Sitting down to watch Lemonade Mouth, I had to keep my expectations low. I'd first heard about the movie from the Racialicious blog, which had alerted me to the talented Hayley Kiyoko. And while the Disney Channel brought me my beloved High School Musical, it's also committed such atrocities as the Tower of Terror Movie, Camp Rock, and Jump In. The scene in Camp Rock where one of the Jonas Brothers spontaneously develops the ability to harmonize with himself is one of our family touchstones of humor. (And my son is very wise to point out that William Shatner was singing along with himself long before it was cool, though he never really got the harmonies going.)
Perhaps in part due to these moderate expectations, and my legendary avoidance of any spoilers, Lemonade Mouth did not disappoint. (So hey, if you're going to watch the movie, go do so now before reading the rest of this article. I can wait here, no problem.) The story is engaging, the acting is above-par for Disney Channel standards, and the anthem of "Be heard, be strong, be proud" is a healthy message for the tweens who will find the movie most appealing. I can only hope that the Disney Channel Rocks show at the Studios will soon include a few numbers from Lemonade Mouth.
Lemonade Mouth is a tad on the quirky side for a Disney Channel movie. It's the story of five high school students who meet in afterschool detention, form a pop band (though the ads would have you think of it as alt-rock), and learn to find their voices. It's the first Disney Channel movie I'm aware of where our protagonists directly challenge the authority of a school principal during an assembly, or find themselves locked up at their friendly neighborhood correctional facility. And I hadn't seen a Disney Channel production directly address the imprisonment of a teenager's parent. All this gives the film a surprising edge, at least for something on the Disney Channel.
But in pushing the boundaries of usual Disney Channel fare, it also promises more than it ultimately delivers. Stella, my favorite character and the film's loudest proponent of free speech, is almost unrecognizable in the final scene of the film, her quirky and butch edges having been sanded away (perhaps by the beauty-industrial complex which one can only imagine backstage at the band's big show at Madison Square Garden). The film rails against corporate sponsorship of school activities early on, but the penultimate scene suggests that sponsorships are good as long as they're from organic, hipster-looking investors who really *believe* in what they're doing.
I have to wonder how the movie diverges from the book on which it is based, for which I've just placed a request at my local library. Did Disney soften the anti-corporate, free speech messages, or was that the author's original approach? I notice that a new edition will hit the stores May 24, "adapted by the author to be age-appropriate for middle-grade/Disney-age readers." (And does the author realize that for many of us, the phrase "Disney-age" only makes us smile? I'm a 44-year-old Disney-age reader, myself.)
I'm also glad that my son had taken a course at our local Spark about high school students and first amendment rights before we watched the movie. At fourteen, he's a couple years older than the target audience for Lemonade Mouth, but the questions it raises about free speech in high schools could be meaningful for younger kids too. When can a school ban a t-shirt, or disrupt a musical performance? Interesting questions these . . . and I won't attempt to answer them here, but will simply mention that the ACLU's work protecting the rights of LGBT students provides plenty of real-life case studies in this area.
So, who else saw Lemonade Mouth? What did you think? (And by any chance did you squee as loud as we did when you saw the promo for Sharpay's Big Adventure? I know what's up next in my Netflix queue . . . )