There’s a long tradition of musicals for kids out there, stretching all the way back to Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney staging a play in an old barn. Lately, the genre’s taken on an unforeseen level of commercial prominence: After the Cheetah Girls movie premiered on the Disney Channel in 2003, its soundtrack went to No. 2, a success that led in part to the recent freakish phenomenon known as High School Musical. Now the Cheetahs are back with a spunky sequel The Cheetah Girls 2 (directed by HSM’s Kenny Ortega, no less).
Based on the kids’ book series, the Cheetah Girls are a teen singing group led by ambitious Galleria Garibaldi (played by budding impresario Raven-Symoné, who also exec-produces). The other three members — sensitive Chanel (Adrienne Bailon), sassy Aquanetta (Kiely Williams), scrappy foster kid Dorinda (Sabrina Bryan) — are both her backups and her BFFs. When Chanel has to spend her summer in Barcelona, the entire group comes along to participate in a music competition. Along the way, everyone learns lessons about friendship, class issues, and the scary truth that parents have lives of their own.
Yes, it’s a bit ridiculous watching four calculatedly multiracial girls lip-synch to peppy songs about changing the world. But even a saccharine version of girl power — or, to quote the Cheetahs, ”Growl Power” — is better than other tween-bait options, like MTV’s The Hills, that teach girls to put their boyfriends first. The Cheetahs at least have a message…and messages are always easier to swallow when accompanied by a well-choreographed dance number.