No one was more surprised than I last October when, after reviewing the slim little DVD Hannah Montana: Life's What You Make It, that particular review quickly took more hits than any previous ones I had up on DVDTalk, even beating out James Bond, for god's sake. Now that is a measure of the recognition factor of The Disney Channel's funny little tween sitcom, Hannah Montana, and the enormous popularity of its singing star, Miley Cyrus. The latest release of the series, Hannah Montana, Vol 4: One in a Million, features four more episodes from the sprightly comedy that's turned into must-see TV for millions of kids.
In my previous review (you can click here to read Hannah Montana: Life's What You Make It), I defended the show's comedic sensibilities, so I won't go into a lengthy retread, but I will say again that Miley Cyrus is somebody to keep an eye out for in the future (although that seems rather unnecessary when you consider the level of fame she already has). She has the same kind of instinctual fearlessness that Lucille Ball and Carole Burnett had. Despite the frequent silliness and forced mugging that seems to be de rigueur for tween cable sitcoms, Cyrus can put over a line with the best of them, and she has that naturally funny physical grace/awkwardness that you're born with; you can't learn it.
I'm also enjoying her real-life father, Billy Ray Cyrus (who plays her father on the show), more and more as I watch the series (once my five-year-old daughter found out I actually liked the show, it's become a ritual for us to watch it every day). He has a real honesty to his performance, a gruff kind of plowing through manner, which is showing increasing polish, and which is absolutely right for the part. He's really quite ingratiating. Real-life father and daughter are a perfect team here. Right up there with Miley in the comedic acting chops is Jason Earles as her brother Jackson Stewart. I'm not sure what his acting background is, but I suspect he's had theatrical training because despite the over-the-top nature of much of what he's asked to do, he carries it off well.
Hannah Montana, Vol 4: One in a Million is a fairly good representation of the series. Lilly's Mom Has Got it Goin' On has Heather Locklear making an appearance when she's fixed up with Robbie Ray (with predictably disastrous results). Emily Osment is sweet and funny as Lilly, and she works well as Miley's Ethel Mertz. Greg Baker has a funny bit as Mr. Corelli, Miley's teacher (sending out an email to his students from his basement, his mother yells down and asks how many fish sticks he wants), and Mitchel Musso as Oliver (the one character I keep sensing the producers don't know what to do with) is amusing when discussing the merits of his school project ("You have an army?"). Me and Mr. Jonas and Mr. Jonas and Mr. Jonas is a funny crossover episode featuring the Jonas Brothers (no idea who they are; sorry, kids) finding a new friend in Robbie Ray, making Miley jealous in the process. Earles is hilarious performing a pogo stick marathon ("I'm gonna be rich!" on the helmet-cam); coming out of the restroom, after desperately having to go to the bathroom - while still hopping on the stick - Earles has the best line of the DVD: "He shoots, he scores! Nothing but bowl!" Miley also knocks one out of the park when mistakenly attacking a choir group in her recording studio, growling out, "Eat this, suckers!" as she sprays them with ping pong balls. Hilarious.
I Will Always Loathe You has Vicki Lawrence (as Robby's mom) and Dolly Parton (as who else, Aunt Dolly) showing up for Miley's International Music Awards ceremony. It's not the strongest episode, especially considering the two talented guest stars, but Moises Arias has another amusing bit as he repeatedly blows his PSA commercial for his hot dog stand. And That's What Friends Are For? brings back Cody Linley as Miley's ex-boyfriend Jake Ryan, who now just wants to be friends. Earles, Musso, and Arias have a funny subplot where Rico bets the boys a month's worth of hot dogs if they don't bathe. Selena Gomez shows up as Mikayla, Hannah's arch enemy, along with a funny Camryn Manheim as her manager Margo.
The full screen, 1.33:1 video transfer for Hannah Montana, Vol 4: One in a Million still doesn't look very sharp or clear, but I suppose that's the cheap video original elements. Kids won't notice at all, though.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround Sound audio mix is just right for this snappy little comedy. When "Hannah" belts out a tune, the kids go nuts, and that powerful mix is perfect. English subtitles are available.
Extras this time around for Hannah Montana, Vol 4: One in a Million include two music videos: One in a Million and True Friend. And there's another Backstage Disney featurette, entitled 10 Disney Channel Character Feuds, hosted by Earles. It's fairly disposable, and run 11:41. As well, there's a bonus episode of That's So Raven, entitled Run, Raven, Run.
Snappy, bright ensemble acting smooth over some of the more obvious comedic elements of Hannah Montana, Vol 4: One in a Million (will they please tone down that insane laugh track?). Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus make a great pair (kids love their close relationship), while the supporting cast is an accomplished group of broad comedians. I recommend Hannah Montana, Vol 4: One in a Million.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.