Friday, October 2, 2015

My Babysitter's a Vampire Review: The Movie 

I heart boys who sparkle! Alternatively, A debate team trophy?!

What is it? Single-cam made-for-TV kids/family comedy movie of the tween/early teen variety
Where did it air? Family Channel in Canada originally (or YTV, I don't remember off the top of my head) but Disney Channel here in the 'States
Who stars in it? The incredibly lovely and terribly underrated Vanessa Morgan (originally an LA native, BTW) along with the equally lovely and terribly underrated  Kate Todd, and again the equally terribly underrated Matthew Knight, Atticus Mitchell, and Cameron Kennedy
Why are we reviewing this? Because as far as made-for-TV-movies-but-not-DCOMs go MBAV is one of the finest Disney Channel's ever aired. Hell it can easily go toe-to-toe with the best Halloween-themed actual DCOMs, or the best DCOMs period (yeah in case you can't tell I love this movie)

It's October now, which means all the obligatory Halloween themes and for Disney Channel in particular "Monstober" which despite all the yearly Twitter buzz and excitement can be a mixed bag. Girl Meets World: Of Terror 2 more than kind of sucks (I tried watching it too, and I just can't, the song they use for the number[s] is just too, too horrible - you can tell they got a regular staff writer who literally doesn't know a thing about song writing and is quite possibly also tone deaf who has a vague idea of what the 20s is like from watching Brian de Palma's Untouchables and nothing else, instead of an actual skilled songwriter who can make shitty songs not sound like shit and oh yeah actually make them sound like songs instead of script instructions with all the inspiration and passion of a cardboard cutout of Joaquin Phoenix and his glaze-eyed stare). I think the Jessie Monstober episodes are kind of hit-and-miss within the same episode, especially all the way back in The Whining which for me was the first signal that the show was going to head downhill, straight into "Tonight's Jessie has been preempted so we can bring you 24 minutes of kid-friendly humiliation porn starring Debby Ryan" territory. The tendency is to either go overboard, like with the three-plot non-canon story-within-a-story arc - which has worked better and not so well with some shows - or barely even try with a soft story about going trick-or-treating and just encountering the same problems they always do at school anyway - which again has worked better and not so well with some shows too (it really speaks volumes about how much Liv and Maddie has evolved that the first season was about mistaken identity at a school Halloween dance, and the second season had Helga). 

And then there is the theme-ing of the network itself which, especially for the bumpers/Wand IDs tends to be obnoxious and, how do I put this, trying too hard. We get it, it's Halloween, stupid holiday puns are your fetish, take your stupid puns and shove it, give me back Debby saying "What's up" and Dove Cameron saying "yay!" and Piper Curda also saying "yay!" goddamnit. 

That aside Monstober is still probably the best month of the whole damn year for Disney Channel programming. Fa-la-laidays are overrated and suck, and the rest of the year is just the rest of the year. You don't like the Halloween-themed episodes, that's ok, they take up like only 1/5 of the programming schedule (and front/back-loaded at the very beginning and end of the month too so there, now you can schedule avoiding them) and Disney Channel will still spam Girl Meets The Secret of Life a billion times until you've memorized Farkle's formula for figuring how long it takes to wash a car and then be proven wrong. The Halloween-themed DCOMs are almost always a treat, particularly Halloweentown which tends to be spammed a lot especially during the Replay/graveyard slots, plus are always on Watch Disney Channel this time of year with Twitches. Oh, on that note, Watch Disney Channel has opened the flood gates and now anything even remotely resembling a Halloween-themed DCOM is up on Watch Disney, including Now You See It which isn't exactly a Halloween DCOM and premiered, January 2004? Disney Channel's also been having Maker Monstober since last year when they bought out the Maker YouTube channel which is probably the best thing out of the entire year's schedule and showcases a lot of independent creatives, so there.

Anyway, I'm supposed to be talking about this movie called My Babysitter's a Vampire. You won't find it on Watch Disney Channel because it's an import from Canada's Family Channel which Disney Channel has a partnership with (or used to until they launched Disney Channel Canada just last month, either way they don't have the rights to put it up on Watch Disney Channel despite being on the network proper) which in all honesty probably explains why it's so damn good and even more mature and darker than the usual stuff on Disney Channel, even compared to the Halloweentown movies. So sorry, you snooze you lose but it's not hard to find on say Netflix or Amazon Prime and I'd say it's worth the $1.99 or whatever. 

If you've already seen it, you've noticed coming in it's different from a DCOM in every way imaginable from the cinematography and direction to the scriptwriting, even though many of the same people who work for Family Channel also work for Disney Channel down to the cast themselves (Atticus Mitchell - by far the only person I've see named Atticus outside of The Middle and Harper Lee novels - was with Debby in Radio Rebel which is chock full of Canadian vets, and Vanessa Morgan who by the way is crazy insane hot was with Sarah Hyland who is also crazy insane hot in Geek Charming and has been on a few Disney Channel shows namely A.N.T. Farm). There's just a certain "Canadian" feel to it that I actually kind of like, if only because I associate it with taking more risks than Disney Channel's in-house stuff. Kind of like how all the procedural dramas on CBS tends to have the same uniform extruded product feel in cinematography and even in the tone (both in the figurative sense and down to the actual colors) of the video captured by the camera itself even though all these disparate shows may be produced by different studios owned by rival networks behind the scenes (though this fall season only like one or two CBS dramas aren't produced in-house). 

When you're dealing with a ridiculous fantastic premise there's two ways to go about it - you can either go all-in and treat it completely seriously and reverently - which tends to have mixed results, but a good creative can make it work brilliantly and even have it remembered as high literature (see anything Tolkien) or you can just throw up your arms, openly admit that you know it's fucking stupid and just roll with how fucking stupid it is and have fun with it - which tends to be the safe and comfortable route but can be overdone into shittiness (see almost anything Seltzer and Freiberg). I think it's pretty obvious that My Babysitter's a Vampire is going for the latter but without overdoing it. In fact if anything it does it in a weirdly constrained way (in a way where you can tell it's mainly constrained by budget as so much as the quality of scriptwriting or imagination) but in a manner that helps reel it in. It spends some time to set up the universe it resides in (mainly this movie-within-a-movie Twilight parody called Dusk - you can tell this thing was made when Twilight was still at the height of its popularity) and then we get to vampires, and then action, and then end scene. I'll get into more of that stuff a little later.

My Babysitter's a Vampire is made by FreshTV which is actually weird because they've done almost nothing but animation - Total Drama Island and 6Teen on Cartoon Network is made by them. In fact I think MBAV is their only live-action production. It's also kind of weird because I kind of hate Total Drama Island and 6Teen, or at least I never really got into it. But lo and behold it's the same writers for the MBAV movie/series (oh yeah I'll get into that later too) and Total Drama Island/6Teen so there you go. I just found 6Teen to be meh, and TDI a little too stuck in how gimmicky its premise is, but in MBAV the script seems more loose and willing to veer off into a weird direction it thinks will work, and then making it work.

It really shows in the fight scenes - I guess they know fight choreography is going to be limited so they do what they can even if it means having to make the fights intentionally goofy. Like in the climax when Benny (Atticus Mitchell) is fighting vampires at a movie theater while at the same time flirting with the girl behind the snack counter and pretending to be a Jedi (it makes sense in context). This is also the only time on Disney Channel you'll see someone fight a vampire by shoving a fork through his head or having a debate team trophy get speared through his hand (it's the pointiest thing they could find), which will never not be awesome, thank you Disney Channel sensors for allowing that one.

There's only two things that really bug me about it. The first is how Erika (Kate Todd, who again is crazy insane hot) picks up the intricacies of being a vampire really fast, even more than Sarah (Vanessa Morgan) and by the time of the series becomes this all-knowing vampire expert. Like in the series sometimes it'll be like, Sarah's like what the heck is that and then Benny's like I don't know let's read the book and then they read the book and Benny's like this doesn't tell us anything and then Erika literally drops in and is all like, exposition goes here. If you've seen the movie you know she pretty much has to pick up all this vampire stuff up instantly. Maybe it's because she's such a big Dusk fan she researched all this shit beforehand, or Jesse the Bad Guy told her all this in the 15 seconds they spend together. The other thing is that Erika does this big heel-face-turn so she can be a big star in the TV show suddenly and without explanation, all off-screen no less. She and Sarah are fighting, and then Erika tells vampire Chad from High School Musical to go fight Sarah instead, then Erika disappears from the whole frickin' movie, and then the next time anybody sees Erika it's at the very end of the movie where she's just chillin' in high school and everybody's like, yup, everything is back to normal, of course we can completely trust this vampire girl who five minutes earlier was trying to kill us to be our friend and help us fight supernatural bad guys. 

So that's all I got, take it away Mike!

...well it doesn't seem like Mike's very interested in taking this one so I'll just give it the final go:

Episode Grade: B+. A little wobbly and it doesn't make any pretense of it being bigger than it is but it's already recognized as a Disney Channel/Family Channel holiday classic.
Episode MVP: Again, it's really hard to assign one just because everyone plays their part in accordance so well, nobody really stands out. I think I'll give it to Atticus Mitchell just so I can use this space to point out he's also in the first season of one of my favorite shows, Fargo on FX.

1 comment:

  1. I pretty much live for the holiday programming. Love all of it. (Well, some holiday episodes are better than others but i love the stuff as a concept. i just really like holiday programming, i do special holiday reviews for a reason)


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