Judge Gordon Sullivan once had Lemonade Elbow.
The musical is one of those genres that simply won't die. Like the Western, the musical has passed its peak (when it seemed like there was a new one every week), but still has a strong appeal to a wide audience. Disney discovered this with their High School Musical franchise that brought the musical to the tween audience. A little more grown up than the sing-along kids films (like The Lion King) but less mature than adult fare (like Les Miserables), the High School Musical films could appeal to tween and young teen audiences, opening up a new demographic for Disney dollars. The result was a bit of a phenomenon, with multiple sequels and all kinds of merchandising tie-ins. Time, however, marches on, and the stars of High School Musical grew up and lost their appeal to their original audience. Disney wouldn't let such a profitable market lie fallow for long, and Lemonade Mouth is their response: another high school-set musical with a positive attitude and lots of jams.
Facts of the Case
Five kids meet in detention, and it just so happens that they each have important secrets and musical talents. They decide to form a band (named, appropriately enough, Lemonade Mouth) to speak out for all the kids who feel marginalized in a high school where the principal (Christopher McDonald, Requiem for a Dream) puts all his focus on the athletes while ignoring all the other students. As a band the quintet will help each other through their problems and teach others to be true to themselves.
Lemonade Mouth is what would happen if Disney remade The Breakfast Club as a musical. All five of the band members are stereotypical outcasts, mostly for obvious reasons. One girl is too smart, another is a self-conscious rebel, etc. Of course they're all wildly talented on their chosen instruments. In addition to their outsider status and musical genius, each of them has a movie-of-the-week family problem lurking in their past. One girl has an overbearing father, another has a father dating a younger woman, etc. Of course their participation in Lemonade Mouth gives them the strength to deal with their problems.
The story wouldn't be complete without a villain, and that is ably provided by Principal Brenigan. He shoves all the non-athletic programs into the basement to make room for his corporation-sponsored athletic programs. He wants all the students (especially the ones in Lemonade Mouth) to submit quietly to his iron-fisted rule of the school. This gives our heroes someone to fight, and provides the film with its wonderful positive message. By rallying all the non-athletic students, Lemonade Mouth teaches kids the value of being themselves in the face of conformity and other social pressures.
Despite its fairly conventional plot (which should guarantee a modicum of success), Lemonade Mouth fails in pretty much every way possible. The plot and "moral" are conventional to the point of absurdity. Not even the voiceover and flashback structure can keep the film from being totally predictable. The band itself produces some of the most bland, tepid music I've ever heard. It's a fairly poppy mix of rock, with just enough electronic/hip-hop elements to make it crossover worthy. Anyone who's listened to Disney radio will be familiar with the style, though these songs are a particularly bad example of it. There's also a rival rap-rock group whose appearance almost prompted me to throw something at the television.
The DVD itself is as tepid as the music. The film itself (presented in an extended version that's elongated from the original TV airing) looks pretty good, with strong colors and a decent level of detail. The music is obviously the highlight of the audio track, and it's mixed very aggressively (so keep the remote handy). The surrounds get a decent amount of use during musical scenes, but most of the film is dialogue driven out of the center channel.
Extras include a "Rock Along" mode that's basically a karaoke version of the film, and an "exclusive scene." The scene is in an interview format and gives the characters a chance to talk about their lives a little bit more. Finally, this release includes a second disc with a digital copy of the film for mobile viewing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The preceding assumes an adult audience. This film seems to work okay for the tween audience. I watched it with an 11 year old who ate up the whole film (and it was far from her first time seeing it). Obviously the younger audience isn't totally familiar with all the other stories Lemonade Mouth is patched together from, so the stereotypical nature of the film likely won't bother them. Similarly, the music isn't so far from what's on the radio these days that youngsters won't find something to appreciate. So, while the film will likely be a dud for parents, I wouldn't rule it out for young teens/tweens who enjoy music.
I said earlier that the film failed in pretty much every way possible. Perhaps the only way in which the film succeeds is in casting. McDonald does an excellent job with the principal (despite his stereotypical character), and even the younger performers do a fine job. They're saddled with clunky dialogue and transparent moral messages and yet they still come off as decent human beings despite the handicap. I'm not sure they'll all grow up to Broadway careers or anything, but for this film they were surprisingly competent.
Lemonade Mouth is obviously not my cup of tea. Parents: This is one to put on for the kids when you don't have to be there with them. Despite the trite story and generic music, there's enough "can-do" attitude in the music and characters to appeal to young kids, but the lack of substantial extras on this DVD make it hard to recommend to anyone outside the film's biggest fans. If a sequel gets made, I'm sure we can count on better extras.
Although it leaves a pucker on my lips, Lemonade Mouth is not guilty.
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