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.