wargames: The Dead Code) refuses to make them annoying stereotypes. Best of all, the storyline is actually not as predictable as you'd think. I thought for sure Pete's hijinx as the Chicken would instantly make the losing basketball team winners, but it doesn't take that easy route (at least, not until the end).
Plus, much of the court action is quite funny, especially when Pete humiliates and mocks his own team! My only big problem with Hatching Pete (aside from the inane title) is the expected musical montage—the only point in which throw-up junior was bubbling up inside me. In addition, the climactic basketball game could have been a bit less obvious; it makes the one in Teen Wolf tear-inducing by comparison. In the end, there is still 80 minutes of undemanding, congenial fun here for kids and their patient parents.
While Dadnapped is a small step below Hatching Pete, it still emerges as a worthy companion piece. Emily Osment (Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams) is endearing as Melissa Morris, a hip high-schooler whose life seems to be constantly reminded of the fact her father is a best-selling writer. All of his books revolve around a hunky superhero-of-sorts named Tripp Zoome, who has also become an imaginary nuisance to Melissa. Hoping to spend some time with her busy dad Neal (George Newbern, Justice League), they decide to take a week vacation together.
However, Emily's hopes are tarnished when Neal insists on attending another Zoome fan meet, only this time he has a contest rigged in which he will choose the cleverest contestant as a character in his next book. Irritated but patient, Melissa decides to wait until he's done. Unbeknownst to her, Neal ends up "dadnapped" by not one but two separate teams, each of whom has their own agenda. One team is made up of three kids, while the other is made up three adults. Naturally, the latter's demands are a bit more time-consuming and elaborate: making Neal re-write his next novel with some specific requirements. Melissa is able to track down her Dad, but soon becomes a hostage herself.
Taking an initial left turn towards the obnoxious, Dadnapped does take some time before the actual plot kicks in. Once it does, however, it's becomes an involving ride with some very funny slapstick and one-liners. Osment is terrific, exhibiting real teen frustration with her father, who's more juvenile than he should be. The estranged father-daughter relationship can be seen a mile away, though it does solve itself in a most satisfying manner. Still, Dadnapped insists on surrendering itself to Double Dare-type slime attacks, undermining an otherwise worthwhile adventure. Hannah Montana alum Osment is the real reason to watch, and I'm glad she didn't degenerate into a Nancy Drew parody. Like Hatching Pete, this film manages to overcome the temptation to include toilet humor, no matter how mild it might be. All in all, a solid and inoffensive double bill.
Disney's treatment of these films on DVD is better than expected. Both films are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and each is as colorful and clean as could be. The 2.0 stereo tracks are also free of anomalies, with optional Spanish subtitles being offered. What really sets this double feature apart from others is the inclusion of some interesting (and mature) bonus features. Hatching Pete includes an 11-minute featurette "Unmasking the Mascot," in which Dolley and Musso talk about making the film. Dolley is quite frank about wearing the costume, which wasn't always a pleasant experience. Dadnapped is given a little more attention on the bonus front, with a two-minute extended ending and an animated graphic novel, "Tripp Zoome: Off The Rails." I hardly expected such a deluxe package from Disney, but this one gets thumbs-up from me.
Both films are found not guilty, and Disney is free to go for offering a
solid DVD at a reasonable price.
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• Extended Ending
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