For the most part, the movie takes place during a family vacation at the Caribbean resort where Jerry Russo (David DeLuise) and Theresa (Maria Canals-Barrera) first met years before. With the absence of a studio audience (and their fits of timely laughter), the movie can take additional liberties including a slew of special effects, which it does spectacularly well particularly in the beginning of the movie when Alex (Selena Gomez) selfishly and comically puts herself first, openly defying her parents’ wishes (i.e., par for the course).
Things go horribly wrong for the Russo children, however, when a heated argument between Alex and her mother causes Alex to say things she doesn’t mean including the wish that her parents had never met. Enter the first lesson: be careful what you wish for.
With the realization that their parents no longer recognize them (let alone each other), Alex and Justin (the know-it-all, role model brother played by David Henrie) partner up with Archie (noted magician and character actor Steve Valentine), a completely incompetent street magician who just so happens to claim to be a former wizard, to find la piedra de los suenos (a.k.a. the stone of dreams), a mythical object that will grant each wizard who holds it one wish. Meanwhile, youngest sibling Max (Jake T. Austin) stays behind to play matchmaker between his parents who have taken on very different lives and perspectives having never met each other: Jerry, who had to initially give up his wizard powers to marry a mortal and teaches his children conservative wizarding, has become more of a fratboy who openly uses magic for his own amusement with blatant disregard to the mortals around him.
With the clock working against them, Alex and Justin, who are known for their sibling rivalry, have to learn to work together, leading to a couple of scenes with very melodramatic but honest conversations between the two (Alex also ends up having heart-to-hearts with both parents individually). After being double-crossed by Archie for reasons that are somewhat unclear to me, it’s dad Jerry to the rescue with Max and Theresa in tow. Without the stone of dreams, Jerry determines the only way to undo what is done is to have the tournament that pits sibling against sibling to determine who will be the single family wizard, setting off a couple of twists that will lead perfectly into the third season of the series when it debuts on the Disney Channel in September (attendees of the D23 Expo will get to see the season premiere first).
Most surprising is the change Alex experiences once she’s able to get back all she lost over saying something merely said in anger. It’ll be interesting to see how those changes play out in the new season.
With faithful and oft witty writing that both parallels and completely abandons the mood of the regular series, the dialogue never appears to be forced or unnatural and Gomez is a complete natural in the role, able to handle the gamut of emotions from one scene to the next.
This is a definite must see for any fan of the series and a good introduction to the series for anyone who isn’t already familiar with it. While it helps to be familiar with the Disney Channel series, it’s certainly not a pre-requisite. I give it 4 out of 5.
Wizards of Waverly Place the Movie premieres on the Disney Channel on Friday, August 28.