WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Selena Gomez, David
Henrie, Jake T. Austin, Maria Canals-Barrera, David DeLuise
Creator: Todd J. Greenwald
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: Walt Disney
Features: Backstage Disney
Length: 90 Minutes
Release Date: July 29, 2008
The impact of Harry Potter in either book or movie form cannot be denied, so I can’t say that I was too surprised when The Disney Channel decided to try its hand at a wizarding show aimed at the youngsters. Wizards of Waverly Place may not have the mystique of our favorite bespectacled teen wizard, but it has humor, charm, and a solid cast, and it manages to entertain both child and adult in an undemanding way.
It stars Selena Gomez, who has been one of the Channel’s up-and-coming young stars for a while. She’s been on Hannah Montana, where she showed off her singing pipes as well as her acting chops, she’s performed “Cruella De Vil” for the 101 Dalmatians DVD release, and seemed more than ready to carry a new program for the network.
She plays Alex Russo, the middle child in a family of wizards in New York between older brother Justin (Henrie) and younger brother Max (Austin). Their parents (Canals-Barrera and DeLuise) run a deli while keeping their magic heritage a secret. The mother is non-magical (I was about to say “muggle”, but there may be copyright issues); their father is an ex-wizard. Why? Well, in this wizarding world, only one child from each family is allowed to keep their powers. It’s now his job to train his wide-eyed youngsters in the way of magic so that one day they can compete with each other for the right to become the new family wizard.
Wizard School showcases three episodes from the program, highlighted by the show’s first two-part episode. In it, Alex and Justin are sent to a special school for wizarding (I was about to say “Hogwarts”, but…) It turns out Alex’s tendency toward trouble might just be the thing that saves Justin from an evil professor who has designs on stealing the older brother’s powers!
There’s also Max’s misadventures with a pet dragon that looks surprising like a cute dog, and a very funny offering where Alex discovers a fellow wizard at school who seems allowed to use his powers whenever he wants (forbidden in the wizard world), and Alex decides that a little ‘charm’ might make her parents more open to the idea of her using magic whenever she likes, with…do I even need to say it?…unintended consequences.
The show doesn’t have the production values of a good HP flick, but it makes up for lesser magic with the chemistry and appeal of the cast. Young Selena Gomez, with her cute face and sassy attitude, is more than capable of anchoring the hijinks and hilarity with the support of her two youthful co-stars and the two seasoned veterans.
On a side note, one of the show’s most moving revelations is not seen here, and it’s when we learned Mr. Russo did NOT in fact lose his powers, but voluntarily gave them up so he could marry a non-wizard. Sniff…somebody conjure me up a Kleenex, stat!
It’s not groundbreaking or even particularly original, but it IS good lightweight fun, and the wonderful cast carries the day with humor and vitality, and make this show a plenty entertaining offering from the folks at Disney.
BONUS TRIVIA: Ms. Gomez sings the show's theme song.
The full frame video presentation looks good enough…naturally, there are some source limitations such as less sharpness than normal, but the colors look bright and the disc services the television show well.
The stereo audio isn’t very demanding, but the dialogue is clean and clear. Not a lot of dynamic range, but it isn’t really called for.
The disc has a behind-the-scenes featurette with the cast of the show.
Let the Wizards of Waverly Place take you to Wizard School. You may not learn much, but a magical fun time is promised to all.