Even though it only premiered in 2006, Hannah Montana has been a smash hit for the Disney Channel. It's safe to say that until Montana came along, the Disney Channel didn't really have any noteworthy contenders as far as sitcoms are concerned. From one meandering title to the next, the House of Mouse was just throwing everything at audiences to see what stuck, and boy did this one stick. Kids all over the world are obsessed with Hannah Montana and it rocketed Miley Cyrus to stardom in no time flat.
While the series is into its third season, the show has only had some limited exposure on DVD with compilation and cross-over releases. Fans didn't really have a solid outlet for collecting until recently when Disney released the complete first season. Four discs are included in this boxed set which compiles all 26 episodes from the first year and mixes in a few meager bonus features. The end result is a product that fans will adore and an easy to swallow package that may entice newcomers who are wondering what it's all about (and still living under a rock).
The series focuses on a girl named Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) who is leading something of a double life. For all intents and purposes she is a regular teenage girl who goes to school, hangs out with her friends, gets in trouble with her brother, and does all of the things normal teen girls do. The catch here is that Miley has an alter-ego known as pop star Hannah Montana. She keeps the secret close to her heart in order to maintain a semblance of a regular life because the overwhelming popular of Montana would basically squash that.
Keeping her secret is the rest of the Stewart family whom she lives with in Malibu. Her father Robby (Billy Ray Cyrus) is an all around good dad who also happens to be the manager and producer of her famous secret identity. Joining them is Jackson (Jason Earles), who is Miley's brother and partner in crime during many misadventures. There is no mother in the picture here so naturally it creates an interesting dynamic that allows the show to explore Robby's plight as a single parent and his kids' feelings about the subject as well.
To Hannah Montana's benefit the secondary cast of characters helps round out the show in a major way. Just having a show with Miley and Jackson wouldn't be quite as interesting so a couple friends are brought into the fold to share Miley's secret. Lilly (Emily Osment) has been a good friend to Miley for some time now and in the opening episode she unwittingly discovers that she's actually Hannah Montana. Naturally this throws a wrench into Miley's plans, but thankfully Lilly is trustworthy enough with the secret. Likewise, Oliver (Mitchell Musso) is a mutual friend who is brought in on the loop very early on in the show.
With the set up and cast of characters in place the first season of Hannah Montana pretty much hits the ground running. Now, I'm not going to say that this show is the greatest thing that every happened to television. By no means does Montana live up to the sitcom greats that have graced the set long before it arrived. However, this series is in fact a nice little slice of wholesome family entertainment. It's something that everyone in the house can get together, watch, and enjoy equally. Sure you may not be running out to pick up the latest Hannah Montana backpack for yourself, but you can't deny the simple, yet effective qualities this show maintains.
For starters, the acting makes this series as entertaining as it is. Miley Cyrus is a child prodigy and she possesses so many talents it's not even funny. From singing to acting and even spot on comedy, she displays all of her skills in just about every episode of Hannah Montana. It's because of her that this series has any weight at all, but thankfully the support cast is nearly equally adept. Over the course of this season we see Billy Ray go from being stiff on camera to a little looser and more comfortable. Miley also has some great chemistry with the rest of the cast and there are many shining moments here when she and Emily are on set together. Despite the tepid canned laugh track employed here the jokes are actually funny and you'll genuinely chuckle throughout each episode.
While the acting is perfect for this kind of series the writing isn't one of its strongest qualities. A lot of that has to do with the audience Hannah Montana attracts because the tween comedy genre isn't exactly known for award winning scripts or powerful moments. Even so, Montana proves to be better than most of the competition in this regard. The show is simple and straightforward, but I can't deny that there's an endearing quality to it all because of that. It's a series that allows you to sit back, relax, and enjoy with the kids. That's something special and because of that this first season has some huge replay value.
Whether you're a Hannah Montana fan or not, this first season is strongly recommended. The series starts out rough and goes through some tween comedy growing pains, but it finds its groove after a few of episodes and hits a nice stride. Most of this is due largely in part to the charms of Miley Cyrus. She's such a talented girl and she brings so much life to the set every time she appears. It's easy to see why so many kids fawn over this show and why Disney has marketed it as aggressively as they have. It's nice to know that after a few misguided DVD releases Hannah Montana finally gets a full season boxed set and it was worth the wait.
Hannah Montana's first season is presented on DVD with its original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. Considering this isn't a primetime series you wouldn't expect the best with regards to filming and a transfer, but when you look at how successful the series has been it is rather surprising to see such a poor looking DVD release. The video is painfully soft and blurry, the colors are obnoxiously saturated, and grain is sometimes problematic. There are times where the transfer doesn't look bad, but I would never say that the series looks really good either. We've seen better looking presentations on shows from the 80's than we see with this one and that's a shame due to the fact that this is Disney's latest cash cow. One would assume they would spruce things up a bit.
Like the video quality, the audio presentation for Hannah Montana isn't as stellar as it could have been. The English 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo doesn't leave much of an impression, but I'd say it's a serviceable presentation for the series. Given the nature of the show I suppose you don't need a blasting 5.1 output though it would have helped if the soundstage had a little more room to breath. What we have here is a presentation that is suitable for its target audience, but anyone looking for something more is going to be disappointed.
The bonus features on Hannah Montana's first season are pretty decent and fans from all walks of life will find something to appreciate.
Spread across the four discs of this set are Hannah Highlights. These are basically subtitled pop-up trivia tracks that play throughout one episode on each disc. The episodes are: "Grandmas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Play Favorites", "You're So Vain, You Probably Think This Zit is About You", "Torn Between Two Hannahs", and "The Idol Side of Me". It's a fun feature with some nice bits of information and it's definitely worth watching once you're done with the season.
The remaining features are featurettes, but I can honestly say that they aren't quite as meaty as you'd hope they would be. All we get here is a seven minute feature with Miley and her father going back home and being themselves. It's nice and Cyrus fans will appreciate it, though as far as extras are concerned it's kind of a fluff piece. The other offering here is the first episode of Disney Channel Games 2008, which is just kind of a lame competition between Disney Channel celebs.
Hannah Montana is a fun, harmless little show that is entertaining for the whole family. This first season got several things right out of the gate and its cast proves time and time again that it's the main reason you're going to enjoy the show. With that being said there are some rough spots here and there and you really have to appreciate tween comedies in order to get anything out of the program. Still, it's a solid effort and Montana fans will definitely want to pick this boxed set up.
As for the technical merits of the DVD, the video and audio quality isn't the greatest and the bonus features are rather scant. All of this comes together to make the first season of Hannah Montana strongly recommended, but it's not a release to go ga-ga over.
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