Summoning millions of underage minions to the multiplex, the Disney Company landed its teen gold mine, Miley Cyrus, at the top of the Easter weekend U.S. box office. Hannah Montana: The Movie, a big-screen version of the Disney Channel series, exceeded the predictions of the industry swamis. It registered the biggest opening day for any G-rated movie and proved that Hollywood should never underestimate the drawing power of Hannah and her kid sisters. According to studio estimates, the film will take the North American weekend crown with $34 million. While Disney was purring, Cyrus was tweeting: "Omgomg! my fans rock! the movie is doing great you guys!"
Last week's champ, the car-crash drama Fast & Furious, dropped 59% in its second weekend, to a still snazzy $28.8 million. The animated feature Monsters vs Aliens continued its rampage, with $22.6 million in its third frame. These two strong holdovers helped make this the biggest Easter weekend in movie history, topping by more than 15% the previous record holder, back in 2002. (Watch the video of Dressing Miley Cyrus)
Less imposing were the numbers posted by the Seth Rogen comedy Observe and Report, about a bipolar mall cop. It earned friendly reviews, suggesting to critics a blend of Taxi Driver and Hot Fuzz. Unfortunately for Rogen and writer-director Jody Hill, it made the mass audience think of Paul Blart: Mall Cop and they saw that one just a few months ago. Observe and Report took in a modest $11.1 million. This weekend's other wide release, the action film Dragonball Evolution, breathed no fire at all. It was D.O.A. with a puny $4.7 million.
The Hanna Montana picture, which cost only about $35 million to produce, will finish an honorable second among Disney's parade of teenybopper movies. High School Musical 3: Senior Year took in $43 million in its first three days the top opening weekend for a G-rated film while Cyrus' own Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour earned $31.1 million, at higher prices (3-D) and with the threat of being withdrawn after one week in theaters (it wasn't). Six weeks ago, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience grossed a disappointing $12.5 and has cadged only another $6.6 million since.
As any American child, especially a girl child, can tell you, the TV show has Miley Cyrus playing Miley Stewart, an ordinary teen who secretly is also pop star Hannah Montana. How much of Miley C. is Miley S., and how much Hannah M.? That's a question of multiple identities that would have Pirandello's head spinning. The movie's message, though, is clear enough to kids: be yourself, even if you're two people. Miley Hannah, Miley Hannah.
At the start of the movie, Miley-as-Hannah had gone a little too Hollywood for her own good: battling Tyra Banks for a pair of designer shoes, upstaging her best friend's sweet-16 party and ignoring her grandma's birthday for a TV gig in New York City. Such antics steam Miley's dad (the real Miley's dad, one-hit country star Billy Ray Cyrus), who essentially kidnaps her to spend two weeks in rural Tennessee with her God-fearin', Elvis-lovin', sweet-song-singin', guilt-trip-inflictin' family. She'll meet a guy (blond, dimpled, startlingly deep-voiced Lucas Till), and Dad will meet a lady (The Office's Melora Hardin). Most important, the screen Miley will take a break from hard work and learn down-home family values while the real Miley is working hard making a Hannah Montana movie. So the moral is ...?
In the TV series, the easiest laughs come from Miley/Hannah's susceptibility to accidents and Three Stoogesstyle slapstick. The movie spreads the comic clumsiness around to other cast members. If there's an egg to sit on, a mud hole to slide into, or a ferret to let loose at a starchy dinner party, or a ladder, a tree or a chicken-coop roof to fall from, somebody in this movie will do it. It's also a musical where two performers who've done exemplary work in Broadway shows Vanessa Williams and Barry Bostwick are condemned to nonsinging, spoilsport roles. Hardest to take is the dogmatic sentimentality, which keeps bopping its heroine over the head with moral and social lessons. It's the dewiest, most brazen form of jerking tears from kids; call it cornography.
English director Peter Chelsom has made many bad movies (Hear My Song, The Mighty, the Warren Beatty disaster Town & Country, the inept remake of the Japanese charmer Shall We Dance), most of them with a braying sentimentality summed up in the title of Chelsom's first feature film, Treacle. This time, he lucked into a hit, and a star who can sell her character's highs and lows without embarrassing herself any of her selves. Her throaty voice lending a note of maturity to her seeming decency, Cyrus has an ease in front of the camera that is the first requisite of stardom.
Whatever she becomes as an adult, for now she's keeping her core demographic enthralled. Hannah Montana: The Movie may work on an emotional frequency that only dogs and tween girls can detect, but the G-rated movie amassed enough of them to be the weekend's top film. At a Manhattan multiplex yesterday afternoon, one bunch of little girls sang along flawlessly with every word of every song. If Miley or Hannah (or Miley) ever needs new backup singers, she should have no trouble finding millions of them. She's already got them all a-twitter.
The official estimation of the Top 10 finishers, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. Hannah Montana: The Movie, $34 million, first weekend
2. Fast & Furious, $28.7 million; $118 million in 10 days
3. Monsters Vs. Aliens, $22.6 million; $141 million in 24 days
4. Observe and Report, $11.1 million, first weekend
5. Knowing, $6.7 million; $68 million in 24 days
6. I Love You, Man, $6.4 million, $59 million in 24 days
7. The Haunting in Connecticut, $5.7 million; $46.3 million in 17 days
8 . Dragonball Evolution, $4.6 million, first weekend
9. Adventureland, $3.4 million; $11.5 million in 10 days
10. Duplicity, $3 million; $36.8 million in 24 days