The summer programming slate has offered some heavy dramatic fare so far, which means it’s time for something lighter. Lifetime and the Disney Channel share a parent company—Lifetime is a subsidiary of A+E Networks, which is owned in part by The Walt Disney Company—which lends a sense of corporate synergy to their movie offerings this weekend. In honor of its 100th original movie, the Disney channel is rolling out the new blues of an Adventures In Babysitting one day before the similarly youth-centric Center Stage: On Pointe twirls onto Lifetime.
But this cinematic pair has a lot more in common than a corporate banner (though it feels like they could’ve been pitched at the same meeting). They were also seemingly born of the dread sequel-and-remake machine that keeps churning out extraneous entries and needless retellings. The reworked Adventures In Babysitting, which comes almost 30 years after the original premiered, and On Pointe, the third entry in the Center Stage franchise, pop up as the answers to pop-culture questions no one but the most devoted of fans would be inclined to ask.
The respective charted territories of the films are traveled by new batches of fresh-faced teens and tweens, and even fresh infusions of talent struggle to keep the premises feeling fresh. But watching these films in quick succession yields a startling revelation—that the studio machine responsible for cranking these projects out has become sentient. Both Adventures In Babysitting and Center Stage: On Pointe are feature plots that pit innovation against stagnation, adaptability against rigidity.
That the movies proffer a solution while still being part of the problem is the kind of conundrum that’s perhaps better suited to sci-fi, but these caretakers and dancers still make a fine go of it. Most of the players—including overachievers, “urban” modern dancers, and presumptive primo ballerinos—seem aware of the fact that they’re stuck in someone else’s rut, and that escape will require drastic measures.
Adventures and On Pointe share a competitive element, even if they aren’t being placed in opposition to each other by their respective networks. They aren’t being jointly presented either, but their themes are complementary—there’s stewardship, the passing of a flame, and the requisite push for individuality that’s part and parcel with any teen-focused movie. But if a winner had to be declared in this unofficial contest, Adventures edges out On Pointe—it has more to live up to, which makes the resultant upheaval all the more satisfying.
John Schultz has been tasked with preserving (or destroying) the legacy of Chris Columbus’ classic ’80s film that sent sheltered suburban kids into the big bad city, where they ultimately acquitted themselves nicely among the urban dwellers. A significant change has been made to the plot to keep things Disney Channel-friendly: The new Adventures has a platonic odd couple in place of a hot-blooded teenager pining for her cheating boyfriend, who subsequently grudgingly agrees to babysit one fateful night.
Jenny (Girl Meets World’s Sabrina Carpenter) and Lola (Descendants’ Sofia Carson) are competing for the same photography internship, and they couldn’t be more different. Lola’s carefree nature is demonstrated by her propensity for speeding and parking in tow zones, while Jenny’s Type A personality is telegraphed by the hospital corners on her bed. Promotions for the remake played up a “rival babysitters” angle, but Lola just falls into her gig while Jenny is an old hand at looking after young children.
Despite their competition and differences, the girls end up having to work together to go through many of the same paces as the original: They lose track of their charges and have to head to the big city (which is never directly referred to as Chicago, though someone does say “Highland Park” at some point). A car is towed, but the crimes of passion have been replaced with less provocative misunderstandings. The bumbling criminals of yesteryear are present, and still able to chase children around a vast metropolitan area where the police are more invested in issuing tickets or busting Lola for trying to scalp some.
There’s still some romance, and even a frat party (well, the sounds of one), so a lot of the markers of adolescence remain in place. Although the events have been sanitized, the stakes remain high: Lives are still (briefly) in danger, escapes are almost foiled, and parents are narrowly avoided. But it’s the remake’s biggest deviation that yields its biggest returns. Jenny and Lola as bickering opposites are nothing new—neither is their summary judgment of each other.
But once they start working together, they also push each other to succeed, even though they’ll become rivals again on Monday, when the decision about the internship is made. In those moments, the girls are more like The Breakfast Club than Elisabeth Shue’s original Adventures minder split in two—at first they’re disparate factions forced to compromise, but eventually, they inspire each other. They don’t craft a letter to tell off a disillusioned member of the faculty, but by the end of the movie, they’ve modified their approaches to life and school to allow time for both.
It’s not the raucous fun of the original, but the message more closely reflects the morals of Disney (which owns Touchstone Pictures, the production company of the first Adventures). But it’s not quite “Disney-ified,” either. Marriage isn’t the end goal, nor is romance, really—the dates the girls score are simply the byproducts of their newfound or refocused boldness.
Center Stage: On Pointe is also light on romance, but not for lack of trying. The latest installment in the dance franchise clearly prefers passion to pedigree, but the efforts to translate the physical proximity onstage into intimacy offstage are shoehorned into the story. There are many beautiful bodies on display, which music-video veteran Director X tries to bring together for more than just a pas de deux. There isn’t anything untoward about the matchmaking, but the leads just lack heat.
Bella (Nicole Muñoz) is a modern dancer who faces the daunting task of learning ballet while also proving that she can make the cut in the less traditional form. Bella’s a legacy, too—she’s the younger sister of Kate Parker, who was similarly bet against in Center Stage: Turn It Up. But just like Jodie Sawyer before her (in 2000’s Center Stage), Kate’s unconventional moves took the dancing world by storm, and now Bella labors to get out of her shadow.
The old and new guards are presented more literally here, with American Ballet Company director Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher) struggling to keep his dance company afloat and relevant. He’s taunted with visions of sugar plums and Misty Copelands dancing in YouTube videos garnering millions of views. Jonathan knows that the ABC has to adapt, just as he realizes that he isn’t the man to update the style.
Enter Tommy (Kenny Wormald), who earned his place in ABC in Turn It Up. He promotes Bella’s raw talent, which everyone but a stodgy dance teacher recognizes. Soon, a bunch of hopefuls are removed from the world to train for an audition that will ask them to blend the styles of old and new. A bitter ballet instructor browbeats Bella all throughout camp, undermining her confidence and telling her she’ll never be “en pointe,” the position that sees a ballet dancer stand fully on their toes.
That’s because Bella’s leaning too heavily on her own old ways, which is the newfangled “modern dance” that gives all of the classically trained competitors the vapors. But once she realizes that her mean teacher’s nastiness is prompted by envy rather than some adherence to convention, Bella transcends both forms.
Muñoz is a charming lead, but she’d be better off dancing solo in this particular venture. As Damon, Bella’s partner, Barton Cowperthwaite is a beautiful dancer but stilted in every scene involving dialogue. On Pointe gets too ambitious, and tries to promote a message of teamwork to go with its attempt at iconoclasm. Here, the partnership becomes more important than the players, which throws the whole thing off balance.