03 April 2016


Twelve Things about Hannah Montana: The Movie

12. Well, it's easy to see why Miley Cyrus used to be such a huge child star. I found her annoying when Hannah Montana was at its peak, but seven years later, I can be fairer. Gosh, she was cute! And very, very talented.

11. Notwithstanding my initial reaction to it, the Hannah Montana concept also made for the right show at the right time. While girls have been dreaming about being big stars since at least Mary Pickford's heyday, there were always clear lines between their fantasy lives and cold, hard reality. That hasn't been the case since the Hannah Montana target audience entered its tweens. This is the first generation of girls to lead double lives comparable to that of their idol, thanks to media: their real lives and their projected lives on social media accounts.

And let's remember now that before they had their own social media accounts, they guest starred on those of their parents. Likewise, Miley--the real Miley--could never have achieved her stardom without her famous father Billy Ray.

10. It seems that every modern children's movie must have the obligatory klutzy father slapstick comedy sequence. It's not a trend I like very much, but I can't get upset about it here. For we have since learned that "Robby Ray's" gratuitous playing of the clown in this scene . . .

. . . was a pitch-perfect reflection of Billy Ray's real-life clowning around as a father.

Seriously, he was there with Miley every step of the way. We have video evidence, for crying out loud. How can he blame Hannah Montana for "destroying [his] family"???

9. Speaking of families, one question my Shakespeare course from uni got me in the habit of asking is: "Who is the missing family member?" Here, it is Robby Ray's wife and Miley's mother Susan . . . and in her place is Miley's ambitious publicist Vita. I could write a whole post on this trio's "family dynamics"!

You see, the catch is that, in storytelling, there is no missing family member. At least not from among the essential three of father, mother and child. And so Vita looks less like an outsider than a proper member of the family: a proud stage mother who will do anything to push her daughter's career forward and who brushes off her husband's misgivings at the changes in their little girl. In a later scene, she could also pass for Robby Ray's pampered, polished second wife from the big city, who has no idea what a bad impression she is making on his old mother-in-law when she visits their small hometown.

8. That hometown would be Crowley Corners, Tennessee--which, given the cameos . . .

My favourite! (Sorry, Taylor Swift!)

. . . appears to be the hometown of every other contemporary Country Music act. It is also a place where good music is produced on front porches rather than in studios. A place where the world's biggest pop star can feel assured that people truly like her for herself. (I wouldn't mind investing in some real estate there myself . . .)

7. Can a place have a "real" identity as well as a person? I think so--and Hannah Montana: The Movie agrees with me! Here we see a threat to Miley paralleled by a threat to her hometown: the two villains are the British tabloid reporter who will leave no stone of rural Tennessee unturned in pursuit of his scoop and the real estate developer who wants Crowley Corners to have its own mall. The big premise of the Hannah Montana franchise has always been that Miley cannot have "the best of both worlds" unless she can keep her Hannah and Miley identities completely separate. Now it reminds us of the basic condition that the two worlds also need to be kept separate.

6. One of the few people who knows and keeps Miley's secret is her best friend Lily, who is also my favourite character. What a supportive friend!

At a couple of points in the movie (and if I recall correctly, the TV show), she takes turns playing Hannah. On one level, it's just plotting: Lily helping her best buddy out of a jam. On another level, it's our giveaway that Hannah is not merely one girl's stage self, but millions of other girls' dream self.

5. It's worth dwelling a bit more on the "dream" quality of Hannah's showbiz life, from backstage at her concerts to the set of one of her music videos. We could say the filmmakers didn't try very hard even to make them seem realistic. Then again, given their target audience, why would they need to? For everything about it is really what a young girl with no experience of the world would imagine her favourite pop star's life is like. If the movie had been even a little more credible, it might have lost its own audience. The filmmakers probably did try very hard to hit just the right balance . . . and now that I'm an old lady, I'll have to find a kid to ask whether they did. =P

On the other hand, the filmmakers spare nothing in the creation of Miley's "real" life, which is even more of a dream in its own way. It is "the best of both worlds" indeed, to have screaming fans in the big cities . . . and back home, a loving grandmother, your very own horse, and a cute cowboy who has had a crush on you for years.

4. I almost wrote, "a loving grandmother (but not your own hovering mother!)" While I don't think many girls dream about losing their own mothers, it does seem to be a prerequisite to faerie tale princess status. Then there's my personal theory is that you can get away with lots more, but still feel loved, when grandma is filling mom's place. 

Oh, if you enjoy spotting faerie tale elements in modern media as much as I do, see if you can find the Evil Stepmother figure in this one! (No, it's not Vita.)

3. There are no Ugly Stepsisters in this one, which is very refreshing. While Hannah would theoretically have her share of "haters," Miley doesn't have an envious childhood enemy competing with her for the "prince." On the other hand, there's that scene at the beginning in which Hannah and Tyra Banks get into a catfight over that most Cinderella-esque of items . . .

It really makes you wonder, doesn't it, how aware modern storytellers are of ancient archetypes that show up in their media . . .

Before I forget--as the movie itself almost forgot--Miley actually does have a sibling! Her brother Jackson provided the comic relief on the TV show, and here he does a little more of the same, in scenes better suited to the cutting room floor than to the final edit. They couldn't totally do away with a character whom fans know is supposed to be there, but they were so half-assed about it that it probably would have been better had they retconned Miley into an only child. =/

2. Now, what is it about dual identities and conflicting dinner dates? I can think of two other stories (both featured on this blog--Can you name them?) in which someone has to jump in and out of a disguise in order to be at two tables at the same time. Even Cinderella only had her fancy gown to worry about at the ball, though her rags would have been at the back of her mind the entire time. Having pointed that out, a retelling in Cinderella sometimes looks like a princess and sometimes looks like a servant even at the ball (however you'd like to define "the ball"), so that she has to dodge the prince as often as she sticks to him . . . Well, that would just add a plausible psychological dimension to the story we already know, wouldn't it?

Anyway, if you can think of other examples of this odd convention, please let me know!

1. I'm not sure how I feel about the resolution. On the one hand, my eyes hurt terribly from rolling at the idea that Hannah Montana is the new Santa Claus and Easter Bunny rolled into one. On the other hand, as a defender of the Santa Claus cultural play, I believe there is a difference between a lie and a dream--between a blatant falsehood that hurts those who believe it and a myth that strengthens and edifies those who accept it. And like all decent people, I am disgusted by the lengths to which some "journalists" will go just to be able to say "Gotcha!" at celebrities. Does it really hurt us not to know that some singer isn't the nice girl she seems to be or that some clean-cut actor's private life is actually pretty sordid? These people are weaving dreams for us--dreams that feed our fantasy lives as much as food feeds our bodies. The quality of their product is up for debate, of course, but the issue remains whether the reality of people's lives should matter in the business of myth making.

So it's incredibly sad to me that the person who has had the greatest hand in "exposing" Hannah's "real" identity is Miley Cyrus herself. I don't refer to the tell-all interviews in which she explains how being a child star was really more of a nightmare than a dream. (I think we all knew it about child stars already, God help us.) What I mean is her trashing of what was good about Hannah Montana along with what was bad. And what was good was its giving millions of young girls a chance "to play Hannah" in a bigger way than they would have with only their own imaginations. Hannah Montana didn't replace girls' fantasy lives; it amplified them. So while the franchise itself was far from perfect art, I support its last message that dreams and reality do not oppose each other, but enrich each other. You can have "the best of both worlds," as long as you draw the lines in the right places.

Image Sources: a) Hannah Montana: The Movie poster, b) Hannah and Lily

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