In 2002, Disney Channel was in an interesting place. Basking in the successes of original shows like Even Stevens and Lizzie McGuire, the network was really adapting well to its transition from premium channel to part of the basic cable package, which first started in 1997. Already having its very first animated series under its belt with 2001’s The Proud Family, it was looking for a favorable followup. The channel had begun tightening up their aesthetic and branding. And had already been starting to (almost exclusively) market its shows towards young girls rather than to both boys and girls equally. It seemed like if the show had a female lead, she must be required to have a music career as well–under Disney’s Hollywood Records no doubt. This type of mindset was a far cry from the network’s initial programming, which featured grass roots-type shows with more down-to-earth leads, but made sense if you really consider that it’s Disney we’re talking about.
And Kim Possible was no different. As a 13-year-old boy, I hardly watched the show, but have the theme song memorized because of its ubiquity in the channel’s promo rotations. The series was a stepping stone to what the network eventually became, and an important one. Whereas The Proud Family never really stuck with kids, Kim Possible was able to have market value. And unlike Lizzie McGuire, which also had market value, Kim Possible was a cartoon. Characters always wore the same clothes, never aged, and possessed a permanent image that could be placed on merchandise everywhere and forever.
Just like this film, the show surrounded Kim Possible, a high schooler who warded of super villains in her spare time. It’s a simple premise, but what drove the series were its fun characters and unique sense of humor.
This new live-action film opens up with Kim (Sadie Stanley) and her sidekick, Ron Stoppable (Sean Giambrone) fighting Patton Oswalt’s character, an evil villain who is obtaining a pink slime that will allow him to destroy mankind. The action is cheesy and confusing, but Oswalt gives life to these scenes. We want more of him. Sadly, we never get it, but his appearance lets us know right away that we’re in good hands. These filmmakers want to entertain, and they have good–dare I say great–comedic sensibilities.
Along the way, Kim’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Drakken (Todd Stashwick), escapes from prison and is planning something evil with cohort Shego (Taylor Ortega). What that plan is, we’re not entirely sure.
The movie revolves around Kim and Ron’s first day of high school as freshmen. Much of the runtime is spent with them trying to adjust to high school life and fitting in. They meet a loner girl, named Athena (Ciara Wilson), who turns out to be a huge fan of Kim. Kim takes Athena under her wing and recruits her to join their crime fighting team.
But the movie becomes exclusively about Kim’s friendship with Athena. So much so that it loses any semblance of a premise whatsoever. Every so often they’ll cut to Drakken and Shego planning some ambiguous scheme, but that never really comes to fruition until the final 15 minutes. And even that feels like forced conflict. Their motives are clear, but just not good enough. We’re never convinced that it’s enough to drive a full length movie.
If you spend much of the movie trying to wrap your head around what the actual narrative is, you’re not alone. The premise is disjointed at best and we see why eventually–although that doesn’t excuse it.
Without giving anything away, there’s a twist towards the end of the movie that we may or may not see coming. The biggest issue is that the twist isn’t made to justify the story. Rather, the story is made to justify the twist. And we see that so blatantly in hindsight. There are points in the film where the story meanders and develops in a way that feels unnatural. Though when the twist comes in, we understand why, but then feel like we’ve been robbed of an actual storyline in lieu of a giant contrived setup. In fact, to those more familiar with narrative formulas, this meandering may in fact give the twist away long before you’re supposed to figure it out.
Sadie Stanley does a great job as Kim. Her performance doesn’t fall into the overly campy Disney Channel performances that we might so often see. She embodies the spirit of the original character without tarnishing that.
The cast as a whole is mostly really great. Giambrone and Stashwick are given some golden opportunities to flex their comedic chops, and totally come through. Even if the former gets severely underutilized.
The movie never takes itself too seriously and has some surrealistic elements–much like a cartoon, actually–with humor that’s smart and doesn’t pander. I found myself laughing out loud quite a lot.
Kim Possible not only proves well that the cartoon series can be translated well to a live-action production, but does so in a way that I would want to see a sequel.