Note: In the following joint review, Jim Plath wrote up the first film review, plus the video, audio, extras, and closing comments, and John Puccio wrote the second film review.
The Film According to Jim:
Disney has always had their finger on the pulse of young viewers. From the original "Mickey Mouse Club" to live-action movies, the House of Mouse has consistently put out products that have appealed to their bread-and-butter audience. Families? Hah! Disney is all about the kids and teenagers, and in recent years the studio has shown that it's as hip to the current zit-generation as ever.
"High School Musical" was a mega-hit, but "Jump In!" pulled in even more viewers for its Disney Channel premiere-8.2 million, which was also more than the much-anticipated "Cheetah Girls 2" drew. Who would have thought that a film about Double Dutch jump-rope competition would have such appeal?
The folks at Disney, obviously. Made-for-TV live-action films aimed at young viewers have been a staple for the studio, and though the genre fell upon tough (translation, dull and stale) times in the '80s and '90s, Disney has bounced back in recent years with one success after another.
It all starts with talent, and the casting corps at Disney has really managed to snag a gifted bunch of teens. Corbin Bleu ("High School Musical") is as likable a young star as there is, the kind of kid you'd want for a best friend . . . or a son, if you're a parent who happens to be watching. With his tawny brown Afro and perpetual smile, Bleu has strikingly good looks, an agile athleticism that kept his stunt double on the sidelines much of the time, and (requisite for Disney teen stars, these days) a good singing voice to boot. He seems tailor-made for the role of Izzy Daniels, a boy torn between his father's love of boxing and his own developing love of Double Dutch.
The other young actors are no slouches either. Keke Palmer is warm and appealing as Mary, the girl who lives in an upstairs flat in the same brownstone as Daniels. In fact, as they crawl out on the fire escape to talk morning and night, it's hard not to have flashbacks to "West Side Story"--though there's nothing West Side about this story. It's a "Cosby Show" world that these kids live in: cheery, Sesame St. neighborhood where everyone smiles and gets along, the buildings are colorfully painted and with no graffiti, and there's no thumping loud music polluting the streets. It's upscale, and polite as can be.
Mr. Daniels (played by Bleu's real-life father, David Reivers) is a recent widower who is trying to maintain the routines his wife kept-though he's not much of a cook, and he can't braid the hair of Izzy's little sister, Karin (Kylee Russell), to save his life. Mr. Daniels owns Daniels Boxing Gym and trains his son and other young fighters, hoping that his offspring will become the third generation to win a Golden Gloves title. At first we think it's Izzy's dream too, but as time passes we see that he doesn't even have the fire to match the lone "girl boxer" (Rebecca Williams).
"Jump In!" follows the formula for films like this almost religiously, but the cast is so likable, the music so thumpin', and the Double Dutch sequences so energetic and amazing to watch that it's hard not to respond to this film. It's almost as good as "High School Musical," and with the same torn-between-two-worlds dilemma for the young male lead. In HSM it was basketball (which Dad coached) vs. singing in a musical (which he began doing because of a girl he liked, and which he quickly grew to love on its own). Here it's the same thing, only with boxing and Double Dutch. It's another film about being true to yourself and also discovering what's important to you. But you also have to give Disney credit for throwing out the theme that a girl can succeed in the male-dominated sport of boxing if she really wants to, just as a boy can participate in a sport that's normally thought of as a girl's game. After all, these are the folks that are indoctrinating little girls into the mindset of wanting to become princesses. Let's give credit where credit is due.
Now, for the criticisms. There's a bully in this one (Patrick Johnson, Jr.) who fights Izzy in and out of the ring, but we're never really on the edge of our seats. Why? Because it's clear from the get-go that Izzy has enough skills to protect himself. And Dad is such a sweet guy that there's really no need for Izzy to keep his Double Dutch life secret. That means that the adversarial tension and stumbling blocks aren't all that great--one reason why the narrative feels so tonally mellow. There's a voiceover narration that's told from a participant's point of view, though we really don't see who the narrator is until the very end of the movie. It's not the trick I mind so much as the quality of voiceover, which sounds more like a DVD commentary dubbed over the track rather than a voice folded into the mix. The comic relief in "Jump In!" also isn't as strong as "High School Musical," with two of Izzy's sidekicks not really given anything really funny to work with. It's the girls on the Joy Jumpers (whom Izzy renames The Hot Chili Steppers) that provide most of the chuckles with their banter and attitude, and Laivan Greene and Shanica Knowles have a good deadpan sense of comedy. As for the dialogue, mostly it's believable, but a few really corny lines pop in every now and then, like "I just wanna be your chamption." Gag.
As the New York City Double Dutch competition looms, it's like that big night in "High School Musical" all over again, which finds the hero playing basketball AND earning a spot in the musical the same evening. Only Izzy has to make a choice.
The cinematography (shot mostly in Toronto) really captures the energy of the Double Dutch teams and also what seems to be an idyllic community. There are really just two moments where we're so super-conscious of the camera that it draws unnecessary attention to the process of filming. In one, during a moment of character indecision, the camera spins two complete 360-degree circles around Izzy and the girls. It's enough to make you dizzy! In the other, director Paul Hoen jumps in and out at the end, essentially giving us the same information twice, and in a "huh?" sort of way.
"Jump In!" is a formula-driven and music-driven film that succeeds, though, because it's done well, and because Bleu and the other young actors make us care about them. Songs are by Bleu, Palmer, Prime J, Drew Seeley, T-Squad, Sebastian Megu, Kyle, Jordan Pruitt, and N.L.T., and the film is rated "TV-G."
The Film According to John:
That's right. As Jim says, this is a film about jump roping.
I figure Disney executives looked at all the uplifting, inspirational sports stories that they and others have trotted out over the years and thought: Football, basketball, baseball, boxing, soccer, golf, gymnastics, pool, horse racing, swimming, bicycling, cheerleading, card playing, breakdancing, line drumming, spelling bees? All been done. Say, how about competitive jump roping?
It's movies like "Jump In!" that make me appreciate "Dodgeball" all the more.
In any case, the film must have appealed to somebody because as a 2007 Disney Channel special it was one of their biggest hits in years, now making its DVD première. To the good, it's hard to deny that despite its using the same well-worn formula as every other rags-to-riches story, TV director Paul Hoen ("Beyond the Break," "South of Nowhere") handles its banalities with high energy, and star Corbin Bleu ("High School Musical," "Catch That Kid") tackles his hackneyed role with a load of charisma and charm.
Also to the good, there's something comforting about Disney movies like this one. They never change. The world is always sweet and wholesome. Even the bully in "Jump In!" turns out not really to be mean or cruel but simply misunderstood. I mean, the movie is set in an enchanted kingdom called Brooklyn, NY, where all the neighborhoods and schools are perfectly integrated, where everybody is beautiful and wears bright, pastel, color-coordinated clothing, and where everybody loves each other, including the bully, eventually. It's a place where teenagers don't smoke or drink or swear or use drugs, and their knowledge of sex is restricted to the occasional light, quick kiss. Yes, it's "Spin and Marty" country, where all the dads are Fred MacMurray, and all the moms are Donna Reed.
One can hardly complain about so decent and moral an environment or such decent characters as the ones pictured. It's the kind of world in which all parents would like to raise their children and in which they'd like their children to believe. Fair enough; kids will discover the true nature of society all too soon.
No, it's not that the attitude of Disney movies has never changed over the years; it's that Disney movies of late have been so trite in terms of plot and characters. We've seen every person in "Jump In!" before, and we can predict the outcome of every action before it ever happens. There is nothing original to the movie, nothing to compel anyone over the age of ten or twelve to want to watch it. Which, perhaps, is the point, because for the audience of children the movie is intended, none of the clichés are clichés, none of the stereotypes are stereotypes. For them, the film may be fresh and new.
Still, it might be a long haul for adults. Especially when you consider that about half of the film's eighty-five minutes is given over to jump roping and music. I tell you, a little jump roping goes a long ways, and the music is mostly loud and repetitive. The thing is, the best children's films have always been entertaining for adults, too. Disney proved this early on with its first feature-length live-action movie, "Treasure Island" (1950); and there is more action, more menace, and more conflict in two minutes of "Snow White" or "Pinocchio" than in all of "Jump In!"
It often makes me wonder who the audience is for films like this. The movie stars young people who are supposed to be in their mid-to-late teens, so presumably that would be the age group the film would attract. Except that most of the older teens I know wouldn't be caught dead watching the Disney Channel. I rather suspect the movie's audience is more in their preteens, youngsters who can't wait to be teenagers themselves and do the things they see teenagers in movies do. But then they become teenagers, and their priorities change.
Be that as it may, "Jump In!" will do no one any harm. Sure, it's saccharine and banal and imitative of every other inspirational sports story you've ever seen, but it's got its heart in the right place. The movie is sort of like the old "Cosby Show," which is good, but without the laughs, which isn't.
OK, I don't want the Disney folks to say I didn't try to help them out, so here it is: I don't know if they've considered tiddlywinks as a movie subject. Now, now, don't laugh. According to Wikipedia, "Contrary to popular belief, the modern game is a serious one. Much like snooker, croquet, and curling, not only is physical skill required for wink placement, there is considerable strategy involved in preventing the opponent from making his best move. The rules of the game are dictated by the English Tiddlywinks Association." If they could get John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin to star as teenagers and Terry Gilliam to direct, I would be right there in the front row to enjoy it. 5/10
Surprisingly, "Jump In!" apparently wasn't filmed in widescreen, because it's presented here in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The digitally remastered picture looks very good, with bright colors and strong contrast levels and clarity, even with the final competition stage lighting and near-total darkness.
The audio is also strong, as we'd hope with a music-driven film, with English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround pumping up the volume. There's not much in the way of rear-speaker action unless there's music playing--not as much street noise, for example, as you'd expect--but the bass is strong and the treble bright and clear.
This "Freestyle Edition" doesn't really offer all that much in the way of bonus features. There are two music videos ("Jumpin'" and "Vertical") and two featurettes, both of them apparently Disney Channel promo teasers. In "Learning the Moves," Bleu introduces us to Chris Emerson, his Double Dutch instructor. Joined by two girls from his movie team, he demonstrates while Emerson gives basic tips on "turning" the rope, jumping in, jumping out, and advanced moves like the push-up, donkey kick, and straddle entrance. In a second short making-of feature, we hear from choreographer Troy Liddell about the hip-hop moves that he tried to incorporate into the kids' routines, and learn how the young actors trained for three weeks in L.A. and then four to six more in Canada. They really worked hard, and it shows.
Disney has been trying for years to mediate between wholesome and hip. I'm no expert on either, but it seems they're getting close.