Disney's "Prom" reportedly cost $8 million to make and grossed only $10 million in theaters. At the Internet Movie Database fans rated it a paltry 4.2 out of 10, and it fared no better with Rotten Tomatoes critics, who pelted it with a 34 percent "rotten" rating.
All this occurred to me as I watched the film in HD and wondered, What was Disney thinking? Then I remembered. After viewer ratings were off the charts for original Disney Channel movies "High School Musical" and "High School Musical 2," the studio took "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" to the theaters, where a film that cost $11 million to make grossed more than $250 million worldwide.
So why didn't it happen with "Prom"?
Maybe one of the characters has an answer. The jaded Lloyd, a marginalized lad who's awkward around girls, concludes, "Prom's like the Olympics of high school. You wait four years, three people have a good time, and everybody else gets to live on with shattered dreams."
Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) stands in sharp contrast to perky main character Nova (Aimee Teegarden, "Friday Night Lights"), who thinks prom is supposed to be the greatest night of any of their lives, what her friend Mei described as "this forever night." If the target audience of teens and ‘tweens went to the multiplexes expecting that magical a movie, they were setting themselves up for disappointment, because "Prom," though solid as a made-for-TV movie, isn't a "forever" experience. I can't help but think that it would have done far better had Disney unveiled it on their network, instead.
Though mostly a comedy, "Prom" also has melodramatic moments, in part the result of an anthology structure that introduces us to a number of different characters and their individual lives and shuffles them together as the high-stakes game of "Prom" draws closer. Is it formulaic? Yes. Is it predictable? Yes. Is it overly cutesy in spots? Yes, especially when every guy asks his special girl to the prom using the same technique. Thank goodness we have someone like Lloyd who, trying the same printed question but using individual cut-out letters that made his invitation look like a stalker-psycho had written it, provides comic relief—which is necessary because the plot is basically nothing more than girls waiting to be asked, guys planning to ask, and everyone preparing for the big day. Yet, no one was talking about dinner reservations or after-prom. It's all pretty self-contained.
More than anything, though, "Prom" has a John Hughes vibe that reminds us of any number of good girl / bad boy pairings in previous teen films we've seen. For Nova, who's president of just about everything, that bad boy is the long-haired, motorcycle-riding Jesse, played by relative newcomer Thomas McDonell. From the minute the guy she wants to ask her to prom says he's not into the whole prom thing, and can they go as friends, the door creaks wide open for the opposites-attract plot to waltz in.
But every conceivable high-school stereotype is included here. There's the star athlete who's cocky and who "macks" on women and expects to be Prom King (DeVaughn Nixon as Tyler); there's the nice-girl (Danielle Campbell as Simone) who's taken advantage by him when she should be focusing on the nice guy (Nolan Sotillo as Lucas) who has a crush on her; there's the über nerd who's comfortable in his own skin (Joe Adler as Rolo); there's Nova's Asian sidekick (Yin Chang) who's afraid to tell her boyfriend she might be leaving to study at a college far, far away; and there's popular girl Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) who values her social status almost as much as Nova loves the whole idea of prom.
Provided that you don't go into this thinking "Prom" is going to be that forever movie, it's entertaining--if, that is, you're part of the target audience. My nine-year-old daughter enjoyed it enough to want to watch it again the next morning, and my 13-year-old son grudgingly said it was "funny, but not that funny." She rated it 4 stars our of 4, while my son put it in the 2 ½ to 3-star range. That's better than many of the viewers who rated this, but I also suspect it's because neither of them had any idea of what to expect when the disc started to play. They came at it fresh. And what about the parents who watch with the kids? My wife and I both thought "Prom" was comparable to the "HSM" films, but without the singing and dancing. So if Disney missed the bulls-eye this time, they still hit the target (audience).
"Prom" is rated PG for mild language and a brief fight.
Nova would be pleased with the production values. "Prom" looks and sounds great, with an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer turning up no flaws that I could detect. Colors are bold and bright, black levels are inky, there's nice edge delineation, a pleasing 3-dimensionality, and more than a few scenes glisten like a disco ball. I can't imagine anyone having issues with the way this film looks. "Prom" is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 (24 bit), with an English descriptive 2.0 option and additional audio choices in Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are in English SDH, French and Spanish. The audio is bright and crisp, though it stops short of being a dynamic track. Rear effects speakers channel ambient sounds, but they never really jump far from the source. Still, it's a sharp featured audio track.
Aside from the DVD that this combo pack includes there's an all-new "Last Chance Lloyd" short that feels like extended/deleted scenes. Lloyd asks even more girls out, with almost as funny results as in the movie. Good stuff. There's also a blooper reel, more deleted scenes, a "Putting on Prom" making-of featurette that feels like a pre-release promo, and seven music videos, including "Not Your Birthday" (Allstar Weekend), "Your Surrender" (Neon Trees") and "Time Stand" (Moon).
"Prom" is predictable, which puts it in the 6 out of 10 range, but since once again Disney seems to have made a film that appeals to its target audience, it would rate a high 6. And that means I'll round up.