Even if you don't have a little girl or a 'tween who has a crush or wants to be like her, you have to know who Hannah Montana is. After all, when the "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus Best of Both Worlds Concert" opened across the country, shows sold out within a half hour, and parents were exhibiting all sorts of crazy behavior just to try to snag tickets--something we really haven't seen since the Beanie Baby and Cabbage Patch Doll madness. Tickets were reportedly going for as much as a thousand dollars, and radio stations held all sorts of promotions to basically see just how far parents were willing to go in order to please their little Disney princesses. And if you couldn't get a ticket, well, you could stand in line again when the film version of the concert opened over Super Bowl weekend and set a new record by pulling in $29 million.
She's a phenomenon, really, and when you listen to Miley Cyrus sing or talk behind the scenes and realize how much it echoes the Jonas Brothers, who opened for her on this arena tour, you begin to understand that this is all part of the grand Disney princess philosophy. Miley talks about how grateful she is to Disney and fans for "allowing me to live my dream," while the Jonas Brothers are always talking about "livin' the dream." But in so doing, and emphasizing in their music and their appearances what a fine line separates them from their audiences, they're also selling the dream, in a way. They're rock princesses and princes, and boy, are the commoners adoring.
"Hannah Montana" is really a well-done television show, and so I had high hopes for this concert as well. Cyrus's dad, Billy Ray ("Achy Breaky Heart") seems like a down-to-earth guy and the whole family seems pretty well grounded. The TV show didn't feature overprocessed or dubbed singing, and so I was hoping the same would hold true here. And amazingly, it does. What we see is Miley, without too much make-up and singing her own songs, not just lip-synching. After some particularly athletic strutting, jumping, or dancing she's as out-of-breath as anyone, and takes a few shortcuts on the songs to make allowances. Yet, her voice doesn't falter. She's got that Tennessee twang, but she's proud of it, and the songs in this concert stay well within her natural range, affording her a comfort zone that really goes hand-in-hand with her down-home personality.
The stage is massive, with a runway that goes into the crowd and two ramps that go up toward the back of the stage on the left and right, and a giant monitor in the middle. Surprisingly, Cyrus's band is considerably older than she, including background singers Candice Accola and Kay Hanley, but maybe that's part of the Cyrus family plan for keeping her grounded and out of trouble. Stacy Jones handles drums and acts as musical director, Jamie Arentzen and Jaco Caraco do a nice job of playing a lively guitar that complements rather than competes with their star's singing and choreography, Mike Schmid is on keyboards, and former Billy Ray Cyrus bassist Vashon Johnson completes the band. Three arenas are thanked in the credits: Energy Solutions Arena, Scot Trade Center, and the Honda Center.
But make no mistake about it: the audience for this concert is 'tweens and younger. Parents will find it's not so bad to watch it with their kids, but it's not designed for them. Still, if you consider that pop icons are role models, there are far worse ones to have than Miley Cyrus. This is a tame and squeaky clean concert that still manages to be frenetic and fun. Kenny Ortega ("High School Musical") had the idea for this concert and did the choreography, and unlike the Vanity Fair spread, everything here is done in good taste. There's nothing your eight-year-old aspiring rock-star couldn't see or try herself.
Even as far as the glitz goes, it's kept pretty basic. Yes, there are a few pyrotechnics, but nothing like we often see in major arena concerts, and there's no attempt on Cyrus's part to vamp it up. After all, Mom and Dad are in the audience. Half of the songs she performs with her Hannah Montana blond wig, while the rest are with her natural, long curly hair. Curiously, there's no persona split and no recognition of the two "characters." It's as if the Hannah look were just part of the costume changes.
Though the Jonas Brothers opened for her, they appear on this film in the middle, brought onstage to do one song with Miley ("We Got the Party") and then taking over while she grabs some air backstage, doing "When You Look Me in the Eyes" and "Year 3000" with their own band. The rest is all Hannah/Miley onstage, intercut with behind-the-scenes footage that shows here interacting with family, the Jonas Brothers, and the extraordinarily large number of crew members backstage that help to put on a major show like this. There are a few nice moments, where we see Miley freaking out over a moment when guys almost drop her and she wants to abandon the routine, while her mother stands firm and says it's not going to happen again, trust your dancers, Ortega has made the necessary adjustments so their hands are on you at all times. Or we see her snapping photos of herself and various cast, just like any young girl might have done if they had gotten to wander those backstage corridors. We also see Ortega teaching her a microphone trick, and later, when Joe Jonas does the same trick she turns to Kenny and says, "You taught him that trick????" We see her father talking about how he likes her music because it's "real," with the example being a song she wrote about her grandfather who passed away, a song she performs in the concert. But perhaps the best clip shows fathers decked out in high heels and competing in a race to win four tickets to the concert. That could have been a bonus feature all by itself.
As far as the song list goes, there's not really a stinker among them, and that includes the choreography as well as the musical performance. Here's a rundown on the songs, some of which appear in clips rather than onstage:
"We Got the Party"
"Pumpin' up the Party"
"I Got Nerve"
"Let's Dance" (Miley co-wrote this one)
"Ready, Set, Don't Go" (Billy Ray's song about his daughter)
"Life's What You Make It"
"Just Like You"
"Old Blue Jeans"
"Best of Both Worlds"
"We Got the Party" (with the Jonas Brothers)
"When You Look Me in the Eyes" (Jonas Brothers only)
"Year 3000" (Jonas Brothers only)
"Start All Over"
"See You Again" (Miley co-wrote)
"Right Here" (Miley co-wrote)
"I Miss You" (Miley co-wrote)
"Girls Night Out"
"If I Were a Movie"
In one of the songs Cyrus pays a kind of mild tribute to Madonna, where she dances with people dressed in Spanish attire. But that down-home look holds true here too, with Cyrus eschewing the high heels other dancers wear for the number and sporting athletic shoes. She does, after all, need them in a concert like this. In perhaps the most fun number, she and the backup singers and female dancers come out in Fifties'-style jackets and knee socks and skirts, looking a bit like roller derby queens, as they belt out "Girls Night Out." But all of the songs will have young viewers up and dancing along. It's a solid concert, and a solidly edited production that does a nice job of incorporating behind-the-scenes footage so that it comes at a time when Cyrus would be taking a natural breather and her band would maybe do a song without her. It all feels pretty organic, rather than an interruptive blend of documentary footage and concert tape. For that, credit director Bruce Hendricks. Nice job.
Like most 3-D releases, there's a 2-D option for casual viewing. Both the concert footage and behind-the-scenes clips that are interspersed throughout were shot with a Hi-Def digital camera, and both versions of the film look very, very good in 1080p (AVC/MPEG-4 codec). Presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film fills out the entire screen of a 16x9 television. Colors are so bright and fully saturated that they jump out, even in 2-D. Black levels are also strong, and skin tones are extremely natural, which isn't always easy to accomplish with concert lighting. It's not a perfect picture, though. The heaviest of the compression artifacts are a few squiggles, but there's also a little noise in the background of the behind the scenes stuff, with none of the behind-the-scenes clips approaching the quality of the concert footage.
As for the 3-D, the unfortunate thing is that only the concert sequences are in 3-D, which means that the standard scenes look a little weird with those traditional red-and-blue cardboard glasses (four pair of which are provided here, designed for small heads). Since this is Disney, I'll compare it to the 3-D shows at the Disney theme parks. Unlike those films, which extend the illusion of objects going into the audience so that they appear to almost touch you, the illusional extension here is roughly six feet from the TV set, and that occurs when drumsticks, a guitar pick, and confetti appear to be launched in the direction of the crowd. When Hannah/Miley struts her stuff on the runway, those runway shots appear as a roughly four-foot extension from the set. The rest of the concert 3-D effects add an illusion of depth within the television itself, adding about a two-foot depth and creating a diorama effect. Again, this looks fine (kids will say "awesome") when the concert footage is airing, but when the backstage clips come on, either you suffer with inferior picture quality or you take those glasses off. And while the Disney theme park 3-D experiences are full-color 3-D, this film incorporates the old red-and-blue color process that's been around since those early horror films.
My guess is that Hannah Montana fans will watch the concert once in 3-D and again with friends, but for everyday repeat viewing, the 2-D version is more consistently superior.
The featured audio is a DTS-HD Lossless Master 7.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit), the first time I've seen this option in a Disney release. And I have to say that while I'm not a big fan of screaming girls, I had fun watching this next to my daughter with the sound cranked up. The mix really distributes sounds naturally throughout the 7.1 channels without taking anything away from the concert feeling. This audio option does a fantastic job of replicating the way sound flows from the main speakers and stage directly to the audience and then bounces around the arena (or, in this case, your TV room). It's a high-energy concert, and this is a high-energy, dynamic soundtrack. The other options (a PCM uncompressed 2.0 (again, 48kHz/16-bit) is also dynamic, but it doesn't do as complete a job of distributing the ambient concert sounds. Additional options are Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0, with subtitles in English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. The concert has a nice overall timbre that seems calibrated to fit Cyrus's natural vocal range, which means that treble is bright and a little dominant, while the bass is used mostly to drive the beat rather than fill the room with rumbling sound.
For a big release, the bonus features are a bit skimpy. An "Ultimate Personal Tour" is just an abbreviated day-in-the-life of Miley Cyrus that runs only 11 minutes. But the target audience will enjoy seeing what goes on backstage. Costume change? Quick as an Indy pit-crew, with Cyrus just standing there, arms out, while mom and three others rip off one outfit and put on another and all the hair and accessories, all under a minute's time. The Jonas Brothers talk about how this is their first arena tour, and it's also interesting to see how Kenny Ortega (of "High School Musical" fame, who choreographed this concert) insisted that Miley be scooted in a wheelchair under the concert stage to an elevator that takes her onstage. And if you're wondering about the Cyrus siblings, one of them (Brandi) talks briefly about how the whole Cyrus clan attends each concert and has a prayer-circle/pop-off before she goes onstage. It's all quite wholesome.
But I have to say that for a concert tour that caused such a sensation, with parents bidding thousands of dollars for tickets and men running races in high heels to try to win tickets for their daughters, there could have at least been an extended feature on the whole phenomenon of the Best of Both Worlds Concert.
Aside from that short tour, the only other bonus features are two bonus songs ("S.O.S." performed by Jonas Brothers, and "Good and Broken" performed by Cyrus) and a sing-along option that puts the lyrics onscreen for the film. Six trailers are also included, but I have to say that nothing annoys me more than to have to keep hitting the "next" button to skip those, because it takes SO MUCH LONGER on a Blu-ray. Come on, Disney, lighten up on your buying public. Activate that menu button for a quick by-pass!
Miley Cyrus is a talented young woman, and this concert is a high-energy platform for her and her alter-ego, Hanna Montana, to strut their stuff. "Tweens and younger will like this concert as much as the other Disney musicals. And parents will appreciate that Cyrus is a good role model. There's nothing here that a five year old couldn't watch. And yet, the target age group will think it's a rockin' good time.