You've probably heard of Hannah Montana—and if you have a child under the age of 14, you may even have heard a bit too much. The smash Disney channel sitcom stars Miley Cyrus as Miley Stewart, a fun-loving American teen whose secret alter ego, Hannah Montana, just happens to be a global pop star. With the series in its third wildly successful season, Disney decided it was time to take Miley/Hannah to the big screen in a full-length feature. Hannah Montana The Movie is the tween-pleasing result.

Miley Cyrus in the lead role

Miley Cyrus in the lead role

In the film's opening scenes, we learn that Hannah's soaring popularity—and the ensuing perks—is threatening to take over Miley's more grounded life. Vita (Vanessa Williams), Hannah's dangerously proficient publicist, nurtures the diva side of the Miley/Hannah equation, much to the consternation of the young star's widower father, Robby Ray (Miley's real-life dad, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus), brother Jackson (Jason Earles), and jilted best friend Lilly (Emily Osment).

When Hannah's Hollywood hijinks climax at a Beverly Hills boutique in a much-publicized catfight over a pair of shoes with Tyra Banks, Robby Ray decides some "Hannah Detox" is in order. He diverts his daughter's New York-bound jet and forces a return to the family homestead in Crowley Corners, Tennessee. There, an initially resentful Miley gradually rediscovers her roots, thanks to her horse, her grandmother, her guitar, and a hunky cowboy named Travis (Lucas Till).

Cyrus as her alter ego, Hannah Montana

Cyrus as her alter ego, Hannah Montana

Eventually, Miley finds such contentment away from the spotlight that Hannah's future becomes uncertain. Miley is contemplating saying goodbye to her pop star life, until the impending urbanization of idyllic Crowley Corners by a smarmy developer (Barry Bostwick) forces her hand. A "Save the Town" fundraiser is arranged, and Hannah Montana is brought in as the headliner. Complications ensue when the logistics of keeping the "Hannah Secret" threaten to destroy both new and old relationships, and the Stewart family must decide what price they are willing to pay to continue hiding Hannah's identity.

British director Peter Chelsom (Serendipity, Shall We Dance?) was not initially familiar with the Hannah Montana franchise when he was charged with the challenge of transposing the sitcom for theatrical release while preserving its light-hearted charm. Wisely, Chelsom chose not to use any of the TV show's Hollywood sets, shooting the entire film on location in Tennessee and California; the cinematic outdoor settings look beautiful and help the movie feel worthy of the big screen. Casting decisions, for the most part, helped the cause; while cameos like Tyra Banks, Taylor Swift, and Rascal Flatts give the film star power, the acting chops of character actor Margo Martindale (in the matriarchal role of Miley's Grandma Ruby) and the magnetic charisma of young star Lucas Till (previously seen most memorably as Jack Cash in Walk the Line) add some much needed nuance and depth.

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Writer Dan Berensden decided to move away from the ensemble feel of the sitcom and focus primarily on Miley and Robby Ray's journey. His decision creates space for the younger Cyrus to shine (while her lack of film experience sometimes shows, her star power is undeniable) and the older Cyrus to flourish in some extra screen time as both a concerned dad and a would-be suitor to beautiful farmhand Lorelai (played lightly but ably by The Office's Melora Hardin.) 

Melora Hardin as Lorelai, Billy Ray Cyrus as Robby Ray

Melora Hardin as Lorelai, Billy Ray Cyrus as Robby Ray

But the choice to focus so strongly on the central characters leaves many of the supporting roles woefully undeveloped. In the role of Miley's brother Jackson, Earles must engage in a series of seemingly randomly inserted pratfalls—many of them involving an aggressive ostrich at some sort of Game Farm, none of them sufficiently explained. British actor Peter Gunn is similarly abused by under-written slapstick sequences in his role as a relentless and unethical reporter.

Chelsom is quoted in the film's press materials as saying, "This film reminded me of the Disney films of the '60s that felt like real five-course meals the whole family could go and enjoy." His desire to mine depth and drama from the Hannah Montana story is commendable (and sometimes realized), but the need to retain the sitcom's silliness sometimes makes the movie feel less like a five-course meal and more like a haphazard combination of steak and candy corn. A more careful hand in editing might have helped the transitions from family melodrama to slapstick comedy work a little better.

Hannah Montana The Movie is a film about music that is not, in the strict sense, a musical; songs are introduced primarily in performance segments and manage to propel the story without intruding on it. Granted, the musical scenes stretch the limits of credibility—Rascal Flatts just happens to live next door, Taylor Swift just happens to be at a local fundraiser, bands intuitively know and can play on each others' tunes, and Robby Ray can sing perfect harmony on his daughter's song the first time he hears it. Still, the music—however implausibly it's created—contributes greatly to the movie's sunny spirit and sense of fun.

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Travis (Lucas Till) has a thing for Miley

Travis (Lucas Till) has a thing for Miley

Besides, the Hannah Montana story has never been about credibility. The show's plot has always hinged on the premise that Miley's closest friends cannot recognize her the minute she puts on a blond wig—much the same way that Clark Kent's colleagues never could spot him without his glasses. In a way, Hannah Montana is a superhero, one whose superpowers include singing, hair-flipping, and shopping. No wonder tween girls like her! 

Fortunately, the filmmakers have taken care to ensure Miley/Hannah is a superhero with a conscience, one who discovers that family and friends and integrity are what matter. Like the girl at its center, Hannah Montana The Movie ain't perfect, but it sure is likable, and a whole lot of fun.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. At the beginning of the movie, Miley has begun to lose track of what really matters to her. Do you ever struggle with keeping fashion, status, image, and the possession of "stuff" from becoming too important in your life? What helps you keep material things in their proper place?

  2. Keeping the "Hannah Secret" from family and friends starts to really hurt Miley and Robby Ray's relationships. Have you ever had to keep a secret?  When is it appropriate to keep secrets? When is it not?

  3. Miley starts to understand what's good about Crowley Corners when she helps her grandmother sell jam in the town's market. Do you ever get a chance to make things by hand, or to support those who do? Is there a farmer's market in your town you could explore?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Hannah Montana The Movie is rated G and is wholesome in language, dress and plot. Miley and Travis' relationship culminates in one kiss. The film's themes include the importance of family, friendships and personal integrity.

What other Christian critics are saying:
  1. Plugged In
  2. Crosswalk
  3. Catholic News Service
  4. Past the Popcorn

Hannah Montana The Movie
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(10 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
Directed By
Peter Chelsom
Run Time
1 hour 42 minutes
Miley Cyrus, Emily Osment, Billy Ray Cyrus
Theatre Release
April 10, 2009
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