The Disney Channel has been plugging the newest Disney original movie Radio Rebel starring ultra-cute Disney star Debby Ryan (previously aired). If you’ve seen the promos and are still in your teens you may not realize that this concept has been done before on the big screen with Christian Slater (when he was a teen sensation). The movie was Pump Up the Volume (1990). Let’s compare: Sweet, innocent Debby Ryan, professed Christian who got her start singing in churches and acting parts in such subversive shows as Barney and The Suite Life or Christian Slater whose first big role was in The Name of the Rose about murder amongst monks and a scathing storyline exposing hypocrisy, heresy and torture.
I’m not slamming on Debby Ryan. She’s a nice kid, very talented for the family movie lineup, but that’s the point. She’s not a rebel. What the hell would she be rebelling about in the Disney world of family-style movies? Disney movies are about trivial sitcom problems glossing over much of the real world’s darkness. I do think Disney Channel’s advocacy campaign for environmental concerns is admirable. Beyond that, I don’t expect anything deep from Disney. They’re a corporate money-maker aiming at their target audience. Radio Rebel is an obnoxious concept considering it’s already been done and done better.
To be fair, this movie was a book before it was turned into a movie. For all I know the book is darker and more in the rebellious vein and then was Disneyfied (my assumption is the book is a bunch of fluff too though). Pump Up the Volume isn’t exactly a nineties masterpiece, but it hit the necessary chords. In it, Mark Hunter is a shy kid, so shy he can’t socially function at times, whose personality erupts onto radio (and not a podcast like Radio Rebel, he runs an actual pirate radio station all on his own). He plays music like Leonard Cohen, Soundgarden, Henry Rollins and other musicians that aren’t going to compare to Debby Ryan singing a cover song of “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s. Hunter identifies with isolated students who are suicidal or bullied gays or students abused by the school system. The underlining message of the film is to “talk hard” and get your own voice out there (which is what we may now have with the Internet). Christian Slater came off like Lenny Bruce reincarnated with obscenities, opinions, fake masturbation gags and lots of teenage angst. It was over the top, sometimes goofy, but what it wasn’t was sickly sweet, clean entertainment.
The closest comparison I have is if Disney made their own version of Rebel Without a Cause. You can’t quite put your finger on why you’re annoyed, but you know it’s not right. It’s basically the sanitization of rebellion.
Might I also add there is a nice love interest in Pump Up the Volume with Samantha Mathis. At the time, I thought she was the perfect girlfriend (secretly, since I wasn’t supposed to watch these kinds of films due to my Christian upbringing). It was the idea of being the loner who is discovered by the pretty girl who is not a cheerleader or in a popular clique–a regular high school girl with a brain whom you could connect with. Oh yeah, and she isn’t a prude. If you were discovered by Debby Ryan or rather you discovered Debby Ryan as the Rebellious Radio DJ, don’t count on getting laid any time soon–you’ll get a lecture on purity and abstinence.
Radio Rebel with Debby Ryan? Let her hang out with the Disney Princesses, but we don’t need this kind of rebellious voice. It’s hollow and it can’t be taken seriously.