Disney has a knack for turning television shows into profitable movie franchises– Lizzy McGuire, Hannah Montana, and now The Wizards of Waverly Place. Since the formula hasn’t deferred much, it should come as no surprise that its latest show has caught on like wildfire. In the wake of a Harry Potter-crazed nation of tweens, Disney’s latest show follows the Russos—former wizard father Jerry (David DeLuise), non-magical mother Theresea (Maria Canals-Barrera) and their three wizards-in-training. Unlike previous Disney Channel shows, Wizards offers a refreshing cultural spin on the situational comedy with the Italian-Mexican heritage of its starring family.
The show focuses on the three children: Alex, Justin and Max. Alex (Selena Gomez) is a modern day archetypical Disney lead—a fresh-faced girl with an appetite for disobedience and a sharp tongue. She retaliates with rolled eyes and a snarky remark for nearly every parental request. Justin (David Henrie) is the Golden Child—an attractive young man who’s not above ratting out his younger sister to save his own skin. The youngest child, Max, is played by Jake T. Austin, and he essentially provides the comic relief. He’s goofy, annoying as many younger siblings are, and more confident than any pre-teen kid I’ve met lately. None of these characters are seemingly likable, but that hasn’t stopped the show from being one of the most-watched cable programs ever since its premiere on October 12, 2007. So, naturally, a movie was in Wizards’ midst. And what an impression it made. 11.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the August 28 premiere, making it Disney Channel’s second highest rated film.
The movie begins with Alex disobeying her parents’ orders to attend a party in Brooklyn with her best friend, Haper (Jennifer Stone). Following a precarious scene involving a restaurant that somehow managed to fit inside a New York City subway tunnel, Alex’s mischief is uncovered by her parents on the eve on their two-week vacation to Puerto Rico. Ultimately they decide the only way to ensure the children behave themselves is to bring them along. Alex throws a tantrum because she believes spending two weeks with family in a Caribbean beach-front resort is some cruel form of punishment. In a way she’s right. The children are subjected to stories of a blossoming romance between their parents that happened in the very resort they are spending their quality family time in.
Alex has other plans. She wants to run amok and go to island parties with her windsurfing instructor. When Mom decides to pull the plug on her 16-year-old daughter’s fling, things go awry. In the process of performing a spell that will allow her parents to ease their grip for a night, Alex inexplicably wishes her parents had never met. A spell is cast, and Jerry and Theresea have no recollection of their three children, let alone their marriage to each other. The children soon learn that unless they can fix this, they will fade into obscurity within 48 hours. The movie meanders through scene after scene of mediocre teenage wizardry that fail to reverse the spell that has been cast. With the help of street magician Archie (Steve Valentine), his girlfriend turned parrot Giselle, and a Spanish treasure map, Alex and Justin embark on a jungle trek to find the all-powerful Stone of Dreams (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone anyone?). Your typical jungle gags ensue: walking into spider webs, sinking into quicksand, and a magical twist on the old crumbling bridge bit.
After the siblings survive a perilous excursion through a cave, the stone is uncovered, only to be snatched up by the parrot, Giselle. In a last ditch effort to reverse the spell, Alex and Justin compete in a “Wizard Competition” for the title of “Full Wizard”—the wizard who holds the most power within a magical family. With that power, the Full Wizard could possibly save their doomed family. One of them is victorious, and in true Disney fashion, the main character must choose to revel in their triumph or give up their power and put family first. You can guess what happens next.
The Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie is presented in Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. There are some decent black levels in scenes involving a dimly lit cave, but the most impressive detail of the video is the color. This film was tailor made for teenage girls with its brightly lit sets, eye-popping costumes, and gorgeous Caribbean scenery. If for nothing else, this movie serves as an alluring travel advertisement for Puerto Rico.
A very crisp, active soundtrack makes full use of the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound right from the opening credits. The music starts off with the type of pop-rock you’d currently find on Radio Disney, but switches to more percussive instrumentation with an island flare. The dialog is front and center for the most part, but can be a bit difficult to hear among all the ambient beach and jungle sounds. The disc features French and Spanish language tracks, as well as subtitles in English, French and Spanish.
Wiz Pix: (10:26) The only true special feature on the disc, despite the cover touting it as an “Extended Addition.” This featurette follows the film’s crew and cast members as they share “personal photos” from the set and anecdotes about filming on location in Puerto Rico.
There’s a “Wishing Stone Keychain” which reminds one of the old mood ring stones. You are intended to wish for things depending on the color of the stone at that time.
I’ve never seen an episode of Wizards, but I can imagine its formula works better in a 20 minute setting than a 98-minute movie. The paltry special features provide little incentive to buy a movie that will most likely be broadcast on Disney Channel again in the near future. After the first half of the movie crawls by, you really don’t care what happens to a bratty 16-year-old girl and her dorky brothers. But your children will most likely wish you never existed and insist you are ruining their life if you pass on this.