As progenitor of cult phenoms Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens, the Disney Channel has set new standards for programming that’s hip, subversive, and family friendly—a dynamic that’s trickier than it sounds. For example, Disney Channel standby Horse Sense sends a spoiled city kid to a ranch in Montana—a scenario any disgruntled soccer mom could invent—but balances the requisite moralizing with catchy wall-to-wall cowgirl pop and the casting of ‘tween-hipster paragon Joey Lawrence. Could the TV-friendly Uncle Nino—which has the distinction of being 2004’s longest-running film, after a Grand Rapids test run that lasted a year—pass muster with Mickey? The tale of a dithering Italian idiot spreading sage advice to his suburbanite Yankee relatives sounds Disneyfied enough on paper, but the elderly, violin-toting hero’s successful attempt to infiltrate his miscreant nephew’s mall-punk garage band is too creepy to fulfill the hipness quotient. And Joey Mantegna, at least 10 years past his sexual prime, is no Joey Lawrence.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 1, 2005