Popularity is an elusive quantity, easy to define difficult to maintain and frequently impossible to obtain. It is most readily associated with those hormonally driven years known as the teens but let’s be honest here, it deeply permeates every faction of our culture. At work the popular people get the choice assignments which translate to the best pay and prestigious. The popular men and women just seem to have successful lives that are envied from afar by those of lesser social standings. Some experts have documented this ‘alpha’ status in many animals citing it as a normal aspect of life on this planet. I’m realistically certain that the Cro-Magnons hanging out in the cool cave made fun of the Neanderthals still trying to get fire. Status and the associated materialistic affectations have always played a critical part in the social tier structure that is imbedded in our species at its most fundamental level. In this respect high school can be viewed as a reasonable microcosm of our social hierarchy and innate directives. When you think about it one of the earliest stories most children are exposed to concerning the power and cultural importance of popularity is ‘Cinderella’. Shunned as a scullery maid/step sister through magical intervention she is transformed into the most popular maiden at the King’s ball and eventually winds up becoming his bride elevating her far above her tormentors.
No one knows how to tell a variation of geek to chic than the Walt Disney Studios. They not only have cornered the Cinderella market but have fully explored the reverse transformation in order to examine the impact of losing your ‘Cool factor’ resulting in an abrupt and socially cataclysmic loss of popularity. Basically they are different vantage points telling the same story with identical didactic overtones. The most recent flick in the Disney Channel Original Movie series is ‘Geek Charming’. This anti-Cinderella story follows a superficial teen girl through a fate worse than death, the loss of her precious popularity. It has everything we have come to expect from this type of Disney movie starting with an exceptionally attractive cast including a young actress taking here turn in the media spotlight. It also contains the requisite morality play presented with the veneer of kid friendly entertainment. The acting and plot development is sufficiently well done so that parents will run screaming from the room; you can sit there and enjoy a pleasant movie night with the entire family.
Dylan Schoenfield (Sarah Hyland) is the quintessential high school queen bee diva. She is completely self-absorbed to an almost unbelievable level. Condescending to the faculty and overtly rude to the rest of the student body she struts through the halls flanked by her mean girl obligatory toadies; Hannah (Vanessa Morgan) and Lola (Lili Simmons). The miniscule numbers of neurons they share between them are entirely dedicated to affirming every ridiculous; pseudo French utterance that escapes from between Dylan’s impeccably glossed lips. They are literally trained in classic Pavlovian conditioning to respond to the snap of Dylan’s manicured fingers. Girls like Dylan are so accustomed to getting their way and immediate gratification of her slightest whim that she never had to develop the skill set suitable for long term planning. She is so certain that the world will yield to suit her desires that she can only focus on short term, superficial objectives. The one that she is targeting at the moment is the lauded crown of Blossom queen. If, no when, Dylan achieves this exalted title she will become "the most popular girl in Woodlands Academy, ever". The only possible threat to Dylan’ ascent to the throne is rival diva, Nicole Paterson (Andrea Brooks). She was able to mobilize much of the varsity squads to support her campaign. When Dylan seeks help in the form of a professional media team from her father (Andrew Airlie), he dismisses her stating she is bright and should work it out on her own. Dylan has a humiliating encounter with the president of the school’s film club, Josh Rosen (Matt Prokop) when he slams into her in the lunchroom covering her Tuna Noodle Casserole. To be fair it wasn’t his fault he was blinded by an inconsiderate perfume spray issued by Dylan. He is in a creative slump unable to come up with an idea for a very important film competition and is given only one day to submit a proposal.
Kismet seems in full force when Josh sees Dylan’s expensive new handbag fall into the fountain at the mall. He swoops in to retrieve it and is about to be summarily dismissed by Dylan until he offers the bag in exchange for being the subject of his documentary. His concept is an examination of the insubstantial life of a high school popular girl; her idea is s vanity piece building her up to assure her the Blossom Queen crown. The story progresses through the standard Disney three act tween films. After the cursory introduction of compulsory archetypes we get some deeper insight into Dylan. She was not always a queen bee. At one time she won the science fair with her now estranged former best friend Amy Loubalu (Sasha Pieterse).it turns out that Josh has a crush on Amy at first. It turns out that not only is Dylan intelligent, an aspect of her personality she hides to boost her popularity, and she does have a sensitive side. As part of a long standing tradition Dylan’s mother died when she was eight; initiating her descent into the shallow end of the personality pool. Once Josh begins filming a series of predicable circumstances seem to conspire against Dylan striping her of the trappings of her popular ranking. This causes her to reevaluate her life in time for a third act revelation and happy ending.
The movie hits every point necessary in this extremely well established format. The cast is part of the latest group of extended Disney family headed by Hyland who is a costar in the ABC network’s hit sit com ‘Modern Family’. Prokop is at the start of his Team Disney studio grooming with small roles on Disney Channel staples as ‘Good Luck Charlie’ and ‘High School Musical 3’. There is a lot to be said about the Disney studio system as a means to develop young talent. Adding to this motif is seen in the extras; ten full episodes of their tween dance sit com ‘Shake it up’. Rather than commit to an independent DVD release of the series they are testing the waters and reinforcing the exposure of the series second season. it is a good buy for parents and enjoyable for all ages.