Every little thing Judge Erich Asperschlager does is magic.
"They've got the power!"
Does life feel empty without a new Harry Potter book to look forward to? It would have to for anyone to enjoy the Disney Channel original series Wizards of Waverly Place—a derivative bit of unfunny tween comedy that can't even muster a Saved By The Bell-level of quality. But hey, your kids might like it.
For those unfamiliar with Waverly Place, it follows the adventures of the Russo family. Dad, a former wizard named Jerry (David Deluise, 3rd Rock from the Sun), and his mortal wife, Theresa (Maria Canals-Barrera, Justice League) have two jobs: running a successful delicatessen, and raising their three wizard-in-training children. When their bookish son Justin (David Henrie, How I Met Your Mother), sassy middle daughter Alex (Selena Gomez, Horton Hears a Who), and youngest, Max (Jake T. Austin, Go, Diego! Go!), turn 18, they'll have to compete to see who keeps their powers. For now, it's enough of a struggle keeping them out of all manner of magical mischief.
Wizards of Waverly Place: Wizard School features four of the show's first season episodes—including the two-part story for which the set is named:
• "Wizard School, Part 1"
• "Wizard School, Part 1"
• "Curb Your Dragon"
• "Disenchanted Evening"
Look, if your kids like this show, this isn't a bad disc to pick up for them. Although it does something I hate—releasing TV show episodes piecemeal instead of in full season sets—the just-shy-of-90-minute running time is about on par with any kids' movie. And considering Disney could just as easily have released a DVD with just the two-part "Wizard School" story, getting two additional episodes at least approaches a value proposition.
The title storyline borrows heavily from J.K Rowling's popular series, but it does so with tongue firmly in cheek. Things like the students wearing round black glasses because they match the robes, or the oddly familiar long-bearded headmaster, aren't exactly high satire, but at least they'll earn a knowing smile from a young audience. The best bit of Potter parody comes in the form of the school's top sport, called "Twelve Ball"—a wizarding game played on a circular arrangement of ping pong table halves, with a double-headed paddle used to volley an increasing number of balls, with points scored for things like hitting the "Tattler" (get it?).
As much as the show's basic premise feels like a cash-in on the Harry Potter phenomenon, the basic structure is so classic sitcom the wizarding stuff seems almost incidental. The cast fits into the TGIF family show mode. David Deluise (Dom's son) as the blustering father and Maria Canals-Barrera as the strong-yet-sweet mother keep the "fat husband, hot wife" sitcom formula alive and well. David Henrie's Justin is your typical overachieving bookworm, while Austin's Max gets shortest shrift of the Russo brood (apparently his deal is that he's not particularly smart or good at magic).
As is clear by just looking at the DVD cover, the show really belongs to Serena Gomez's Alex. Trying, perhaps, to recreate the Miley Cyrus/Raven Symone magic, Gomez is front-and-center in each episode. The stories all revolve around some scheme to either get out of doing something she doesn't want to do, or convince her parents to let her do something she does. Pretty standard stuff. And it seems to work. Gomez might not be selling out concert tours, but she's certainly well-known to her target demographic. Her self-confident sass doesn't do much for me (nor does the fact that she seems to take acting cues from Desperate Housewives' Eva Longoria), but I can see where her good looks, nice clothes, and smart mouth makes the girls go gaga.
The full screen video looks equal if not slightly better than TV quality, and while the stereo soundtrack doesn't do much to take advantage of the digital format, I doubt your kids will mind.
The lone extra, "Work It Like A Wizard," is a behind-the-scenes featurette that follows the child stars' off-set activities (Selena goes clothes shopping, Jake skateboards, and David plays guitar).
Wizards of Waverly Place did nothing to charm me, though the laugh track really seemed to like it. Will you dig it? Probably not, but if your kids dig this stuff, you could do worse than Wizard School. The two-part story is kind of fun, and the other two episodes are decent standalone adventures. If you've seen the Disney Channel lately, you know what to expect.
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• "Work It Like A Wizard"
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