Wizards of Waverly Place

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TV Series Review

How does Disney create so many popular teen- and tween-centric shows? Why is its clean machine capable of churning out hit after hit, star after star? One would almost say it's like … magic.

Enter Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place, a sitcom built around a family of Harry Potters who happen to live a long way away from Hogwarts. Selena Gomez stars as Alex Russo, a wisecracking underachiever who uses her built-in magic to try to smooth the path through high school. She's a Disney protagonist with a hint of rebellion—Cinderella with a yen for detention. She exudes a slouching, too-cool-for-school vibe. It's an attitude she conveniently explains while under the influence of a "truth spell":

"I know I always act like I don't care, but that's really just a defense mechanism to hide my desire to really be liked."

If only all churlish high schoolers could be so forthcoming.

Her outlook contrasts mightily with that of her older brother, Justin, who aces his classes, wears neckties to school and, in season four, even tutors a class of remedial wizards-in-training. Max, Alex's younger brother, stays out of the sibling rivalry as much as possible, contenting himself with hatching the occasional outlandish plot, eating sandwiches and, because of a wizarding mishap, spending several episodes as a fourth-grade girl.

Four seasons have seen them all grow up quite a bit. Alex finally assumes the role of the family's official wizard, while Justin becomes a professor at Wiztech, a college one might expect to be advertised on out-of-the-way cable channels. Max has his wizarding powers taken away, but hey, that's OK with him: He still can make a pretty mean sandwich.

The entertainment is, as we've come to expect from Disney, comparatively innocent. But just like Alex herself, there's still a little slouch in Wizard's step.

First, there's the magic. It's genetic: The Russo children, instead of wiggling their ears, cast spells. But it's the sort of gift that must be honed through education and can, as we've seen, be taken away. And not just from Max. Alex's dad, too, forfeited his magical abilities when he married Theresa. The siblings are forbidden to use magic out in the real world—though that doesn't always stop them. Not that they should bother. Their spells often cause more trouble than they cure.

Most kids understand that this sort of magic, particularly when it comes from Disney, is simply a storytelling device: People don't really go about waving magic wands to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich. But sometimes—as is the case in a story arc featuring supernatural "angels,"—the waters grow muddier. For children raised to believe that angels are real, beautiful, powerful denizens of heaven, Wizards' portrayal of them as grinning, goofy, sometimes clueless plot devices is disheartening at best, spiritually misleading at worst. Add to that the fact that Justin becomes romantically involved with a vampire and Alex with a werewolf.

Mirroring that magical messiness, Alex has proven to be a less than ideal role model for her hordes of young Disneyfied fans. And the adults in her life are buffoonish and a little less wise than you might wish for or even expect. "I am raising myself," Alex sighs to herself at one point, and sometimes that feels about right.

Wizards, of course, is no Gossip Girl. Alex, for all her posturing, is still pretty good deep down. Her parents and the other adults in her life care for her deeply—even if that care doesn't always manifest itself in the best of ways. The fashions are mostly modest, topics are mostly family friendly and the worst profanities we hear are words like "gosh."

So we'd say Wizards is just a step or two down from truly being magical.

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Episode Reviews

WizardsofWaverlyPlace: 162012
WizardsofWaverlyPlace: 2182011
WizardsofWaverlyPlace: 5212010

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Genre

Comedy, Kids

Author

Cast

Selena Gomez as Alex Russo; David Henrie as Justin Russo; Jake T. Austin as Max Russo; Maria Canals-Barrera as Theresa Russo; David DeLuise as Jerry Russo

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Distributor

Network

Disney

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Reviewer

Paul Asay Paul Asay