Like most people my age and older, it took me forever to understand the whole concept behind Hannah Montana. There are so many implausible things about an average girl living a secret life as a pop star-- why wouldn't anyone recognize her? how does she stay in school?--that it seemed like one of those ludicrous concepts cooked up exclusively for kids, like Jem and the Rockers or Dino the Last Dinosaur.
But at this point Hannah Montana and her alter-ego, the real Miley Cyrus, have made an undeniable cultural impact, and seeing Hannah Montana: The Movie, I kind of figured out why. The movie is too long, cartoony, and every plot point is painfully obvious, but it's also the most sugarcoated, simple fun a movie ticket can buy. Little girls already enamored with Hannah will be enthralled, obviously, but parents and babysitters who remember the adolescent traumas of first love and figuring out who you really are may enjoy themselves as well. I'm almost embarrassed at how entertained I was.
The movie, which really would have played just as well on television, expands on the usual story of Miley the Normal Girl and Hannah the Star by briefly retiring Hannah, when Miley is forced by her dad (Billy Ray Cyrus) to spend two weeks at her grandmother's farm in Tennessee and remember the values of real life. Separated from Hannah's blond wig, designer clothes and screaming fans, Miley reconnects with grandma (Margo Martindale), flirts with hunky farmhand Travis (Lucas Till), and evades persistent paparazzo Oswald (Peter Gunn), who is dead-set on revealing ugly secrets about Hannah.
Of course, just when Miley is settled into the country life, Hannah has to come back and put on a charity concert to save the town, and Miley faces the same old conflicts about having the best of both worlds. Thrown into the mix are plenty of expected pratfalls, montages set to earnest pop tunes, and musical numbers, only a few of them in the bouncy, flashy Hannah style. Hannah Montana: The Movie would have been amazing as a full-fledged musical, actually, but all we get by way of dancing is a few brief moments with Hannah onstage and a goofy line-dancing scene.
Whether it's because of some innate talent or a life spent in the spotlight, Miley Cyrus is a genuine star, and carries the movie with her G-rated energy and approachable charm. There's plenty of overacting going on here, especially from pop Billy Ray and sidekick Emily Osment, but the movie mostly takes place in a believable rural world, even if Rascal Flatts plays tunes on the front porch and Taylor Swift shows up at a hoedown. Vanessa Williams and Melora Hardin are fun in tiny parts, and in a brief cameo Tyra Banks is the ham fans of America's Next Top Model know well.
Miley Cyrus is growing up fast, along with her diehard fans, and in many ways seems ready to leave behind the cartoony world of Hannah Montana. She spends the movie vacillating between goofy girl and self-possessed young lady, and other girls going through the same transition will hopefully feel a pang of recognition. This may be the worst movie Cyrus ever makes-- she's already bested it with last year's Bolt-- but it's not a half-bad expansion of the Hannah Montana juggernaut.