Think of it this way. Hannah Montana is to Miley Stewart what Superman is to Clark Kent. Audiences of all ages but especially children and teenagers are always taken by stories of secret identities and hidden sources of power and mastery. It is a way of organizing their thoughts about themselves as unsure but constantly developing citizens of a world run by adults who have a power and ability that they look forward to. It is also a world they can feel themselves getting closer to, so it gives them a way to calibrate and understand their own changes and their progress. And it gives them a chance to think about the kind of adults they want to be.
So when Miley Stewart (played by Miley Cyrus) said she wanted the “best of both worlds,” to be a singer and a “normal kid,” the way to do it was to create a separate identity. With the wig and sparkles she is Hannah Montana, superstar. Without it, she is just plain Miley, who knows that her friends like her for who she is and not because she is famous. And many of the television show’s episodes focus on the challenges of keeping these worlds separate.
But as this movie begins, it is not just the logistics that are colliding. Miley Stuart is becoming a bit of a diva. After an hilarious brawl with uber-diva Tyra Banks over a pair of expensive shoes, Miley’s father (real-life dad Billy Ray Cyrus of “Achy Breaky Heart” and mullet fame) decides it is time for Miley and Hannah to have a reality check. He takes her to their home in Tennessee and tells her that after two weeks he will let her know whether it is time for Hannah to retire.
Miley is not yet an actress. She is so relentlessly sunny that she can’t quite manage the brief scenes where she is supposed to be pensive or unhappy. But she has an immediately engaging presence on screen and is so clearly enjoying herself that it impossible not to enjoy her, too. The script wisely plays to her strengths, giving her lots of chances to sing both as Miley and as Hannah and lots of chances to show off her high spirits and gift for physical comedy.
She is ably supported by Emily Osment as her best friend, Margo Martindale as her warm but shrewd grandmother, and Lucas Till as a handsome young cowpoke. Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts show up for some musical numbers. Cyrus has a sweet duet with her dad and a cute hoedown dance.
The story may not have many surprises, but it will help kids think a little bit about growing up and dream a little bit about all the possibilities before them. Best of all, the movie will satisfy Cyrus fans and give their families a sense of why they love her so much.
Families should know that there is some brief mild schoolyard language (“screwed up,” “full of it”), slapstick violence (no one hurt), some tense family moments, reference to (offscreen, in the past) death of parent, and adults kiss
Family discussion: What does it mean to say “Life is a climb but the view is great?” Why did Miley have to keep her secret to have a “normal” life? Would you rather be like Hannah or like Miley? Why?
If you like this, try: The Hannah Montana concert film and television show, “The Lizzie McGuire Movie”