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"Sonny with a Chance": Sonny's Big Break DVD Review

Buy Sonny with a Chance: Volume 1 - Sonny's Big Break from Amazon.com Sonny with a Chance: Sonny's Big Break
Show & DVD Details

Creator/Executive Producer: Steve Marmel / Executive Producers: Brian Robbins, Sharia Sumpter Bridgett, Michael Feldman

Writers: Michael Feldman, Steve Marmel, Dava Savel, Phil Baker, Drew Vaupen / Directors: David Trainer, Eric Dean Seaton

Cast: Demi Lovato (Sonny Munroe), Tiffany Thornton (Tawni Hart), Sterling Knight (Chad Dylan Cooper), Brandon Smith (Nico), Doug Brochu (Grady), Allisyn Ashley Arm (Zora) / Recurring Characters: Michael Kostroff (Marshall Pike), Jillian Murray (Portlyn), Brent Tarnol (Josh), Vicki Lewis (Joy), Nancy McKeon (Connie Munroe)

Running Time: 113 minutes (5 episodes) / Rating: TV-G
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9) / Originally aired February - March 2009
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 / DVD Release Date: August 25, 2009
White Keepcase with Side Snaps in Cardboard Slipcover

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By Kelvin Cedeno

It can be easy to forget that The Walt Disney Company is, in fact, a company. It's developed such a reputation for quality and high standards throughout the decades that one would almost think Disney puts the customer ahead of the almighty dollar.
It's true that Disney does, in fact, cater to its most loyal fan base at times. Other times, though, its thirst for marketability becomes all too obvious. No where is this more apparent than on the Disney Channel.

Disney's strategy of late is to hire teens who offer the triple threat of acting, singing, and dancing. These children get their own series, TV movie, album, and even concert venues. Any way they can be marketed, they are, and if they stick, the performers will adorn a myriad of inescapable merchandise. If not, then Disney moves on to the next potential sensation.

The latest of these protιgιs is Demi Lovato. After appearing in the interstitial series "As the Bell Rings", she was given a starring role 2008's Camp Rock alongside the Jonas Brothers. Just as Disney hoped, the movie and Lovato were successful, prompting an album, the production of another TV movie (Princess Protection Program), and her own starring series, "Sonny with a Chance".

Sonny (Demi Lovato) poses alongside the logo to her curiously titled show. Zora (Allisyn Ashley Arm), Sonny (Demi Lovato), Grady (Doug Brochu) and Nico (Brandon Smith) practice their musical chairs techniques in preparation for a match against the cast of "Mackenzie Falls."

The series follows hyperactive teen Sonny Munroe (Demi Lovato) as she joins the cast of the fictional sketch comedy show "So Random." Being a fan of the program long before she auditioned, Sonny is amazed at the opportunity to work with her idols: the air-headed diva Tawni Hart (Tiffany Thornton), the goofy duo of Nico and Grady (Brandon Smith and Doug Brochu), and the quirky anomaly Zora (Ashley Arm). Unfortunately, Tawni isn't terribly supportive of having Sonny on the show. If that weren't enough to rudely alter Sonny's perspective, there are more eye-openers. The teen heartthrob she's had a crush on, Chad Dylan Cooper (Sterling Knight), is a smug narcissist whose series "Mackenzie Falls" is a direct rival to "So Random." Sonny must learn to come to terms with her newfound backstage knowledge all the while juggling her work on the show, her schooling, and her personal life.

"Sonny with a Chance" is unusual in that, despite following various Disney Channel checkpoints, it doesn't exactly feel like a Disney show. Its outrageous tone feels a bit more at home with Nickelodeon, especially the early-to-mid '90s era of that network. This leads to both pros and cons. On the plus side, "Sonny" is slightly easier to embrace than most of today's other Disney Channel shows. Cheesiness is a staple of the station's programming, whether it's via forced morality moments or through cringe-worthy humor. "Sonny" largely avoids "lesson of the week" scenes, and it's so blatantly and intentionally ridiculous that it actually becomes more acceptable in an odd way.

On the negative side of things, the series isn't terribly funny. In fact, it can be a bit crass and juvenile at times, even for tweens. This becomes especially true of the characters Nico and Grady, who come across like Timon and Pumbaa without the wit. Echoes of Nickelodeon's "All That" can be found, but "Sonny" seems more influenced by the immature aspects of that series than the clever portions with bite. The show does inspire some smiles thanks mainly in part to Tiffany Thornton's turn as Tawni and Sterling Knight's as Chad. This may be a transparent Demi Lovato showcase, but she gets upstaged by both of these actors and their more finely tuned comedic timing.

Sonny (Demi Lovato) is so taken aback by Tawni's (Tiffany Thornton) devotion to a plush kitten that she fails to pull up a seat for herself. Tawni (Tiffany Thornton) and Sonny (Demi Lovato) perform their signature "Check-It-Out Girls" sketch to much acclaim.

"Sonny with a Chance" isn't terrible, by any means. Some of its humor inspires eye-rolling more than laughs, but its zany, carefree attitude does help make it feel a bit more creative than the usual Disney Channel fare. Six months after premiering, "Sonny with a Chance" arrives on DVD in a first volume compilation titled Sonny's Big Break. This contains the first three episodes of the series along with, for some reason, the fifth rather than the fourth episode. A not-yet-aired bonus episode is also included.

1. Sketchy Beginnings (23:05) (Originally aired February 28, 2009)
Sonny Munroe is awestruck when joining the cast of "So Random," her favorite show. Her excitement is diluted, however, when idol-turned-co-star Tawni does little to hide her disdain of Sonny.

2. West Coast Story (21:46) (Originally aired February 8, 2009)
Sonny meets Chad Dylan Cooper, the star of teen drama "Mackenzie Falls." She tries to make peace between the cast of that series and "So Random" before finally getting even.

3. Cheater Girls (22:41) (Originally aired February 15, 2009)
After spending so much of her time working on a special sketch, Sonny's geometry grade slips. Now she must pass a major exam if she wants to remain a cast member.

4. Sonny at the Falls (22:41) (Originally aired March 1, 2009)
Chad uses a disagreement between Sonny and the others to lure her over to his show. She agrees to the switch but can't quite connect with the cast members of "Mackenzie Falls."

Chad (Sterling Knight) proves that as long as you have a mood-enhancing set and teen drama acting skills, it's easy to make a girl forget why she came to berate you. The superhero members of Loser Force Five (Bubblewrap Girl, Bedhead, Flatulence, Robo Baby, and Static Electrica) live up to the titles of both their group and show-within-a-show name.


"Sonny with a Chance" comes to DVD in the 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio of its standard broadcasts. While nothing exceptional, the image here pleases more than expected. This is mainly thanks to the type of camera used. Disney Channel shows like "Hannah Montana" and "Wizards of Waverly Place" utilize a cheap form of digital photography that results in a blurred image devoid of detail. "Sonny" appears to have been shot with higher quality equipment that produces a sharper, more detailed picture. That's well replicated here along with the vivid color scheme. Digital defects are kept to a minimum. The image isn't necessarily dazzling, but it's more than solid.

The Dolby Surround tracks fall more along the lines of being perfunctory. Dialogue is clean and intelligible, and the effects and music cues help broaden things when needed. It's precisely what one expects from a show of this nature, though at least it's transferred without any noticeable flaws.

In her audition tape, Demi Lovato excitedly performs an early version of the scene where she first meets the "So Random" cast. In more ways than one does Sonny (Demi Lovato) find herself in the middle of a feud between Nico (Brandon Smith) and Grady (Doug Brochu).


This first "Sonny with a Chance" DVD comes with a few supplements. The shortest of these also happens to be the most valuable one: Demi's Audition Tape (3:28).

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Here, the actress' original screen test is shown. An abundance of show clips interspersed throughout it in a cutesy manner hampers the presentation a bit. A straightforward, unedited version would've been much preferred. Still, it's a welcome inclusion, especially since much of it is made up of dialogue that didn't end up in the pilot episode.

"Sonny in the Middle" (22:55) is a bonus episode that makes its debut on this DVD. In it, Nico and Grady celebrate their birthdays, which both fall on the same day. A single gift from Sonny, an electronic video game chair, threatens to tear the duo's friendship apart. It's strange to have the bonus feature of an episode compilation DVD be another episode of that same series. Then again, the design is less obvious with FastPlay utilized.

The mysterious masked fencer who challenges Mackenzie to a duel on "Mackenzie Falls" is probably trying to wrap his head around Mackenzie being played by Chad Dylan Cooper who in turn is played by Sterling Knight. Sonny excitedly waves at the viewer against an equally sunny main menu background.

Next comes the "'Mackenzie Falls' Season Finale Cliffhanger" (7:03). Inspired by the other show-within-a-show, viewers finally get a chance to properly see how melodramatic "So Random"'s rival series is. It's almost a shame that this isn't an actual program, as the intentionally overwrought, soap opera nature is arguably more amusing than "Sonny with a Chance" itself.

Finally, "Dylan & Cole Sprouse: Blu-ray is Suite!" (4:45) is an infomercial meant to educate viewers about Blu-ray discs.
Any feature hosted by "Suite Life" stars is obviously not going to delve very deeply into the technicalities (or do so in a less-than-ham-fisted manner). It's cute for the tweens likely to be viewing this disc, but Disney's own website offers a better tutorial about the technology, and in a funnier way, to boot.

Via Disney's FastPlay, the disc opens with trailers for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Diamond Edition, Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie, The Princess and the Frog, and Disney Movie Rewards. These can be found within the "Sneak Peeks" menu along with additional ads for Disney Friends for Change, Disney Blu-ray, Princess Protection Program, Earth, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Up, and Santa Buddies.

The animated main menu rotates cast publicity shots with show clips as the theme song plays. Submenus feature more publicity shots and music, but no clips or animated backgrounds. Taking a cue from Warner Brothers discs, the DVD contents play automatically if the main menu is left running through the looped score twice.

The gray, artless disc comes housed in a standard white Amaray case with side snaps. Inside is a collectible card showing Sonny on one side and Chad on the other. The packaging indicates that some of these may be autographed (this reviewer's wasn't), and it seems to suggest that future "Sonny with a Chance" volumes will feature more cards inside. A booklet advertising other Disney Channel DVDs is also included, as is a Disney Movie Rewards code. A cardboard slipcover with absolutely no special touches covers the casing.

In a vain attempt to lighten up her meal with the cast of "Mackenzie Falls", Sonny (Demi Lovato) goes into a manic frenzy with her lunch selection. The inseparable Grady (Doug Brochu) and Nico (Brandon Smith) brainstorm ideas with Sonny for their new bee sketch.


It's probably unfair to criticize "Sonny with a Chance" so harshly. After all, some of the best television series have had rocky debut seasons, and "Sonny" only has four episodes (five counting the bonus one) with which to make an impression here. Even so, it's doubtful that it'll become one of the all-time greats.
Some humor that skews lower than the demographic represented here hampers things. There's still potential to be found, though, as "Sonny" exhibits far more personality and vigor than most of its kin. If it can tap into that and utilize some of its more intelligent ideas, then the show could be more worthwhile.

The Sonny's Big Break DVD presents the series with decent video and serviceable audio. As expected of Disney Channel DVD, supplements are anemic. Demi Lovato's screen test is interesting, though tantalizingly short. The bonus episode is on par with the main four, and the mock "Mackenzie Falls" finale shows some of the sharp humor one wishes permeated "Sonny" more. It's difficult to recommend this disc not just because of the hit-or-miss nature of the series itself, but because it seems ridiculous to purchase a volume with so little content. It's frustrating that Disney doesn't commit itself to full season sets. Because of that, diehard fans will probably want to snatch this up if they need the show on DVD in any way possible. Everyone else interested is better off catching one of the show's many Disney Channel airings.

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Reviewed August 28, 2009.