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"Kim Possible: So the Drama" Not Bad, But No Big

“Direct to DVD” releases are often stigmatized as junk unworthy of even a small theatrical release. But in the world of animation, Disney has been laboring hard to change that impression. If widespread critical acceptance still eludes them, they have found the key to rich financial dividends. Such sequels as Lion King 1 1/2 and Mulan II have been huge sellers, and the owners of toy and TV properties are increasingly trying to ape this success. The latest such DVD film release, So the Drama, hails from Disney’s own very popular teenage super spy TV series, Kim Possible. One assumes it faces high expectations from Disney shareholders.

-Eye candy for 8 year oldsI’m not a big fan of the Kim Possible TV series, but I must admit it does have a certain appeal. You can’t go too wrong with crimefighting and quirky humor. No wait, you can: I forgot about Batman and Robin. Anyway Kim Possible reminds me of the classic Inspector Gadget series, with the clever, heroic Kim standing in for Gadget’s niece Penny, clueless sidekick Ron Stoppable as Gadget himself, and Ron’s ever versatile pet mole Rufus as Penny’s dog Brain. Unfortunately, Kim Possible adds a second dimension to the Gadget formula: teenage soap opera. Thus, between engaging action/comedy segments we’re subjected to hackneyed leftovers from Beverly Hills 90120 and aggravating Valley Girl talk. I certainly empathized with Kim’s father, who, when suddenly confronted with a stream of melodramatic babbling from Kim, quickly defers to her mother. Unintelligible title aside, So the Drama is a welcome if slight upgrade to the TV series. It looks better, it’s funnier, and some of the “drama” is, for a change, mildly effective. The villain’s scheme is enjoyably nutty and keeps one guessing for most of the film. The plotting is somewhat awkward, though, with Kim and Ron repeatedly rushing off to rescue someone. It feels like several TV episodes that have been spliced together.

The film opens with a highflying action sequence in which Kim and Ron (well, mostly the former) save the Japanese toy inventor Mr. Nakasumi from the clutches of supervillain Shego. Back in her hometown of Middleton, Kim agonizes over whether the boys are put off by her crimefighting exploits, since all of her fellow cheerleaders already have prom dates. For his part, Ron is concerned about an ownership change at his beloved Bueno Nacho Mexican restaurant and incensed by the cancellation of discount taco night and a sudden lack of bendy straws. But when they hear that mad scientist Drakken and Shego have turned up at the swank Bermuda Triangle hotel to buy information from a mobster, the pair don scuba gear and go to intercept. After a big fistfight, Shego and Drakken escape, having discovered that it is Kim’s own father who possesses the knowledge of robotics they seek. Kim continues to worry about finding a prom date and is skeptical when her mother suggests Ron. Conveniently, a studly new student named Erik shows up at school, and to Ron’s great chagrin he and Kim hit it off immediately. As they slowly try to unravel Drakken’s mysterious scheme, the three-way love tussle between our heroes becomes increasingly vexed.

Kim displays her usual anxious teenager-by-day/intrepid-crimefighter-by-night dichotomy in the film, but she also does a bit more soul-searching than usual. Ron tries to steal the show with his typically nerdy goofball antics, but he also expands a little to reveal deep feelings for Kim. Everyone else is as two-dimensional as ever. Drakken and Shego are feeble imitations of a James Bond criminal mastermind and henchman respectively; Kim’s fellow cheerleaders are shallow and catty; and Kim’s family is endearingly eccentric. Newcomer Erik is handsome, sensitive, understanding, and slightly vapid, the very model of a dream boyfriend on shows like The O.C. and Dawson’s Creek. Last and probably least is Kim’s computer whiz associate Wade, who shockingly beats Ron for the title of most pathetic animated teenager. Apparently on call 24/7, we never, ever see him leave his computer, where he is always busy typing or stuffing his face with fast food.

The frantic fights are slick and well choreographed, not too far behind The Incredibles. Still, they are not terribly exciting, so the film relies on comedy for entertainment. In this respect So the Drama is certainly more successful than the TV series and earns a few solid chuckles. In one delightfully subversive moment Drakken shows Shego his newly designed torture chamber, in which we can see a terrified man being thunderously serenaded by a cute animatronic choir that strongly recalls a certain infamous Disney theme park ride. Also amusing: preparing to infiltrate the upscale hotel, Kim sheds her wetsuit to reveal a chic black evening gown, then turns in horror to find Ron proudly clad in his father’s ancient sky-blue prom tux.

The animation is slightly more detailed and refined than the TV series, and there are a few impressive images here and there. The best has to be the opening titles, which are a superb take on the classic Bond credits that could only be improved by having Ron and Erik make corny suggestive poses in the background. There are a handful of CG elements that are actually quite convincing, particularly during the final battle. Overall, the film is still a bit plain, and the characters remain very simply drawn. So the Drama certainly can’t match the animation quality of such recent Disney DVD films as the Mulan and Bambi sequels.

The best of the special features is “Gorilla Fist,” an episode of the TV show. In this adventure, Ron is called up by his Japanese friend Yuri to help rescue their ninja teacher (none other than George “Mr. Sulu” Takei himself) from the clutches of the evil simian ninja Monkey Fist. Having been sworn to secrecy, he is unable to enlist Kim’s aid, but, feeling pangs of jealousy, she does some checking up on her own. It’s a slightly above average episode that is mildly entertaining. Also included are two brief but fully animated deleted scenes (take note Disney!), one in which Kim amusingly debates kicking her high school nemesis Bonnie’s tail once and for all. And finally there are bland music videos for typical whiter-than-white Disney pop songs “Could It Be” and “Get Your Shine On.”

If you’re a Kim Possible fan I’m sure you’ve ordered So the Drama already. It’s more of what you like, only better. For the rest of us it’s modest fun, but it probably lacks the multigenerational appeal of The Incredibles or Spongebob Squarepants. Give it a couple of extra points if you’re a big 007 fan, as the film is in many ways a loving homage to that franchise. Minus the sex scenes of course. They’re like, so the cliché.

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