Nova Aimee Teegarden
Jesse Thomas McDonell
Jordan Kylie Bunbury
Tyler DeVaughn Nixon
Mei Yin Chang
Lloyd Nicholas Braun
Simone Danielle Campbell
Lucas Nolan Sotillo
Tess Raini Rodriguez
Walt Disney Studios presents a film directed by Joe Nussbaum. Written by Katie Wech. Running time: 104 minutes. Rated PG (for mild language and a brief fight). Opening today at local theaters.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Less engrossing than a Clearasil commercial and more synthetic than a Rebecca Black video, “Prom” is Disney’s attempt to launch a new generation of tween idols. But this wholesome confection about a high school dance lacks the buoyant energy of Disney’s mega-hit “High School Musical,” and some sweet moments are not enough to make up for a thin storyline featuring too many inexperienced, young performers. Anyone over the age of 12 will want to sit out this dance.
It begins three weeks before prom in a suburban high school. The girls are excited about being asked. The boys are terrified about asking them. Apparently, even the ask itself is now a montage-worthy event, with high expectations for drama and creativity from the guys. One romantic invitation features candles in a shed filled with party decorations, igniting a fire that destroys all of the “Starry Night” decorations.
This is devastating for Nova (Aimee Teegarden), class president and all-around achiever, who is determined that the prom will be “a perfect moment.” Jesse (Thomas McDonell), the school rebel (he has long hair, a motorcycle and a bad attitude), points out that at the very worst, “the boys and girls of the school have been robbed of the opportunity to stand around and drink punch. Lower the flags to half mast.” The principal orders him to work with Nova to make new decorations, and inevitably, a less combustible set of sparks will fly.
The prom creates stress and drama for other seniors as well. Two popular couples struggle with complications that go beyond the selection of limo and cummerbund. The top candidates for prom queen and king are Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) and boyfriend Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon), the lacrosse team captain and a playa off the field as well. Mei (Yin Chang) does not know how to tell her devoted boyfriend since middle school that she wants to go to Parsons in New York to study design instead of to the University of Michigan with him. The prom also gives shy, gawky Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) his last chance to ask a girl — any girl — out, with encouragement from his stepsister Tess (a warm, engaging Raini Rodriguez). A pretty sophomore (Danielle Campbell) must choose between her awkward, music-mad lab partner and a smoother guy who may not be trustworthy. They also manage to squeeze in two characters from a Disney TV series as underclassmen for cross-promotion and the already announced sequel.
But never fear! The overpacked plot still leaves time for the inevitable trying-on-dresses montage, a parent who has to learn to trust his daughter’s judgment and a last-minute arrival of a back-lit dream date.
Parents will be relieved that everything stays reassuringly PG. A character who would be a stoner in a PG-13 high school movie merely chomps on the candies that give him his nickname and talks about the girl he is bringing to the prom in a manner that sounds vaguely, well, vague. And parents will appreciate the portrayal of supportive friends and moms, and some nice lessons about self-respect, loyalty and moving beyond shallow fantasies of “the perfect moment.”
But with a dozen main characters, “Prom” feels more like a series of Disney Channel sketches than stories. Its effort to underplay the fantasy of the “perfect moment” lost in its own focus on one magical evening. A complaint from one girl about being required to read Ethan Frome is the only suggestion in the film that school exists for any purpose other than filling out college applications and finding dates. Like a discount corsage, “Prom” looks pretty and wilts fast.
Nell Minow is the film critic for the website Beliefnet.com.