Using its cross-platform marketing muscle to full advantage, the Disney Channel has done better than almost all of its corporate peers in both aggressively defined brand protection and identifying emerging trends, as with their zeitgeist-tapping, extremely lucrative High School Musical franchise and continued exploitation of all things Hannah Montana. Among its latest small screen hits is Sonny With a Chance, which centers on Sunny Munroe (Camp Rock‘s Demi Lovato, below, second from left), an enthusiastic young Wisconsin girl who, on the strength of her own series of wacky viral videos (?), nabs a spot as a cast member on So Random!, a hit sketch comedy show for tweens.
Introducing the main character and laying the groundwork for her wacky adventures, Sonny With a Chance: Sonny’s Big Break collects four episodes of the show. In the debut episode, life behind-the-scenes on a Hollywood set proves not quite as idyllic as Sonny imagined, especially because of one of her fellow performers — the self-absorbed Tawni (Tiffany Thornton, above left). While the rest of the cast — funnyman Grady (Doug Brochu), suave Nico (Brandon Mychal Smith) and quirky little Zora (Allisyn Ashley Arm), the flamboyantly costumed runt of the group — welcome Sonny, Tawni sees in her the potential for her own star being dimmed, and reacts with pettiness and jealousy.
Still, it’s all wildly pantomimed; slack-jawed sunniness is the dominant tone here, with subsequent episodes further sketching out Sonny’s not-too-secret crush on the dreamy Chad Dylan Cooper (Sterling Knight), star of the teen drama Mackenzie Falls, which films in the adjacent studio on the same lot. The inclusion of this vacuous pin-up character — and his simmering air-quote rivalry with select members of the So Random! cast — earns Sonny With a Chance a few degree-of-difficulty points on the adolescent entertainment meter, and allows it the chance to mine a few laughs from inter-industry joke targets. It’s not Get Shorty, or anything, but it helps the material play to a slightly older crowd, as well as young kids. As with 30 Rock, too, the sketch-show-within-the-show nature of the series allows writers to spin off quick, silly ideas with perhaps just a bit of naughty subtext (“Dolphin Boy,” for instance, in which Grady plays a kid who nervously shoots water out of his blowhole every time he tries to talk to a girl) without it interfering with the main plotlines, all of which are simplistic, hopelessly chipper, moralizing or some combination thereof.
Housed in a regular white Amaray case with snap-shut hinges in turn stored in a cardboard slipcover that offers up a cover-sticker coupon if the title is purchased in tandem with another Disney TV title, Sonny With a Chance: Sonny’s Big Break comes to DVD presented in 1.33:1 full screen, with English and Spanish Dolby digital stereo audio tracks and optional Spanish subtitles. The disc’s supplemental extras both extend the cross-promotional, show-within-a-show conceit (seven minutes of Mackenzie Falls‘ season-ending cliffhanger is included) worked so handily within Sonny, and extend its boundaries, breaking down the wall between performer and audience by including Lovato’s three-and-a-half-minute audition for the series from a casting session during the summer of 2007. Five minutes of footage spotlighting Disney kid icons Dylan and Cole Sprouse is included, as well as a bonus Sonny episode in which a well-meaning gift almost wrecks Nico and Grady’s friendship. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here; to view a trailer for the series, click here. C (Show) B (Disc)