...like diamonds? Or rice cakes?
What is it? Well, Radio Rebel is a DCOM based on a novel by Danielle Joseph called Shrinking Violet, and as you can probably guess from the title of this review we're reviewing both here so hold on to your hats, the five of you who regularly read this blog!
Where did it air? Disney Channel for Radio Rebel and as for Shrinking Violet...Amazon? A used bookstore near you?
Who stars in it? For Radio Rebel it's of course centered around Debby Ryan as her official DCOM vehicle (16 Wishes doesn't count for reasons we already got into for that review, and neither does The Suite Life Movie as she was very much second-fiddle at best in that one) along with Sarena Parmar who you'll know from How to be Indie if you've ever had access to a network that aired that; Allie Bertram who was on later seasons of Mako Mermaids (well after the first season that aired on Disney Channel last year) if you've ever had access to a network that aired that; Adam DiMarco and Atticus Mitchell who you'll recognize from the DCOM Zapped! and the My Babysitter's a Vampire series respectively, Merritt Patterson and Nancy Robertson who you'll recognize from...*insert shrug emoji here*. For Shrinking Violet it's...a bunch of words printed on paper, but it was written by Danielle Joseph as I mentioned above, based on her own experiences as a radio station intern and DJ and you might find it additionally interesting that it was originally published through MTV Books (I don't know if that's much of a label or not - which given my occupation is probably something I should be more aware of)
Why are we reviewing this? Because I think it's about time we start comparing DCOMs to their source material.
So along those lines, let's see how Radio Rebel stacks up to Shrinking Violet and whether or not the tired cliche of "the book is better" holds out to be true, along with what's been changed.
...and now that I've put actual thought into it, I've realized I've run into yet another review roadblock as it's hard for me to really talk about the differences between the two without just flat out saying first that, yeah, the book really is going to be better in this case. It's more hard-edged and does way more stuff that Disney's Standards and Practices will never, ever allow (as evidenced by all the changes they made to their DCOM adaptation).
Let's start with the character Tara (or Teresa as she's called in the book, or Sweet-T as her DJ persona's called as opposed to the rather unimaginative Radio Rebel). She has major body image issues that are never touched upon in the DCOM (which is odd because she's actually described as looking pretty much like Jessie-era Debby Ryan so they scored well on casting at least, but it's also a missed opportunity to incorporate how body-negative images are often imagined based on pressures and forces that don't recognize how beautiful women actually are) and it's entirely the source of her shyness. She also doesn't know who her father is, quite simply because her mother doesn't even have a clue either and her mom describes herself as largely having successfully recovered from being a "wild child" in her teen years, much more extreme than Bex Mack which is probably the most extreme the network's ever going to allow (in the DCOM her dad's simply separated and off to Taiwan on a business trip).
There's also no plot by the principal to try to destroy all forms of fun on-campus - in fact the principal is literally mentioned generically in a single line in the entire book towards the end to award prom king and queen - so yeah Principal Moreno, her little war/Bonfire of the Conniptions and her takedown of prom as an expression of how seriously unstable she is are total fabrications for the DCOM. The actual plot concerns Teresa's internship at her stepdad's radio station - she doesn't have a podcast at all here, probably because the book was written just before podcasts were really a thing - and how she's battling her own shyness trying to fill in DJ'ing on an emergency basis and overcoming a deluge of serious full-contact workplace sexual harassment/assault (yeah that's another thing that won't pass Disney S&P, needless to say). And while her temp DJ position turns out to explode in popularity it's her own stepdad who tries to keep "Sweet-T"'s true identity a secret for the sake of ratings and a contest (hey speaking of which did you know this very blog is running a contest to win a download code of a Guardians of the Galaxy digital comic? Did I mention that already?) Gavin, Stacey, the triangle conflict Teresa ends up with them and having her alter-ego run for Prom Queen against Stacey are there in the book though, but in modified form given all the other plot changes.
The main conflict drivers in the book are, again, the sexual harassment/assault Teresa has to put up with at work and how she stands up to herself to put that to a stop, and how she stands up to Stacey and her own shyness to become the voice she wants to be at school - so in that respect it's somewhat like the DCOM but much more introspective and inner-character-focused as Gavin and even Stacey are pushed more in the background in comparison, and the novel really does concentrate on that intimate, introspective nature that's at the core of Teresa's thoughts.
And then we have the DCOM which is certainly much more upbeat and fun in comparison (or hell, even compared to 16 Wishes which isn't exactly "Doc Holiday on his death bed at the end of Tombstone"). It's got...the crazy principal and her war against fun for some reason, and the end result is that it feels more disjointed and random compared to the novel and the motivations aren't exactly as clear or for that matter just appear out of the blue, again namely with Principal Moreno. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing given the more upbeat and goofy nature of the DCOM. But it does also end up introducing parts that break up if not outright pause the action, especially the outdoor scenes at Stacey's party (save for Tara's confrontation with Stacey).
So which one is better? From a strict qualitative standpoint it's going to be Shrinking Violet, hands down. It's legitimately well-written, tackles issues teens and teen girls especially would find relevant, and readers who are not teen girls can still appreciate the character introspective, inner monologue and intimacy of Teresa's character. But Radio Rebel's certainly a good DCOM for a casual or even party atmosphere...if you happen to be surrounded by a bunch of other people who are also really into Disney Channel, for some reason. Or if you just feel like a DCOM that's goofy and fun and not at all serious to watch.
If you ever happen to be in that mood for a DCOM specifically, for some reason.
Shrinking Violet Novel Grade: B+. Again, it's decently well-written and if you're a fan of novels that are very character-focused and especially on the narrator/viewpoint character, you might like this one.
Shrinking Violet Favorite Character: It's probably going to be Teresa by default since, again, she ends up being dominant in her own world.
Radio Rebel Movie Grade: C+. It's not a bad grade all things considered; not the best DCOM and it's got some pace-killing scenes but it's still fun to watch.
Radio Rebel Movie MVP: It's actually really hard for me to decide between Nancy Robertson and Allie Bertram just because it seems like they actually had the most goofy fun making this movie, and it really spills out into the movie itself. If I really had to choose I'd probably go with Allie if for no other reason because she was in Mako Mermaids and...I really like mermaids. Yup.
- The "party atmosphere with a bunch of other people who are already really into Disney Channel, for some reason" would probably include myself, Mike, Spongey, the guy who runs the Zetus Lepodcast, "Adult Disney Male" from Twitter and maybe Shipping Wars are Stupid if he just lost all his sanity.
- Speaking of which, again, go check out the Zetus Lapodcast, it's excellent. Maybe when I get famous he can invite me to talk about this movie, if he hasn't already done so with someone who will be far, far more famous than me.
- For whatever reason it doesn't seem as if Danielle Joseph really wrote many more books before or since Shrinking Violet which I think is sad, but it's hardly uncommon. I do know she has other "color"-themed books that I probably should hunt down and pick up that are also apparently music-biz themed, Indigo Blues and Pure Red, the most recent of which was published already six years ago (Shrinking Violet was published back in 2008 or so, like a lot of YA novels-turned-DCOMs in the post-HSM era - and again like said DCOMs, there's a pretty sizable gap between the publication date of the book and the premiere of the DCOM).
- Though I did end up checking her Twitter as I was tweeting this very review and based on her account (it's still pretty active!) and her tweets from the last two months it indicates she's still writing.
- So yeah, just to remind you we have a contest going on. If you can guess a very specific personal detail I left out in my Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 review, you win a download code for a Guardians of the Galaxy digital comic book. Now you're pretty much going to have to be a mindreader here because I'm looking for a very specific answer. Wrong answers so far include failing to talk about the soundtrack and failing to mention Debby, so no, it's not those admissions. I was also briefly considering having it open only to direct replies to this blog but I think I'll leave it open to Twitter submissions too, since it's clear the people who are responding to it on Twitter are reading the review.
- Speaking of Debby, let's talk about her puppy dog eyes:
- oh, and I believe the telescope-looking thing Barry uses to look for Radio Rebel is actually a rangefinder for hunting, which isn't really all that great for what they're trying to do. Barry's cheap-ass binoculars would actually be better for that. And yes, a principal can expel an entire class, though I don't know if it's actually happened. But certainly not for reasons as stupid as what Principal Moreno insists.
- I forgot to mention that the actress who plays the gym teacher in 16 Wishes comes back in this one to play Tara's drama teacher.