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Lovato's charm suits 'Sonny' role

Demi Lovato stars as a Midwestern girl who moves to LA to be in a TV show. Demi Lovato stars as a Midwestern girl who moves to LA to be in a TV show. (mitch haddad/disney channel)
By Joan Anderman
Globe Staff / February 7, 2009
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Call me corny, but I love the title of the Disney Channel's latest entry into the tween comedy-series sweepstakes. "Sonny With a Chance" - which debuts tomorrow at 8 p.m. - is a play on the most standard of weather forecasts. The title character is blue skies personified, but rest assured: There will be no rain on this parade. The show doesn't mess with the most standard of Disney's formulas, which involves creating countless platforms for a wholesome Hollywood polyglot and maximizing the heck out of her time-limited but luminous adolescence.

This season's celebrity multitasker is Demi Lovato, a 16-year-old singer, songwriter, and actress whose collaborations with tween icons the Jonas Brothers have fashioned her into something like an honorary little sister. Last year Lovato starred with the sibling trio in the Disney Channel movie "Camp Rock," collaborated with them on songs for her debut album, and performed as the opening act on the Jonas Brothers' concert tour. But Lovato's thespian pursuits stretch back to the late '90s, when she starred as perky Angela on "Barney and Friends," a role that turns out to have been the ideal launch pad for Lovato's new gig as the bubbly, determined Allison "Sonny" Munroe.

Sonny is a nice Midwestern girl who moves to LA to join the cast of the sketch comedy program "So Random!" after a television producer discovers the homemade videos she's been posting on her website. In recent interviews Lovato has compared the show-within-a-show premise to "30 Rock." Beyond that basic framework, not so much. "Sonny With a Chance" is neither quirky nor witty, but rather pure tween archetype. Sonny's castmates include the haughty blond queen bee Tawny, cool and confident Nico, gregarious Grady, and a pipsqueak named Zora.

Driving the action is a longtime rivalry between the "So Random!" kids and the stars of the nighttime drama "MacKenzie Falls," which tapes on an adjacent soundstage. Sonny is temperamentally inclined to wonder why they can't all get along, and she promptly arranges a Peace Picnic for the feuding casts. A tube of crazy glue and some embarrassing video footage later, Sonny is cheating at musical chairs with the express aim of humiliating her rivals.

That un-PC plot point is a welcome blemish on the hide of this connect-the-dots cash cow. The rest is fluff, sweet and harmless as the show's theme song, a "Hannah Montana"-like pop-rock confection written and sung by Lovato. At least she doesn't let herself fall - at least not for long stretches - for dreaded heartthrob Chad Dylan Cooper, egomaniacal star of "MacKenzie Falls." That's a learning curve that will surely be stretched ad nauseam, as Sonny walks the delicate line between silly girl and fearless role model.

Lovato is up to the task. In other words, she's adorable and likable, and her power to draw young girls - less via inspired performance than her Tiger Beat-sanctioned stature - is a given.

Joan Anderman can be reached at anderman@globe.com

TELEVISION REVIEW
SONNY WITH A CHANCE On: Disney Channel

Time: Premieres tomorrow at 8 p.m.

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