Review: OMG or LOL? Three Disney Disks

Let me start this review by suggesting that, for all its sins real or imagined, Disney Music purveys more original music for kids and families than any other label. It is possible to avoid a fair amount of that if you don't actually watch cable TV on a regular basis, but they put out a lot of music on a regular basis, and for all age ranges. Not to mention a back catalog the envy of just about anybody. How much you actually enjoy it all depends in part on your age, but I've got three recent Disney releases here, and at least one of them is worth your time.

CampRock.jpgI admit it. I'm old. Not, like, Social Security old, but old enough that if I use the phrase "OMG" I mean it ironically. I am old enough, however, to have a kid who, though she isn't quite out of the "kids music" phase yet, will start listening to music I haven't introduced her to.

So I understand quite clearly that the soundtrack to Camp Rock, the latest Disney Channel original movie, premiering on a gazillion different channels this week, is Not For Me. It is for kids just a little older than my daughter. They'll spend their own allowances on it, or maybe their parents will get it for them. And what they'll get is an attempt to duplicate the High School Musical magic, except this time in a slightly more rock-oriented retelling of Cinderella. The album features some tracks with Joe Jonas solo (he's got a leading role in the movie) as well as a Jonas Brothers track. There are some songs by 16-year-old Demi Lovato, who has the lead female role and seems to be Disney's leading contender for a Miley Cyrus with a less pop and more rock edge.

The songs are fine enough, and most of the songs won't drive you to change the station if you hear them on Radio Disney (OK, maybe "Hasta La Vista," ugh), but you're not going to remember them 15 minutes after they're over. There's nothing as memorable as "Breaking Free" or "Fabulous" or "You Are the Music In Me," all of which are decent pop songs. In the end, it's not really for me, but it never really was.
DisneyMania6.jpgIf Camp Rock is for kids, say, 8 through 13, and for them only, the DisneyMania series is Disney's attempt to create albums that both kids and parents would listen to. The latest iteration, DisneyMania 6 brings together singers familiar to tweens (Mitchel Musso and Emily Osment, the Cheetah Girls, lots of others from Disney) and singers whose names, if not necessarily their songs, might be familiar to their parents (Colbie Caillat, Elliott Yamin, Kate Voegele). (And then there's Billy Ray Cyrus, who, oddly enough, straddles both camps.) The "hook" of the series is that they're all tackling classic Disney songs.

Again, your age probably will affect your response here. If you're young, you might like the younger stars' incessantly pitch-corrected takes on Disney songs. If you're older, you might wonder if the phrase "incessantly pitch-corrected" means you're getting a little bit grumpy in your old age. Some of the covers are fine, but so close to the original to make you wonder "Why bother?" (Billy Ray's take on Cars' "Real Gone," Elliott Yamin's version of "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"). Other covers seem a little off; Demi Lovato -- remember her? -- rips through a version of Enchanted's "That's How You Know" that seems completely at odds with the gentleness of the lyrics. There is at least one stunning winner of a track -- Kate Voegele turns in an absolutely over-the-top rendition of "When You Wish Upon A Star" from Pinocchio that completely rocks but at the same time retains the yearning that is the song's core.

The adults will wonder why so few artists in the collection drew on Disney's incredible pre-1989 musical catalog, but there are few utter missteps here. This 52-minute CD won't be your first choice (nor probably your kids') but as a compromise CD in the car, DisneyMania 6 isn't so bad.

DisneyMusicBlockParty.jpgFinally, with the Disney Music Block Party disk, Disney attempts to do with more toddler and early grade school artists what they've done with older artists on DisneyMania -- giving those artists a crack at the Disney catalog (while cannily using it to cross-promote a summer tour with those same artists).

For pure musical renditions, this album, frankly, works a whole heck of a lot better than DisneyMania 6. The album uses a much broader cross-section of the Disney catalog, with the exception of using three songs from Mary Poppins, and really, you could do much, much worse than using three songs from that movie. You get a much better sense of each artist's musical personality with the covers -- the covers are distinctive, but there's a much better match between the artist and song.

So the Imagination Movers' "I Wan'na Be Like You" sounds a lot like the Movers, but that sort of infectious play fits the song well. Gwendolyn and the Good Time Gang give "The Bear Necessities" a country swing that quite winning, while Dan Zanes gives his big found-sound treatment (tubas, slide whistles) to "Jolly Holiday" from Mary Poppins. Ralph's World's "Mickey Mouse Club March" sounds like Ralph, and They Might Be Giants' "Ballad of Davy Crockett (In Outer Space)" is as utterly weird and spaced-out as you might expect. And Kay Hanley -- once of Letters to Cleo (and currently backing up Miley Cyrus on tour) -- turns in a "Chim Chim Cher-ee" that is faithful to the wistfulness of the original but with its own edge.

If you've made it this far, you've probably figured out which album here I think is the best, and you're probably right. Disney Music Block Party might be the album least likely of those here to go gold, but it's also the best, honoring the fine Disney catalog with spirited and individual covers of songs from that catalog. It's for the 4-year-olds, but I dare say the 10-year-olds and the 34-year-olds would enjoy it too. Recommended.