An Analysis and Review of 'Lemonade Mouth' (2011) and the Era of DCOMs
Dedicated to Carlyle Najarian.
Seldom does one ever see a film which is as venerated and idolized by the current generation as Disney Channel’s “Lemonade Mouth” (2011). It is a sensation which has touched many people born near the turn of the second millennia. They worship it to such an extent that it is necessary to be cautious when choosing the words to describe this movie. Any sentence detected as having an ounce of contempt or ridicule for this film will be seen as an imposition on the culture and childhood of millions of adults today.
This film, along with many of its sister films devised by Disney, forged the children born before internet hit the mainstream (1999 - 2004), culminated in a generation of singing and dancing kids who were glued to their television screens and consumed every piece of Disney media that was fabricated. Those who look at this time with disdain or adoration can both admit that it was a time unlike any before or since.
These Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs) are revered by our generation because they were life changing for many. With approximately one DCOM released per month during the early 2000s, these films touched upon every topic, interest, hobby and pastime that could interest a growing child of that time, and managed to squeeze any and all of them into 90 minute packages of entertainment, leaving no child bored. “Right On Track” (2003) is about girls coming out on top in the male-dominated sport of car racing, a very real struggle for many girls growing up. “Go Figure” (2005) is about a girl contending for worldwide acclaim in the figure skating world and her willingness to make sacrifices to achieve her dreams.
These movies were the true equalizers of cliques in schools and managed to bring all of us together, teaching many of the important lessons necessary to our society. To many, these Disney Channel movies were modern versions of Aesop's Fables and gave lessons about mature topics we didn’t have anyone else to give us. “Color of Friendship” (2000) deals with racism and shows how friendships can transcend superficial things like skin color and be a cure to racial assumptions and prejudices. “Tru Confessions” (2002) shows us a girl living with a brother who has autism and how delicate such a situation is. These topics, racial prejudice and neurodivergencies, are dealt with by some children growing up, but not all. That is why it’s imperative to bring up such subjects in a mannerly and cultivated fashion. Luckily, these Disney movies do just that.
The importance of these films cannot be overstated for the generation currently transitioning into full-fledged adulthood. The most beloved of these DCOMs may be “Lemonade Mouth,” a story about a group of kids in detention forming a rock band to fight back against the systematic favoritism of a parochial school principal.
The movie serves as a time capsule of early 2010s entertainment, when every villain was a one-dimensional churl and every main protagonist had this strange, often tense and never ideal relationship with their parents. It seems that the purpose of these pictures — to teach children a moral or ethical lesson — and the lack of progenitors within Disney films is directly related. Disney is attempting to be a storyteller to children who relate to the struggle of a single-parent household or a quiet and unconnected relationship to parents, and fills that gap in teaching for the betterment of children.
Just like many of the others, "Lemonade Mouth" presents five high schoolers with non-ideal households, with problems such as getting a new stepmother, an imprisoned father, not wanting to pursue the dreams your parents have for you, not being able to relate with them, or just being a rebel against them. While this sentiment was and still is real for many children, it is at times acted out in strange ways throughout the film.
For example, the most outlying character in the entire film is the main character Stella (Hayley Kiyoko), who is seemingly radically against everything to a borderline comical degree. She gives no second thought to the consequences of her actions, considering that she had just moved to a new school and immediately became a public disruptor. Her only positive attribute is that she is the only character who attempts to keep her band together. The rest of the band continuously considers giving up at the slightest mishap, which does get to the point of annoyance for the audience.
The general idea of these social rejects getting together to form something greater than themselves is relatable for some kids, but plays out in fashion that forces musical numbers at times when they feel inappropriate. When the band members are all sharing their domestic problems with one another, and Olivia (Bridgit Mendler) begins to break down in tears, Stella just breaks out into song. This brings us a number that is wonderful — make no mistake — but the scene comes off as flawed.
Another negative quality of the film is the bad use of Automated Dialogue Replacement during the musical numbers. There are entire sections in which you can visibly see the characters’ lips not move, yet hear lyrics being sung. This isn’t new to musicals, as “My Fair Lady” (1964) is infamously known for having Audrey Hepburn butcher the great play, with post production editing having to use shots of her mouth looking away from the camera to even function as a motion picture. That was the 1960s, so the technological setbacks were a reasonable excuse for that sort of thing. "Lemonade Mouth" was made 11 years ago, and with a practically infinite budget (considering The Walt Disney Company is producing the project), there is no excuse for it, especially when singing is the main focus of the film.
Apart from these issues, "Lemonade Mouth" is not such a bad picture. It is what one expects from a campy, no-substance entertainment children’s picture. It has charms and character, like the cast, some of whom went on to become famous stars, and one went on to become a convicted armed robber. Overall, the plot is not as sappy and childish as DCOMs are often thought to be, and can be respected for attempting to speak on the topics that children maturing into young adults have to deal with. It is a picture which will be revisited by our generation repeatedly. Whether or not it is worthy of the great attention which it garners is up for debate. It’s a fairly well-made film, and it's soundtrack is well-mixed and has a few fantastic standalone tracks worthy of being regular plays. I’m glad to have finally seen it, as it stands as a cornerstone of the childhoods of many. They will be passed down so that their message may live on ad infinitum.
Thank you for initiating me, Carly. 7/10 film.