It wasn't very cool of me to like jazz as a ninth-grader, but I did. When everyone else's Walkman or Discman was blaring with the sonic testosterone of Metallica, Ministry or Soundgarden, I chilled out to the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Pat Metheny Group, Oscar Peterson Trio or (gulp) Kenny G. Like I said, definitely not cool at a school where "being yourself" wasn't so hot.
Somehow I made it through high school without getting mangled. I guess I earned a certain degree of immunity as captain of the basketball team. But I still remember countless school bus rides having to swerve my way around friends' questions of what I had in my player.
"Ah, nothin' much," I learned to say while quickly shifting the focus to their faves. Back then, listening to some curly-haired sax player was as sure a social death as admitting you occasionally sang along to Whitney Houston tunes (which, truth be told, I also did).
Out of the Ring and Into the Ropes
Isadore "Izzy" Daniels faces a similar teen taboo in the Disney Channel's latest movie, Jump In! The fresh-faced adolescent (played by High School Musical's Corbin Bleu) is known around school as a boxing champion. His dad owns the local gym, and he's one fight away from becoming the third generation in his family to win the prized Golden Gloves award. It isn't long into this story, though, when Izzy discovers a greater passion: double Dutching.
Yep, that's right. Jumping rope. Like the girls he sees everyday on the New York City playgrounds. Of course, guys take part in this impressive sport, too. But around Izzy's "macho" friends and classmates, it's a definite no-no for tough guys. As one friend jokes when Izzy is forced to take his little sister to a double Dutch competition, "Man, don't you have to wear like a tutu or a ballerina outfit there?"
A funny thing happens at the event, though. Izzy gets into it—more than he'd care to admit. Not long after, on a dare, he displays his impressive footwork (honed from all those hours training in the ring) in front of some girls in desperate need of a replacement member for their double Dutch team. They're days away from citywide finals and could use the boxer's obvious skills. As expected, Izzy's immediate response is no. The somewhat cocky fighter still sees double Dutching as a joke, is concerned about what his buds will think and, more importantly, how his champ-raising dad might respond. But he's also surprised by how much he enjoys it, and it doesn't hurt that the team's leader is Mary (Akeelah and the Bee's Keke Palmer), the cute girl he likes from next door.
So, Izzy finally agrees to fill in and begins secretly practicing with the group, which renames itself the Hot Chili Steppers. He keeps everything under wraps ... until bitter boxing rival and school bully Rodney finds out and plasters the school hallways with malicious posters showing Izzy in action. With his world seemingly falling apart for that and other reasons, Izzy is torn between jumping in with his heart and ignoring the ridicule, or sitting this one out on account of others' opinions.
Two Cords and a Heart
It's not a big leap to guess which side of the ropes this endearing (and only occasionally corny) Mouse Channel story lands on. In the same vein as cultural phenom High School Musical, the main positive message remains clear: Follow your heart and be yourself, no matter what others think or say. And since Izzy's heart isn't telling him to do anything rebellious, reckless or immoral, he—and his peppy movie—stay firmly on solid ground.
In one of many inspirational moments, Izzy hears wise words from a "girl-boxer" champ who more than holds her own in the ring. "Imagine if I listened to every stupid comment you and your boys made about me," she points out. "Do you think that I'd be the best girl boxer in the city? People make fun—I figure that's their problem."
Equally impressive is the way the film presents countless other valuable nuggets. When given the chance to retaliate and publicly humiliate Rodney, Izzy takes the high road and even empathizes with the boy's turbulent home life. The scene isn't a groaner for tween viewers, nor does it whack them over the head with a morality stick—and yet the point gets made. I have similar praise for segments that underscore forgiveness, teamwork, family and—an important one for both tweens and their parents—keeping a grounded perspective on sports.
Chalk another one up to Disney's fine-tuned production machine, which seems to have recently found a near-perfect blend of classy and cool. It's obvious the director and producers of Jump In! labored over applying a high standard to virtually every detail of every scene. Outfits remain trendy but modest. The dance and jump moves are fresh without getting fresh. The film's lone kiss is a sweet, innocent peck that lasts about one-tenth of a microsecond. "Language" is restricted to "omigosh," "snap," "shut up," "loser," "fool" and "heaven help me." Pretty much every punch is pulled in the boxing scenes. And attitudes, actions and parenting examples are all first-rate. In fact, Izzy and his father (played by Bleu's real-life dad, David Reivers) share a remarkable bond that's realistically modeled through both an ultimately respectful confrontation and a final heartwarming conversation.
Now Sweeping the Nation: Double Dutching
Unlike so many other titles targeting the under-15 crowd, Jump In! is far from a grit-and-bear-it movie. That's likely part of the reason why it's become the Disney Channel's most watched movie to date, even topping High School Musical. And though the rope-centric flick isn't a musical, its soundtrack has already reached No. 3 on Billboard's album chart. Given the continuing success of these squeaky clean movies, you can be sure the stream will continue to flow as long as kids tune in.
And that's about the best cultural news I've run into for some time. After all, we're talking about jumping rope here. What's next? Four square? Cup stacking? Are kids going to start putting jazz on their iPods?
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Corbin Bleu as Izzy Daniels; Keke Palmer as Mary; David Reivers as Kenneth Daniels; Patrick Johnson Jr. as Rodney Tyler; Laivan Greene as Keisha Ray; Shanica Knowles as Shauna Keaton; Mazin Elsadig as Chuck; Micah Williams as L'il Earl; Kylee Russell as Karin Daniels
Paul Hoen ( )