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  Hannah Montana The Movie

Starring: Miley Cyrus, Billy Ray Cyrus, Emily Osment, Jason Earles

Directed by: Peter Chelsom

Produced by: Billy Ray Cyrus, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar

Written by: Daniel Berendsen

Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures

     Last January, I was taken by a fellow film buff’s assertion that Revolutionary Road was “Palinesque” in that, he claimed, it extolled the Vice Presidential has-been’s frequent campaign-trail implication that a rural American life was purer and more valid than one of the suburbs. While I objected fiercely to the derogatory comparison—Sam Mendes’ movie struck me as more about real people in the suburbs than about the ‘burbs themselves—I saw truth in the idea that “rural revolt” was a dangerous emerging sociopolitical current that could rear its head in art.

     That said, the last place I would’ve expected this head-rearing to take place was Hannah Montana The Movie, the fiction feature showcase for Disney’s millions-making bubblegum-pop star Miley Cyrus. (I’m required to say “fiction feature” to distinguish this endeavor from a “concert film,” which Miley and Hannah already tackled last year, and in record-grossing 3-D no less.)

     Sure enough, there the Us-vs.-Them theme was in the film, which forces Miley to take off the signature blonde wig she wears playing famous alter-ego Hannah, as part of father Robbie Ray’s (Billy Ray Cyrus) attempt to get her to forget about her star-status and reconnect with her down-home Tennessee roots. After quickly learning the value of so-called “real America” via childhood-crush-turned-hot-guy (Jason Earles) and multiple montage sequences of greenery and horses, Miley decides to take down a terrible corporation that seeks only to destroy small-town charm by building a big, useless mall in her backyard. She’ll do this by staging a massive fundraiser and appearing incognito as Hannah to reel in a big crowd. Needless to say, thousands show up for the performance during the film’s finale, which begs the question: if the whole town was against the mall from the get-go, wouldn’t the hostile marketplace have sent the corporation packing well before any ‘tween sensation got involved?

      What’s so “dangerous” about the movie’s embrace of the idea that rural America is the real America, especially given that it’s packaged in a seemingly harmless Disney product, you ask? I would argue that Hannah Montana The Movie is all the more harmful because it is a family film, one of the social staples of American life in all regions. If popular art fosters a cultural clash between geographical groups, especially amongst youths—research tells us kids are absolutely affected by this type of thing—that isn’t good for the future of conservatism and, in turn, the perpetuation of family values. While this sense of tension has long existed between coastal elites and rural ranchers, rarely has it proven destructive because the two groups are seldom unified in the same struggle, as is the case in preserving the family. In other words, Miley’s cornball-on-the-surface movie is actually saying that Middle America doesn’t look like other parts of the country and, because of this, people from those other parts should either be changed or feared. Miley quickly realizes she doesn’t want to be Hannah anymore because the wig-touting pop-star represents all that is wrong with American culture, just like the mall developer trying to turn her town into its coastal conservative counterpart, Orange County. Way to maintain the traction and unity of a wholesome movement made up of your biggest fans, Disney.

     Defenders of the film may argue that its conclusion ultimately promotes a message of compassion and tolerance, but I’d argue, without giving away too much, that said conclusion arose out of necessity because it was the only way the writers could keep the lucrative Hannah persona alive. Then again, the idea that they really did seek audience appeasement at the end so as not to offend anyone is more believable than the movie’s laughable foundational lie: that it’s an autobiography of sorts and Cyrus really isn’t just another product of Hollywood. Even though she was born in Tennessee, I’d be willing to bet the girl is far less in-tune with Red State values than the hardworking suburbanites that Hannah Montana The Movie undermines.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 5.22.2009

Screened on: 5.5.2009 at the Regal Escondido 16 in Escondido CA.


Hannah Montana The Movie is rated G and runs 102 minutes.

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