By David Hiltbrand
The Philadelphia Inquirer
The Disney Channel's big-ticket Halloween event, "Girl Vs. Monster," comes a little early (Today, 8 p.m. EDT), to maximize its rerun potential before trick-or-treat night.
The original movie is also a launching pad for Olivia Holt, 15, the Mouse Empire's next platinum princess in training.
After serving an apprenticeship on the karate sitcom "Kickin' It," Holt proves in "Girl Vs. Monster" that she can do it all - sing, dance, flirt and clown.
That makes her ideal for this cute film, which lashes together elements of a musical, a puppy-love romance, and a (not-so) scary film.
Holt, who earlier in her career looked like a baby Julia Stiles and now suggests a young, blond Valerie Bertinelli, plays Skylar, a confident and incredibly acrobatic teen who can also jump behind the mike and belt out a perky pop-song chorus.
(You'd be surprised how handy that skill can turn out to be.)
Skylar's unreasonably strict parents (Brian Palermo and Jennifer Aspen) won't let her go to the haunted house Halloween Party that floppy-haired Ryan (Luke Benward) and his band are playing at.
That means Skylar has to do some scheming with her best friend Sadie (Kerris Dorsey, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Kimmy Gibbler, D.J.'s sidekick on "Full House") to make it to the party. Her escape plan unwittingly sets off a disastrous series of supernatural events in the weird little lab her dad maintains in the basement.
There's a warm, soft-edged familiarity to the set design that keeps anything from getting too frightening. The scary bits remain well on the cartoonish side of gory - in fact, the primary special effect is of brightly colored smoke swirling around. So you shouldn't have youngsters afraid to sleep in their own beds after watching this.
"Girl Vs. Monster" obviously owes a debt to both "Ghostbusters" and "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" for its props and its plot. But the TV movie has such a sweet tooth that those influences are rendered moot.
The cast does a good job, and this ditzy material is harder to pull off than it looks. Tracy Dawson has the most demanding role as the witch Deiamata because she must cackle maniacally and at top volume after every line she delivers, however banal.
The humor in the script tends to be pretty lame, but the kids are adorable and the music is good. There's even a moral in here about not letting fear rule your life - although I suspect I'm too old to have gotten it.
But all's well that ends with a synth dance party set in a cemetery, followed by a literal garage jam.
Halloween? Check. Now Holt is almost ready for Disney Career Boost Phase 2: the Christmas album.