I hope I’m safe in assuming that anyone who planned to see Hannah Montana: The Movie has already done so. Isn’t it the kind of event you either line up for opening weekend to appease the young girl in your life… or avoid like the plague?  I think so, but if I’m wrong, consider this a spoiler alert.
    First spoiler (and this one’s a shocker): Hannah Montana: The Movie is actually kind of… good.
    No, not good as in “serious” or “artistic” or “critics are raving…!” Good as in “not that bad”… “pretty entertaining”… “don’t mind seeing it the (inevitable) second time around.” That kind of good.
    If you ask other mothers of young daughters, they might go one step further. My friends have offered responses like, “It was great!” and “I loved it!” And every one of them, to a mom, has sheepishly confessed that the movie made her cry. It did me, too, but since I’ve been known to cry over a commercial for auto insurance, that’s really not saying much.
    For the few of you still reading this despite neither knowing nor caring anything about Hannah Montana, a brief primer: Hannah is the alter ego of one Miley Stewart (played by bona fide superstar Miley Cyrus), a regular country girl from Tennessee who lives with her dad and brother in Los Angeles, attending high school by day, pursuing a career as a famous pop star by night.  Miley’s secret, according to the popular Disney Channel series’ theme song, allows her to have “the best of both worlds.” But as our movie begins, we find our young heroine struggling to juggle those worlds  – letting her “”Miley” responsibilities slide even as she becomes a bit too big for her “Hannah” britches. Thus determines her father, anyway (played by Cyrus’s real life dad, Billy Ray), who decides to whisk his baby girl home to the family farm for two weeks of “Hannah Detox.” There in Crowley Corners, Tennessee (yes, seriously) Miley gets in touch with her roots by riding horses, attending a hoe down, painting a chicken coup, and dating a real live cowboy.  She also soaks up lots of homespun wisdom from her salt-o-the-earth Grandma. Corny and clichéd? Uh huh. You got a problem with that?
    About the crying: My guess is that all us moms are tearing up at the same scene, near the end, during a Hannah Montana fundraising concert (arranged by her “good friend” Miley) to save Crowley Corners from an Evil Developer. A huge crowd has gathered, and all is going according to plan, when Hannah suddenly stops mid-song, apologizes for living a lie, pulls off her blond wig to reveal her true identity, then launches into a ballad she’s written herself called “The Climb.” It’s a pretty dramatic moment (and a pretty nice song, which is always reason enough for a good cry, far as I’m concerned). The crowd is astonished at first (because, golly, nobody ever noticed that Hannah and Miley look and sound exactly alike!), but they come around pretty quickly, and are soon caught up in Miley’s coming-out anthem, swaying to an fro, hands in the air. “The Climb” climbs to a passionate crescendo, then finishes, and much cheering and clapping ensues. Honesty and authenticity have won the day, and everybody’s feeling terrific!
    But here’s where the movie gets a little weird… and less good, in my opinion. After this grand triumph – this wonderful debut of her own song and her own self – Miley quietly thanks the crowd, then hangs her head, bids them goodbye, and turns to leave the stage.  “No!” you feel like screaming, “Stay! The concert’s just begun! You don’t need to be Hannah Montana! Just be Miley, and keep on singing!”
    You’re certain the concert crowd is with you on this.  Surely that’s where things are headed, right?
    Wrong. The crowd does beg Miley to stay… but not as Miley.
    “Don’t give up Hannah!” comes a cry from the crowd. “Put the wig back on!” cries another concert-goer. “You’ll never have a normal life unless you do!” yells Miley’s venal, pushy publicist (played wonderfully by Vanessa Williams), who’s not exactly known for her sincerity. “We’ll keep your secret,” says a sweet little girl, looking up at Miley with stars in her eyes. The rest of the crowd joins in, “Yes, we’ll keep  your secret! We’ll keep your secret!” And after a few seconds of deep pondering, a smile begins to play across Miley’s face. The next thing we know, the wig is back on, the concert has resumed, and the world is back in its orbit.
    I won’t harp on the improbable aspects of this tale, which are manifold. This is Disney, after all, and a little fantasy is to be expected. (Though, even my seven-year-old said, “Mom, that’s totally unrealistic. There’s no way that entire crowd is gonna keep her secret!”) What bothers me is not the fairy tale stuff, but the real life message – that a girl must create a whole separate persona in order to pursue her Big Dream… that it’s impossible to be both an artist and a “normal” person.  I guess the writers are trying to say, “you don’t have to choose… you can have it all!” but by forcing Miley to resume her frantic dual existence – the stress of which is what landed her in “Hannah Detox” in the first place – they undercut that notion.
    (Much like I’ve just undercut any notion that I am a serious film critic by wasting so many words on Hannah Montana: The Movie.)
    I confess, I went into this movie knowing how I wanted it to end. I wanted the flashy, kitschy glamour puss with the pre-fab, bubblegum pop songs (that I don’t like) laid to rest in favor of the sweet, fresh-faced country girl with the singer/songwriter ballads (that I do). I wanted my daughter to see how much finer and nobler it is to “be yourself” than to pretend you’re someone else. I wanted her to learn that natural beauty, hard work, and true talent trump “spoiled celebrity” hype and brash, fake-o glamour any day.
    I read a creepy article in Newsweek recently called “Tales of a Modern Diva,” about our national obsession with beauty and how it’s changing our kids. The writer examines “Toddlers in Tiaras,” a TLC show about 2-year-olds on the pageant circuit,  who are “egged on by obsessive mothers who train their tots to strut and swagger, flip their hair and pout their lips.” Ew. She also describes a spa she stumbled into in Brooklyn that brands itself exclusively for the 0-12 set – “full of tweens getting facialed and glossed, hands and feet outstretched for manis and pedis” – and is apparently just one of many springing up around the country.
    I can’t understand why any mother would encourage her daughter to hop aboard the Vanity Express – ultimately a train to nowhere –  at such a tender age, but I certainly understand why little girls might flock to this sort of kiddie spa, given their media role models. Teen stars like Miley Cyrus are very carefully marketed toward this impressionable demographic, and they hang on her every move. What a great thing Disney could have done by having Miley Stewart toss out her wig, her multi-tiered make-up case, and sequined mini-skirts, embracing the “natural look” for good. How cool would it have been had Miley decided to continue pursuing music –  but on her own terms, under her own name, as herself?
    Hannah Montana: The Movie was never going to be great art. But it could have been great propaganda – a real help to us moms down here in the trenches, struggling to raise young women of substance in an ever-more-superficial age.  Instead, Disney decided to play it safe, stick with the status quo, and, most importantly, protect its wildly successful franchise for a few more television seasons.
    In the entertainment biz, when commerce matters more than content, you seldom get the best of both worlds.